"I Am South Hills" – Michael Gates | South Hills School of Business & Technology
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October 9, 2017

“I Am South Hills” – Michael Gates

Fast Facts About Michael Gates:
Q: Talk about the business experience you’ve had and how that relates to the subjects you teach at South Hills.

Michael: The business experience that I’ve had has allowed me to live everything that I teach. There’s nothing that I haven’t done, regarding human resource management, small business management, doing business plans, starting a startup company, selling a company. I’ve got a story for just about everything, and that’s my experience showing up in the classroom.

My business career started off when I was in fifth grade, running a paper route for the Detroit Daily News …and that started my business career. Then, I became a caddy, and I was always working and always had jobs through college. After buying a house and learning about the process, my buddy and I put together our heads and came up with an enterprise for a “homes for sale by owner magazine” so people could advertise their homes. Eventually, we sold that business to someone locally.

The next enterprise I got into was something much larger when I helped a friend write a business plan for a potential start up…we won a business plan competition. I left my job, and the two of us sort of struck out on, you know, with just an idea and a computer and went around trying to get investors, and so we did. We grew the business from just the two of us to 130+ full-time employees before we sold it.

Q: What would your students say about you to describe your teaching style?

Michael: Last year’s group called me “coach” which is kind of what I always fashion myself to be. I think students would say that I bring energy to the classroom, that I have enthusiasm, and that all comes from them, really, because they motivate me. If there’s energy in the classroom, it gives me a lot of energy. That’s what makes it so much fun, you know, for me, every day, to come in and do what I do.

Q: Talk a little bit about the diversity of the students and the classroom experience.

Michael: We have age differences, cultural differences…gender differences, …people bring their own viewpoint to the class and their work experience and their life histories. We have single parents, married couples…That adds up to an exciting classroom experience because people have different things to bring to the table.

Q: You’re a parent, and one of the things we want to do is reach out to parents and help them understand the value of a two-year degree. What are your thoughts?

Michael: I like to talk specifically about this school. Not everybody is cut out for a four-year degree, and what we do differently here is we’re going to get YOUR hands-on things. You’re going to actually DO things. You’re going to produce things that you can take with you and show “I was able to do this. I’m proud of this. I have a chart. I have a graph. I have a, ‘something’ that I can share and talk about.” We put together portfolios, and we talk about resumes. I don’t always see that coming out of other schools or four-year institutions. I think that we’re doing our very best to get people ready to go to work, and that’s echoed by the businesses in this community who would prefer to hire our graduates because they’re ready to go to work, because of the schedule of classes that they have. We’re preparing them to go to work as well as getting some hands-on, “true to life” applications that are coming from teachers that have actually talked the talk and walked the walk.

Q: How do you feel on graduation night after you’ve been with your students for a couple of years?

Michael: I get to see all the parents and all the people that have helped them and the smiles on their faces and the thank you’s that I get, and that’s payday for me. You know, that’s what I do this for is to see that moment. You know, every once in a while, I’ll see a transformation that’s really big in someone, and to the extent that I’ve had a part in that, makes me feel like I have some importance. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen enough that I still feel like after all the years of teaching that, somehow, I make a difference. I’ll still keep teaching until the time that I don’t feel like I make a difference. It’s our team effort that makes the difference – from admissions to the bursar in the financial aid office, and the academic affairs people, to the directors and all of the faculty.

Q: Do you keep in touch with alumni?

Michael: I see them everywhere. I get calls, I get cards, I see them, and it’s great. Sometimes alumni come back and talk to the students. I think that’s also great experience and exposure for our students to see that they go on to get jobs and careers, and they have families, and they can pay for a house, and they came through the program. That’s pretty cool.

Q: What do you do for fun?

Michael: Everything is fun for me. I’m accomplished golfer. I play a LOT of golf. I work out at the YMCA. I spend my time with family…looking after my kids and seeing what they’re doing and, you know, sort of tagging along for the ride with them as they move up. They’re older now and they’re working, and experiencing things that I can only hope to.

Q: What are the best things about working at South Hills?

Michael: The best part about being here at South Hills is the students. I mean, that’s what brings me to work every day. They’re teaching me just as much or maybe more than I’m teaching them. I like the young people. They give me energy, and I like to be around them…to light a spark in someone who maybe now finds they’re interested in sales, or they’re interested in supply chain, and they had no idea what it really was before, those are special moments. Those are the teachable moments that I really, that I live for.



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