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Michael Shulman '12
Humbled by Service
Senior and Baltimore-native Mike Shulman sought out GMC for—among other things—its small, personable atmosphere. He was also looking to continue a longtime interest in studying what makes other people tick. Over the course of his college career, Mike’s found his way into many interesting, and at times humbling, situations that have given him insight into the subtleties of the human mind.
“I feel like sociology has always been in me,” Mike says, citing his motivation or majoring in sociology/anthropology. “I’ve always loved to study people and observe, asking questions like ‘why is someone doing this?’ or ‘what in their background has influenced this?’” After mulling over sociology in the classroom, Mike decided to immerse himself into the very cultures he saw as misunderstood.
Last summer, Mike interned with the Mobile Youth Survey which is run through the University of Alabama. It’s the longest study of adolescent youth risk behavior that’s ever been done. The 418-question survey has given researchers a better idea of what behaviors lead to a life of crime, drug abuse, and poverty. The project has been overseen by Dr. John Bolland, who is well-regarded in the field.
“I spent most of my time in the low-income areas of Mobile walking around and tracking down kids who had taken the survey before or finding new kids who were willing to take it for a payment of $15,” says Mike. “I grew up in Baltimore, so I knew of gritty places that had problems with violence, but when I went down south [for the internship], it was just poverty everywhere—like a third-world country. It was something I never thought I’d see in the United States, but it exists.”
It was difficult research; Mike remembers seeing a three year-old walking around barefoot along broken glass, watching buildings disintegrate in the town of Prichard—which is without a fire department¬—and being frustrated by failed initiatives in the projects. Mike says that, despite all of this, he feels like he made a difference at the individual level for at least one struggling youth, which made everything worth it for him.
“It was hard for us and a lot of the volunteers were ready to leave after two months, but I was just ready to get back out in the field and let those people know you care,” Mike says.
In addition to his work in Mobile, Mike also formulated his own research plan which led to him being homeless in Boston over spring break. He assumed an impoverished lifestyle in an effort to study the roles that gender plays in the subculture of the destitute.
Mike says that his hands-on studies in sociology have only been complemented by his interest in theatre arts. As a theatre minor, Mike has participated in many GMC Productions which have included The Glass Menagerie, The Flies, and Crimes of the Heart. He is currently playing a principal role in the upcoming Fall production of The Mad Woman of Chaillot.
When Mike dives into a role, he treats it as another sociological experiment of sorts. “When I look at a role, I always do it from a personal standpoint. I always ask what in common I have with the character and what emotions I can bring up from my past to help create this reality,” he says. For his senior capstone next semester, Mike will be presenting a dramatic play he’s been writing which is based on a lot of his personal experiences. He hopes to involve close friends from his life in the project, casting them—rather than experienced actors—in the roles.
In the future, Mike has plans to be a youth gang specialist. “I want to work with youth gangs because I feel like you have to start with the kids to make changes… When you spend time with troubled youth or homeless people, a lot of people pass them and see them as part of the scenery, but these are people with a past and a background. A lot of these people have been to college or spent time in the military. That’s a huge problem.”
Whatever he ends up doing, Mike knows that he’ll always be trying to empathize with the underprivileged and, in turn, doing what he can to help them back on their feet.
By Chad Skiles ‘12