Illini orange and blue run deep in Michael’s veins. As a senior in high school, he watched his older brother experience life at UIUC and knew it was the place for him too. Even though he’d be following in his brother’s footsteps, he wanted to make the journey his own.
Like his brother, Michael enrolled in the Gies College of Business and was selected for the Gies Scholar Program. Only 35 to 40 scholars are chosen from each incoming class, but Michael was set up for success at an early age.
“I have two loving and supportive parents,” Michael says, “who have really taught me and my siblings the values of hard work, academic excellence, and to treat others how you want to be treated.”
Being a Gies Scholar opened doors for Michael to network and grow as a young professional in the business community. But to him, the biggest draw of the program was the opportunity to go on an international cultural immersion trip.
Two weeks with Gies in Brazil and Argentina introduced Michael to the world beyond UIUC and lit a spark for exploration that stayed bright for the rest of his time in college. While in Brazil, he studied at the University of Sao Paolo and participated in competitions, classes, and social events with other students there.
“To be able to work with students from different universities and collaborate with them, you’re able to exchange ideas and really gain insight on their learning experience,” says Michael.
Both the academic and social experience of working outside the country motivated Michael to seek other opportunities abroad. Luckily, he didn’t have to wait very long.
The summer after his freshman year, Michael was accepted as a participant in the Fulbright Summer Institute. The application process was rigorous, but Michael’s determination resulted in an invitation from Fulbright to a three-week summer immersion in the UK.
Michael was one of five US students chosen for a program at the University of Westminster titled “Future Leaders in a Global Age.” While there, he engaged in classes and seminars with students from 15 different countries.
“I knew it would really push me outside my comfort zone and make me a better person,” Michael says. “I feel like it was the launching point for a lot of my success in college.”
Through both his trip with Gies and the Fulbright experience, he found success not only in the classroom, but in broadening his greater perspective. The relationships forged with his international peers opened Michael’s eyes to the complexity of the world around him. The words of his parents urging him to treat others the way he wants to be treated echoed in his mind, and through all his experiences, Michael cultivated empathy in a way he had never known.
“You can’t really communicate or inspire people toward change if you don’t understand who they are in their experience,” he explains.
As someone who hopes to inspire social change himself, this lesson was invaluable.
London and Brazil taught Michael the value of understanding, but the most impactful moment from his international travels came during a study abroad semester in Singapore, when he and his friends decided on a whim to spend the weekend in Laos.
“There was really no plan when we showed up there. It was kind of just [a] learn-as-you-go type trip,” Michael says. “But honestly, I think it made for such a fun trip because it really pushed our skills to adapt.”
While in Laos, they met a coffee farmer who showed them his farm, let them sample his freshly ground coffee, and even explained how he successfully runs his business. As a supply chain management major, serendipity couldn’t have been sweeter for Michael.
“Our expectations were—I guess ‘low’ is a bad way to put it. But going there, it opened our eyes to the beauty of randomness.”
As a recent graduate, this lesson has stuck with Michael. He has big plans but knows that nothing is set in stone.
“I’m a very big planner, and very driven by my future, but I know that the future changes,” Michael says.
Michael’s plans right now include starting a consulting job at PwC and living in downtown Chicago with his older brother.
“I’m very excited about that, enjoying our youth and enjoying Chicago and being young.”
Beyond next year, possibilities include attending graduate school for public policy and even a potential run for elected office. No matter which road he follows, Michael knows the kind of impact he wants to make.
“My hopes for the future are honestly just to know that I have stayed true to my personal passion of advancing the human condition,” he says. “What I really want to do is be an inspiration for those younger than me, especially for Black students who have big dreams.”
Michael’s desire to motivate others comes not only from wanting to pass on the lessons he’s learned, but from wanting to pay forward the support he’s had from his own role models.
“I think it all starts with my dad. He grew up in inner-city Chicago, a single-parent household. [They were] very poor, and the odds of him making it out of the situation he was in were very low. But he was able to go to college and get a job.”
As Michael’s biggest supporter, Michael’s dad always instilled in him that with grit and hard work, his potential is limitless.
“My dad always told me that your altitude is only as high as your attitude. No matter what situation you’re given or what you’re facing, you can make it through as long as you have the attitude and put your best foot forward.”
As Michael steps past the walls of UIUC, his father’s words ring truer than ever. The lessons he’s learned from family, Gies, Fulbright, and beyond equipped him with the tools needed to go into the world and make a positive change.
No matter what form that change may take, one thing is certain: The future for Michael is very bright.