Senior Success Coach for UW Data Science Helps Support and Empower Students

Brandon Arbuckle May 2, 2024
A graphic featuring a professional headshot of Senior Success Coach Michael Paul

Michael Paul has worked in higher education for 16 years. Over 10 of those years have been at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus, where he’s a Senior Success Coach for the UW Master of Science in Data Science program

As a member of the Success Coach team, Michael helps students feel more connected to their program while directing them to the many available resources. By offering individualized support, students are able to thrive as they complete courses in these 100 percent online programs. 

Senior Success Coach Michael Paul taking a picture with his wife outside in front of trees during a camping trip. “A lot of this job is about empowering students to take the driver’s seat in reaching their goals,” he said. “I think sometimes they’re a little worried about taking charge. What we want to do is get them to feel confident in the choices that they’re making and the questions that they’re asking…Those questions help to ensure we are guiding students on a meaningful path.”

Michael earned his BA in psychology with a minor in technical communication at UW-Eau Claire, and he began his career with roles in recruitment and admissions. While he enjoyed helping students at the start of their higher ed journey, Michael thought back to his own time in college when he received continued support from advisers. Wanting to help students throughout the course of their college experience, he eventually found his way to UW Extended Campus.

Michael’s efforts as a Success Coach haven’t gone unnoticed. He’s a recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Academic Advising Association (WACADA). The award honors academic advisers who have demonstrated excellence in the field over the course of many years. In Michael’s case, he’s supported UW Data Science students since the program’s inception in 2015 and has helped launch other online programs, including the UW Master of Science in Biodiversity Conservation and Management.

“It certainly felt great to be recognized and to know that there are people that pay attention to what you do and see you as an asset,” he said. “It provides a ton of reassurance that I’m in the right place, that I’m doing the right things.”

When he isn’t working with students, Michael loves checking out new restaurants in the Madison, Wisconsin area with his wife, going to Milwaukee Brewers baseball games, and heading to state and county parks for family camping trips.

In the following Q&A, we spoke with Michael to learn more about how Success Coaches play a pivotal role in the student experience for our online degree and certificate programs.

How would you define the Success Coach role?

That’s a really good question. Success Coaches wear a lot of hats. I’ll say this of myself, [I’m a] sort of jack of all trades where I know a little bit about everything, which is very helpful in connecting students to the right resources at the right time.

If students are coming to me with questions about financial aid or they’re coming in with questions about their curriculum, I’m not a financial aid expert. I don’t have a background in data science. I’m not a programmer. I can’t help you with how to fix the error in your code on your assignment. But what I can do is provide a comfortable space to talk through your situation and identify helpful resources that align with your desired goal.

“There’s something extremely gratifying about seeing when those things click for students, and they’ve done the hard work themselves: We’ve just created a supportive environment to help them flourish.”

I think institutions are starting to see that having Success Coaches is pretty important because they want to see their students graduate [and] they want to see them succeed. 

Success Coaches have a lot to do with that retention piece to keep students [invested], to help keep them engaged, to give them the reassurance that they’ve got the tools, the people, and the resources in their corner to keep going. If you don’t have people like that within your institution, you’re missing out on the potential to really help keep students on the path and keep them going.

RELATED: Math Teacher Becomes Data Science Professional for School Districts While Enrolled in UW Master’s Program

Michael Paul standing with his wife outside American Family Field and wearing Milwaukee Brewers gear. What is your favorite part about the work that you do? 

There’s a lot of variety with what I get to do, but it stays in this realm of higher ed where I’ve found is my home and the place I like to be. So variety certainly is a really big plus for me. The other thing that I get out of this role a lot is just those “Aha!” moments, or those times where things click for students and what I’ve helped them with. It’s very satisfying to see that happen. 

To be in this type of a profession, you have to be a helping type of person, and you have to get some sort of gratification out of seeing someone succeed. I don’t always mean succeed in the grand scheme of finishing their degree or landing the job, but even succeed in getting through a difficult assignment, a difficult circumstance with something at home or that they’re trying to manage with their campus, or that connection finally to that resource they needed that got them over that hump so they could move forward. 

There’s something extremely gratifying about seeing when those things click for students, and they’ve done the hard work themselves: We’ve just created a supportive environment to help them flourish.

RELATED: Data Science Careers: UW Graduates in the Workplace

What was your reaction to winning the WACADA Outstanding Achievement Award?

I found out that my team put together the nomination and submitted that to WACADA. I think the award is great. But what was most gratifying or most impactful to me about winning that award was that I got to read through the nomination, and it was a 3-page narrative of all these different things I contributed to and what people had to say. That was pretty amazing.

I’m not used to people putting that much effort into something for me, so I think that was just a very humbling thing. I’m not a “toot my own horn” kind of person. I love when there’s success, and I love when our team and our organization are spotlighted. I think that’s one thing that award does, is that it puts more eyes on UW Extended Campus and who we are as an entity and what we do. 

RELATED: UW Data Science Grad Takes On Leadership Role at Microsoft, Co-Authors New Book

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What advice do you have for UW Data Science students and those who are considering the program? 

There are so many resources, and I think a lot of students just try to handle it all on their own. I’m all for self-sufficiency, don’t get me wrong. I want students to be able to handle things that they can. 

But I also want them to remember that you’re not in it alone, especially as an all-online type of degree where you can feel like you’re on an island and you’re very isolated. The biggest thing to remember is that there are always people in your corner, and with Success Coaches, there’s always going to be somebody there that you can reach out to for support.

I would want our current students to remember that they can reach out to me or us at any time, and I want prospective students to know that’s something that’s built into this program. It’s tough to be a student who is working and has a family or whatever your particular situation is. It’s hard to balance school along with other life obligations. 

I think simply having somebody in this role that’s available is a huge, huge bonus and a huge feature of these programs that we partner with our campuses to offer.

Want to learn more about the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Data Science? Talk with an enrollment adviser by calling 608-800-6762 or sending an email to

Michael Paul standing with his fellow Success Coaches and wearing purple in solidarity for "Dress for STEM."
The Success Coaching Team plays a pivotal role in the student experience for our online degree and certificate programs.

Programs: Data Science