TILF Success Stories: Meet Michael Donaldson

Posted by Trudy Richards on 02/05/2014


TILF Scholar Michael Donaldson works in the UIL academic department to help streamline events and contests administered across the state of Texas.

Sitting nervously in a second round of internship interviews last summer, incoming freshman Michael Donaldson attempted to describe his philosophy about the University Interscholastic League.

“UIL is a bridge to success for students,” he said, “And the people who lead them are the lights, but there are pillars—that’s what holds up the bridge—and those are the people you don’t know about. Those are the interns.”

Those words got him the job, and now Michael is one of those pillars, a strong support for the organization’s success.

“My primary task at the UIL is to work on projects that ensure academic contests can function properly,” he said. “Ultimately, I never really know what to expect when I come in to work—every day is an adventure!”

As an intern in the UIL academic department, Michael works with records requests, proofs, and battles the occasional copy machine.

“I work very quickly and efficiently, and I have a lot of tasks to do in one day but I get them done,” Michael said. “I guess that because I enjoy doing this kind of stuff, it doesn’t feel like work.”

Michael appreciates the opportunity to help perfect the same contests he was once engrossed in as student.

“I have competed in UIL ever since I was able to pick up a little black binder and participate back in elementary school,” he said. “I was an oral reader with a speech impediment and I read a Shel Silverstein poem.”

Trying his hand at different events, Michael participated in middle school Ready Writing and Editorial Writing, then performed in One-Act Play and won Best Actor in his eighth grade year.

“Once I got to high school I was eager to become a member of our academic team because it had a history of success,” he said, “and then I was drafted for Speech & Debate.”

At Connally High School in Waco, Michael competed in Oral Interpretation, Informative Speaking, News Writing, and One-Act Play. But that’s not all...

“Eventually I was able to compete at the state level in all of my academic events, which later included Persuasive Speaking and CX Debate,” he said. “I was also active in UIL Music and UIL Athletics because I thought that being well-rounded was important and I enjoyed the people on the teams.”

By his senior year, Michael qualified for post-district competition in all three disciplines and made it to the state level a total of 11 times. Now, he is a proud TILF Scholar.

“Receiving a TILF scholarship meant one thing to to me—hope,” he said. “As a student from a low socioeconomic background, I never once thought that I wouldn't go to college, it was just a matter of how on earth I'd ever pay for it.” 

Michael says funding from the Red Oak Foundation is like a gift for all of the hard work he pitched in during high school.

“This money is more than a reward or present for making state,” he said. “It's an acknowledgement that what I did was valued by the community and that people believe that I have potential to be successful.”

In addition to being a UIL competitor while in high school, Michael also coached middle school One-Act Play and continues to help organize tournaments in his home area. The League isn’t just a hobby anymore, it’s potential for the future.

“My dream job is to be a speech and debate coach at a AAA high school somewhere in Texas,” he said. “There is no way to describe the importance of speech and debate—or  any of the UIL events—in a few words.”

Michael plans to integrate his many interests into a career in teaching. He is double majoring in English and the Human Relations branch of Communications Studies at UT Austin.

“I was told to major in whatever subject you want to teach,” he said. “Human Relations is interpersonal communications, so conflict mediation, aid relief, and teaching. It’s all about how we talk, how we build relationships.”

Relationships are at the core of why Michael decided to be a teacher at the tender age of five. His mom worked at Connally so they could have the same holidays and his stepdad is a groundskeeper for Midway ISD.

“I come from a family in the education system. My grandma was a substitute teacher and special-ed inclusion aide for 40 years at Connally,” he said. “It was cool because I ended up working for technology at Connally, so I was a third-generation Connally employee.”

Michael will soon start his path on the UTeach Liberal Arts program, which will allow him to earn a teaching certificate by graduation. He begins the student-teaching experience in a classroom this week.

“My experiences in UIL Academics helped me discover what my passion is in,” he said. “My goal is to share my experiences and successes in UIL with my students with the hopes of inspiring them the same way that this great organization inspired me.”

For Michael, the most interesting aspect of his internship at the UIL is working among the esteemed academic directors and professionals behind the scenes.

“That’s what’s unique about it—because these are very important people, nationally recognized in what they do, and they’re right here,” he said. “They’re all nice people and they’re all in it for kids, and that’s what’s inspiring.”


Written by Jan Ross Piedad

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