A first-generation college student, Will Manes had the drive to succeed as a full-time college student and business owner.

“I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. I’ve had 47 jobs,” said Manes.

Manes, 38, worked his way into management at several companies over a 14-year career.

“My last management job was financially secure, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” said Manes. “I felt like I’d hit a ceiling, so furthering my education at COM was my chance to broaden my skills.”

He decided to finish his education and enroll in associate degree classes at College of the Mainland.

“I like the challenge of placing myself in different environments, to see what I’m capable of,” said Manes. “(College) took me coming in with a certain level of maturity that I didn’t have at 18 years old.”

As a high school dropout, he wondered how he would fit in after his 18-year hiatus from education.

“(At COM) there are no cliques. Everyone is an individual,” said Manes. “Not one person made me feel out of place.”

Excelling academically, Manes joined COM’s Sigma Delta Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the international community college honor society.

"PTK treated me like family. I thought I was the only one staying up after midnight to study, but when I joined PTK, I learned they were up too and I wasn’t alone,” said Manes.

After being inducted into the PTK Hall of Honor in April, he graduated with highest honors and a 3.85 GPA.

He credits professors Heather Brasher and Dalel Serda, PTK advisors, with keeping him motivated and professor Jason Abshire for teaching him the art of mindfulness during a yoga class.

To give back to those who spurred his success, Manes and his employees recently donated labor and parts to install an automatic sprinkler system in one of the COM greenhouses.

“Now, those who’ve never grown a plant can get their hands dirty while learning about plants,” said Manes. “I want to leave COM just a little better than it was when I walked in the doors for the first time.”

They also supported him in February 2015 when he launched his own oil field inspection business, U.S. Control Services LLC. He balanced running his own business with acing a full load of classes with “coffee, lots of coffee.”

Now with an Associate of Arts in hand, Manes plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs Business School and earn a Bachelor’s of Business in Science and Technology Management.

Manes said his family and friends have noticed the positive changes in him while attending COM.

"Small things you do for yourself have a lasting impact on those around you. I didn’t want to look back on this time in my life and think I could have tried harder. I hope I can inspire the next generation of COM students and PTK members.”

 For more ways to give back, visit www.com.edu/giving.