“Today’s a good day to be a Longhorn,” Michael Shaw shouts as people pass his post on Whitis Avenue and 24thStreet. It’s one of the catchphrases he uses, including “Get an A and call it a day” and “Teamwork makes the dream work,” to perk up the students, staffers and faculty members as they trek through campus.
Shaw, a parking enforcement assistant in the Parking and Transportation Department and UT’s Empowerment Program Ambassador, stands outside every day and manages foot traffic amid cars, bikes, scooters and skateboards. Rain or shine, he’s out there encouraging passersby with a booming voice, high fives, fist bumps and Longhorn signs. Although he sees the immediate effect of his work on the smiling faces of students, Shaw hopes his efforts increase broader community engagement across campus.
“What starts here changes the world,” said Shaw. “We want you to change it in a positive way.”
Shaw grew up in Corpus Christi.
“My dad was on the police force in Corpus. He was a firearms instructor,” said Shaw.
Coming from a family devoted to public safety wasn’t without its dangers. When he was 6 years old, he was cleaning one of his family’s guns when it exploded in his hand.
“Two thousand four hundred stitches later, I still have a hand,” Shaw said with a smile. “Twenty-three-hour surgery. It was awesome. Nothing I want to experience again.”
When he got older, he followed his father’s footsteps into law enforcement. He spent 15 years as a police officer with the Austin school district before a knee injury led him to early retirement. He then worked for Austin State School and Primrose School before joining UT. His extensive experience taught him how to best communicate with students.
“I used to get agitated” said Shaw. “It got to a point where students weren’t recognizing what I was trying to get them to understand.”
Shaw shifted gears, got more engaged and started achieving better results. He said he interacts with students because he understands that they all face personal and academic stressors. When they come to him for advice, he steers them in the right direction.
“I encourage students to talk to their parents. I encourage students to talk to their professors,” said Shaw. “I really push going over to the Student Services Building and talking with our counseling service. That way, they can get the connection and the direction that they need.”
The manner in which Shaw carries himself creates a ripple effect. He said he notices that students who have come to know him will brighten up when they see him and pause to throw up the horns.
“When they come by the gatehouse where I’m working, from the custodial staff to the people who work in the tower, everybody’s throwing up their horns, everybody’s starting to smile,” said Shaw.
“I let them see the hard-working guy who is always smiling,” Shaw continued. “You know, the hard-working guy who is always playing ‘team.’”
Shaw also has ambitions to expand his impact. He hopes to someday run a program where he can motivate staff and faculty around campus to engage further with the students. His idea includes creating an employee tour of campus that would take them to hidden gem spaces deep inside iconic places on campus like the Tower and Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium. Shaw says, “I would like to give them the opportunity to see and do things that only ‘special people’ get to do.”
While Shaw has been recognized many times for his positive impact, he likes to point out that he is just one of many inspirational campus figures.
“I’ve been fortunate enough, for some reason, to have the light shine on me,” said Shaw. “I’m here to let people know that I am just one of a hundred that have the same kind of enthusiasm, the same kind of motivation.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Shaw plans to continue to encourage UT students and colleagues. He relies on his faith to keep him in a positive mindset, and even during the tough days he works to project positivity and joy.
“I’m just glad I am able to sustain it,” said Shaw. “This is something you have to grow into.”
This story originally appeared in Texas Connect, a publication for staff and faculty, January 30, 2019.