As a high school sophomore weighing his options, Michael Lay had no intention of graduating college, a feat neither of his parents had yet completed. But thanks to a campus tour through the Upward Bound program, Lay fell in love with UAFS and began charting a course toward his future.
"Neither of my parents had a degree, so I always assumed that I would graduate high school and go straight into the workforce," Lay said, "But literally as soon as I stepped out of the car, I fell in love with UAFS. I could tell immediately that I was called to be here and that I would be able to leave an impact and have a fulfilling college experience."
Initially an IT Programming major, Lay struggled to find satisfaction in his studies and fought to keep his grades up in a major that wasn't the right fit. "Failing classes is the hardest thing I have ever had to accept. I thought I would never graduate after having an off semester with bad grades," he said. "But sometimes failure is needed. If you don't fail, you don't learn how you can do better in the future."
As a first-generation student, Lay found a mentor in several fellow first-gen faculty members, helping keep him on track and encourage him to push through the hurdles. "Dr. Nicki Reamer is the reason I am still in college," he said matter-of-factly. Lay switched his major to Media Communication and found a passion for his new course of study. "Dr. Nicki instantly took me as an advisee and changed my academic life around. I went from almost failing out to graduating because of her assistance."
Fully immersed in the academic and social aspects of campus life, Lay opted to live on campus for four years, opening doors to on-campus employment and leadership opportunities in Registered Student Organizations.
Lay served as vice president of his fraternity, Sigma Nu - Nu Alpha Chapter, and organized a week-long volunteer event for the Lion Heart organization in conjunction with UAFS Greek Week.
"Being with my Sigma Nu brothers has given me the chance to work hard to better myself. I love volunteering and helping others," he said. "The whole fraternity life is really an experience like no other. I love sharing the same values as these men as we work tirelessly to better ourselves and everyone we meet."
Lay has also served in the Student Government Association for four years and served as an executive member for four semesters.
The leadership experience he's gleaned on campus, and the communication strategies he's learned in his academic courses prepared Lay to land his dream job a full six months ahead of graduation.
As a Leadership Consultant, Lay will travel across the country to aid, advise, and improve Sigma Nu chapters on college campuses across the nation. "I didn't really see working for the fraternity as a possibility until I was encouraged to apply by my leadership consultant at the time. From that point on, I was hooked, but I still didn't see it becoming a possibility because only 6-8 people are a part of this select group who works for Sigma Nu headquarters,” Lay said. “I applied anyway in fall of 2019 and received a call to fly out to interview. Before Thanksgiving, I received a call to inform me that I had received the position."
Thanks to his academic instruction and the leadership opportunities he found on the just-right-sized campus at UAFS, Lay said he has the skills and the tools he needs to succeed in his future.
“UAFS Has given me the tools I need to advance in the workforce,” he said. “I’m proud of everything about being a Lion.”