Meet Our Students - Michael Sanchez - Balancing Fatherhood and Academia
Major: Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD Program
Are you a first-generation college student?
If so, please share with us what motivated you to pursue a college degree.
I am a first-generation college student who was passionate about attending college and pushing myself to my limits. Growing up, I never really saw anyone in my family pursue a college degree so I feel this interest came from a place within me that was not motivated by external factors, but rather for a longing to be well educated.
How did you become involved in research?
I did not get involved in research until my first year of my master’s degree under the mentorship of Dr. Sudip Bajpeyi. This was a great experience, as it really allowed me to explore and express my personal research interests pertaining to physical activity (exercise) and metabolic diseases. The Metabolic, Nutrition and Exercise Research (MiNER) Laboratory has been a great place to get my feet wet and grow in all areas of research.
Tell us about your most memorable experience as a research assistant in the MiNER Laboratory.
The most memorable experience I have had in the MiNER Laboratory has been in performing human research studies. This has given me the opportunity to have hands-on interactions with study participants. It really highlights what all of us as researchers do and why we do it. Every participant has a story, and the proposed implications of your research are a motivating factor to keep searching for answers.
Why did you decide to continue your education past the undergraduate level into the master’s program in Kinesiology, and now the PhD program in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences?
I decided to continue past my bachelor’s and master’s degrees because I believe learning is something that is never really completed. Knowledge is always evolving, and I wanted to be part of that. I find it rewarding and honorable to be part of something that is bigger than I am. I always strive to position myself in situations that will teach, shape, and mold me. I am a proud husband and father of two beautiful twin daughters. I wanted to show them that anything is possible in this life as long as you try. I want my daughters to know that education is one of the most fair and nondiscriminatory areas in life; if you put in the hard work, it will always pay off.
Can you share your strategies for balancing your personal and academic commitments?
I believe that a good support system is vital in approaching higher education, especially for someone like myself who started late due to unexpected life circumstances. My wife, Valerie, has her master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology and has been the backbone of our family during the times that I have been consumed in my research and studies. Having an understanding support system, whether it be family, spouse, kids, mentors, or friends, is necessary in order to know and feel that you are not alone, and to be surrounded by love and support. I have been blessed in having a great team. The greatest accomplishments in life are never achieved alone.
Please share one of the most challenging experiences you’ve had in school and what you did to overcome that challenge.
The most challenging experience for me was having to learn to balance my research and family commitments. There were many times that I felt bad for missing events with my family in order to dedicate myself to my studies, but I always looked for answers even when it felt like there were none. I learned to turn these situations into learning moments for both my family and myself. When moments like those present themselves, a character-building opportunity is present. I taught my daughters that a hard work ethic is something that is not gained overnight, but rather, is gained over time. They have taught me just as much and always amaze me with their random comments of love and support. It’s like they know when daddy needs a boost of encouragement. I am so thankful for them and use those moments to fuel me.
What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about continuing their education at the graduate and doctoral levels?
I would tell them to do it and to do it at UTEP. I would tell them to take every opportunity that life has to offer them. El Paso is such a great city, and UTEP is a perfect reflection of that. I would tell them that continuing their education will open their minds and challenge them in ways they never imagined. The greater, more educated, version of yourself is just beyond those classroom doors.
Photo courtesy of Michael Sanchez
For more information about the MiNER Laboratory, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/kinesiology/minerlab/index.html
For more information about the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD Program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/ihs/index.html