Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.
When Michael Elliott served in the U.S. Army, his job was to launch Patriot air defense missiles; today, he aims for the sky through higher education.
Having already earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from other schools, this week Elliott graduated from Arizona State University with a master’s degree in sports law and business — a collaborative program between the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the W. P. Carey School of Business.
Growing up in inner-city Atlanta, Elliott knew early on he had to leave what he described as a “tough” neighborhood. The Army gave him the opportunity to move his life forward and to achieve his goal of a college education.
Today Elliott, who works for ASU as the athletic facility maintenance manager for Wells Fargo Arena, says he is in the right place to pursue his dream career of working in collegiate athletics.
Education is pivotal, said Elliott. Like him, his wife Joanna is pursuing a second master’s degree from ASU while having recently landed an important management position in nearby Scottsdale.
“We have come to realize that the education aspect is a way to differentiate yourself from other candidates and move up,” Elliott said. “Now that I’m in the industry that I want to be in for the rest of my career, now I can get that specialized degree that can help me going forward.”
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: I realized that I wanted to work in sports after I was discharged from the Army. I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to do. When I initially enrolled in college, I started studying to become a pharmacist. I realized that I probably wouldn’t enjoy that long-term. My wife suggested that I work in sports. She really encouraged me to do something that I wanted. I changed my degree plan that next day and the rest is history.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: The "#1 in innovation" slogan has really stuck with me, in both my academic and professional endeavors. This school prides itself on finding innovative ways to better (itself) and the world and I have tried to adopt that philosophy. My job requires me to be flexible and to think of innovative ways to accomplish my tasks.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: After I received my MBA from Grand Canyon University, I felt that I needed something more focused for my professional career. The Master of Sports Law and Business Program interested me greatly. I thought it would give me a leg up in my future. It also didn’t hurt that I was able to use the employee tuition reduction.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Do everything. Join clubs. Volunteer. Be social. Take risks. Make relationships. Take advantage of every opportunity to gain knowledge. The college experience is about finding yourself and discovering your purpose in life. Use whatever time you have in college to your advantage and take the first step towards shaping your future.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I’m sure a lot of people answer this question with the Memorial Union or the library, but for me, my favorite spot is the building that I manage, Wells Fargo Arena. I spent a lot of time in that building and have worked many special events, to include NCAA Final Four practices and WNBA playoff games. I have made countless relationships within that building.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: To continue my employment with Sun Devil Athletics as a facilities manager. My hope is to one day become an athletic director for operations and facilities at an NCAA school. I am and will forever be grateful to Arizona State University for giving me both an education and a job that allows me to chase my dreams.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would dedicate that money to increasing opportunities for education for people around the world. I think that an educated society would be beneficial to everyone. I was taught from a very young age of the importance of an education and that has stayed with me my entire life. I would love nothing more than for others to have the same opportunities that I did.