Meet a high school senior with a college degree

Aylin Galaviz, photo courtesy of Dan Moore, University Photographer

Ponder upon this compelling academic conundrum: How can a student wear the hat of a sophomore and a senior concurrently? The solution becomes clear when you meet a Rising Phoenix, like Aylin Galaviz. She’s a senior at Lincoln High School in Manitowoc and, at the same time, a sophomore at the UW-Green Bay, Manitowoc campus. This fascinating dual role aligns perfectly with Galaviz’s personality. “I’ve always put myself out there,” she remarks.

Aylin, a name of Turkish origin, means “of the moon”. According to a popular baby name site, individuals named Aylin can illuminate any situation, letting their innate talents shine through. And just to prove she’s also down to earth, to help people pronounce her name correctly, Galaviz references the well-known ’80s song, “Come on Eileen”.

Sprinkling a bit more pop culture into her narrative, Galaviz’s high school graduation on June 9, 2023 could be likened to a scene from Back to the Future. On that day, she will become part of the 99th graduating class at Manitowoc Lincoln High School, receiving her diploma alongside more than 300 others. Intriguingly, she will also be one of about 20 students already holding an Associate’s of Arts degree from UW-Green Bay, an achievement earned through the Rising Phoenix program. Meaning she’ll be a college graduate before she’s a high school graduate.

What makes this bit of time travel possible is UW-Green Bay’s Rising Phoenix program — a pioneering collaboration launched in 2020, between the Manitowoc Public School District and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, which offers high school students an early start to their college journey. As a result, Galaviz and her fellow Rising Phoenix are already college graduates. Also rising is the ranks of schools joining in on the program including seven school districts and more than 40 schools throughout the state—and growing.

A photo of the Rising Phoenix program students who participated in UW-Green Bay’s 2023 Spring Commencement. Photograph courtesy of Dan Moore, University Photographer.

But the success of Rising Phoenix is measured one student at a time. Galaviz is quite comfortable with this reality. She has always been passionate about learning, a passion that didn’t waver even when the COVID-19 pandemic reduced her high school experience to a computer screen.

She recalls, “My sophomore year was entirely virtual. When my teacher emailed me about the Rising Phoenix program, she knew about my active involvement in school activities and academic excellence.” Galaviz embraced this opportunity, acknowledging that being a first-generation student and Rising Phoenix would be challenging but rewarding. “The program has made it easier to navigate higher education and made it more accessible to me,” she shares, “thanks to the support I received from student success coaches and staff over the past two years.” That support comes from a lot of different sources— teachers, professors, counselors, parents, fellow students and staff— at both the high school and college level.

Even first launching the program in 2020 posed daunting challenges and generated a few doubts, according to Amber Fox-Brewer, a counselor at Lincoln High School. “We were very nervous at the beginning,” she recalls. “Even though these were some really capable kids, no one really knew if they going to do well. Were they going to get the support at the university level that we could give them here at the high school?”

However, the students surpassed expectations, leading Fox-Brewer to affirm, “A program name ‘Rising’ suited them perfectly.”

Then came adjusting to “post-COVID” reality. Returning to classrooms in 2022 meant students pivoting from their remote existence and once again navigated the physical and mental demands of not only attending high school but also college, in-person, at the UW-Green Bay, Manitowoc campus. Some differences were minor and amusing, like the freedom to eat in class or not having to ask permission to go to the bathroom. Other preconceived notions were harder to shake, like dismantling the intimidating “sink or swim” perception associated with college.

One surprising development Fox-Brewer observed was that the program taught college professors about teaching younger students. She mentions, “Students were able to show professors that despite their young age they were ready to rise to the academic challenge of college. The professors really embraced our students and welcomed them as well and really made them feel a part of the class and the university.”

Brewer recalls another surprising side-effect no one quite expected, “I know a professor there pretty well, and she’s like, ‘they’ve breathed a lot of life back into our campus.’ It wasn’t a case of ‘we come, we do our class, and we leave’. The kids are hanging around, and they’re in the library, and they’re studying.”

Beyond helping the Manitowoc campus discover a fountain of youth, perhaps the most significant achievement of the Rising Phoenix program is its role in broadening the horizons of high school students who might have previously considered college unattainable. Galaviz, who has navigated two cultures, with roots in both Manitowoc and Chihuahua, Mexico, admits, “Education was always emphasized in my family, and that has made me aspire to improve academically and learn new things.”

Reflecting on her journey, Galaviz believes the biggest challenge wasn’t her age, but adapting to college expectations, new environments and on top of that, balancing work and social life. She found college professors to be supportive and flexible rather than demanding, contrary to popular narratives.

Fox-Brewer sees another advantage for every Rising Phoenix student, “They know ‘how to college.’ Having already attended college for two years, they are self-assured and proactive in their academic and social engagements.” Galaviz is a perfect example. Once being anxious about navigating college straight out of high school and starting her college journey as a first generation student, she’s now preparing to begin again as a “first-year junior” and aiming to rise even higher. Her goal? “I would love to be an immigration attorney and assist with language barriers.”

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