For Ashford* doctoral student Michael Turner, the city of Flint, Michigan feels like his hometown. Although born in Texas, Michael came from a very poor background with a childhood that was a bit tumultuous. At times, he found himself bouncing between states, homes, and even living situations — sometimes ending up at the Salvation Army or women’s shelters.
The youngest brother of six siblings (all sisters, except for him!), Michael moved back to Dallas when he was nine years old. It was there where he discovered he enjoyed school and he also developed a keen interest in basketball.
As enthusiastic as he was in these pursuits, Michael says he was neither a basketball star nor a scholar. His school counselors reinforced that idea, discouraging him from pursuing the more challenging Advanced Placement courses. However, when it came to basketball, the more his coaches tried to dissuade him from pursuing the sport, the more driven Michael was to prove both them and his teammates wrong.
During his senior year of high school, his family lost their home during the recession and he had to move in with a friend and transfer schools. “I caught two buses and a train to get to and from school and would have to make a 3–4 hour walk home if I didn’t have enough for bus fare,” remembers Michael.
He says it was that year when he began to get serious about his grades, wanting to apply to colleges and hopefully get a scholarship to play basketball. Michael ended up graduating with a 4.0 and eventually got an athletic scholarship to go to a college in Nebraska. Life, however, had other plans for him.
At the start of his sophomore season, he had a son, which inspired Michael to become a provider for the family. That’s how he ended up boarding a Greyhound bus to Mexico to pursue an opportunity as a professional basketball player. Although the experience was an exciting one, it didn’t turn out as he hoped and after one successful season, Michael eventually returned to the United States to try and complete his education.
With no place to live or school to attend, he ended up living out of his car for a few months, as well as at a homeless shelter. He didn’t have a lot of resources to turn to.
“My father was homeless, and my mother was living with her mother in a two-bedroom apartment with seven others,” he explains. “I lost touch with friends in high school and was contemplating just coming back to Dallas and starting over.
However, he says some of his very deepest friendships resulted from living in the shelter. And after a bit more bouncing around, Michael finally found his focus — in the city of Flint.
“I chose Michigan like one chooses a name out of a hat,” says Michael. “The crisis that Flint is facing speaks to me. After growing up in the hood, I steered toward a place everyone was evacuating and still is.”
In Michigan, he bounced from job to job as he tried to get settled, eventually ending up at a McDonald’s. It was there that he realized he needed to finish his dream of going back to school so that he could make a difference in the community he was rapidly growing to love.
So, in March 2016, Michael enrolled at Ashford University, where he successfully earned his Bachelor of Arts in Education Studies. After receiving his degree, he began substitute teaching**, coaching various basketball teams, and eventually teaching high school. The kids he worked with were in middle school in 2014 and were many of the same kids who had been impacted the most severely by the Flint water crisis.
Knowing he wanted to help out his community as much as possible, Michael went on to earn his Master of Arts in Special Education with a 4.0 GPA and is currently on track to graduate with a doctorate in Psychology – Educational Leadership in 2022.
It’s through his dissertation that he’s starting to put all the pieces together. “There have been a lot of current studies on race and ethnicity in higher education,” says Michael. “Everyone compiles their data, but I believe it’s primarily only being used for funding. That’s good, but I feel like that information should be more available to the public. I want to bring more awareness to the quantitative research and the numbers.”
As an example, he explains that most of the children he works with live in apartment buildings directly across from the University of Michigan, in Flint. However, the majority of them end up graduating with only a 3rd – 5th grade reading level and never attend college, unless it’s through an athletic scholarship.
Through creating better educational awareness overall and showing young people the possibilities that are out there, Michael wants to make a measurable impact in his community.
“I hope to inspire an entire generation to get a degree, understand how resourceful online programs can be in a changing world, and create a tie between receiving an education and ultimately ending racism,” he says.
Recognizing that the city of Flint is still struggling, he says local consensus is split 50/50 between people wanting to abandon it and those who want to invest in it.
“I’m on the rebuilding side,” Michael says. “I use youth and basketball to bring everyone together. I use my basketball past to teach the kids I work with that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the opportunities higher education afforded me.”
Through it all, he continued working at McDonald’s on the weekends, noting that it was a wonderful place to encourage others to pursue their educational goals as well. This drive to encourage others to achieve their dreams is why he also serves as a CHAMPS peer mentor and Student Success Assistant at Ashford.
“I am ready to help others like Ashford helped me in getting this far,” he says. “I would tell any Ashford student to just be themselves and try their best! Professors like Dr. Kelly Olson-Stewart, Dr. Trent Nguyen and Dr. Heidi King have shaped my life in tremendous ways. I credit them, and instructors like them, for my success and my peers as well.”
Now less than two years away from earning the title of Doctor, Michael only has one concern about soon completing his online education at Ashford: saying goodbye.
“The hardest part is accepting that it has to end one day!” he exclaims. “I aim to continue to be a part of Ashford in helping others succeed as well. Ashford is very accepting of all educational backgrounds and willing to help prepare us for the graduate and professional world. My experience at Ashford makes me want to inspire others to join.”
*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus.
**An online degree from Ashford University does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.