A Traveler’s Journey to Higher Education

After graduating from high school, Michael Davies planned on spending his life traveling the world. He found a job working in a restaurant at Bryce Canyon National Park and spent every free moment roaming the United States. For the next few years, he worked in various kitchens and restaurants with the idea of possibly becoming a chef — going back to college was never something he planned on doing.

While spending two months hiking a 700-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, Michael had an epiphany. He decided to go back to school. Within that next month, he made the decision to become a teacher in special education. “I’ve always been good at working with people with special needs, because I’m able to connect with them, and that’s what brought me to the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism,” says Michael.

In addition to working three part-time jobs, Michael was awarded a scholarship to help pay for his education. But after his first year, he was notified that the scholarship was being discontinued. Michael says, “I was thinking maybe I should just leave. I love this place and I love being a part of the program, but all of a sudden I was questioning staying.”

Then one day while sitting at his computer, Michael got a letter from financial aid saying that he’d been awarded the Daniel & Sandra Temkin Scholarship. “For the next three weeks, I was just beaming. It felt like there was a gigantic weight lifted off my shoulders in a second. It really made the difference between me completing my education or stopping,” says Michael.

Because of the scholarship, Michael has been able to work with the director of community services for the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism to organize and grow the educational coaching program – an initiative designed to support high-functioning UVU students with autism spectrum disorder. On a daily basis, Michael supports and collaborates with the center’s faculty, provides parents and community members with autism resources, and gains real-world experience working at an autism clinic.

“Thus far in life, not many things have brought me as much joy as when I am around and interacting with other people who just so happened to have developed differently than I,” says Michael. With his graduation date coming soon, he is open to many opportunities. He may end up teaching in a special education classroom, furthering his work at UVU, or continuing on to get a master’s degree. Whatever the case may be, it is clear this free-spirited traveler has found his path.