Michael Malek refused to abandon his education. His experience with Running Start — a program that gives Washington residents the opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school — had given him a taste of college, but after graduating from high school he decided to enter the workforce. He moved from his home in El Paso, Texas, to look for work in Washington. Still, college remained on his mind.
In 2008, Malek got a job at Red Wing Casino in Olympia. He moved up the ladder, getting promoted into more-responsible positions, and befriended a co-worker whom he later began dating. Within a few years they married and had a daughter. Yet even though his life was evolving quickly, Malek still had a craving for a college degree. He enrolled at South Puget Sound Community College, beginning his freshman year three weeks later.
In 2011, Malek completed his associate’s degree at SPSCC and transferred to Evergreen State College. He spent two quarters at Evergreen, but found it wasn’t the right fit for him. He decided to take a few years off from school, which allowed him to focus on raising his daughter. All along, Malek yearned to complete his education. “I knew that I had to finish eventually, and so when she started school, I started school,” he said.
However, Malek was unsure about what he wanted to study. "I didn’t know what my major was going to be because everything I want to do is so broad,” he recalled. A few years ago, he and some friends created “60 Seconds to Love,” a short film about how much you can get to know someone in sixty-second speed-dating intervals. They submitted their film to the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s listed in IMDb. He also volunteered at Thurston County Television (TCTV), where he assisted in filming programs and editing content.
At SPSCC and Evergreen, Malek searched for a program that encompassed his wide array of interests. After taking some communication classes, he knew he’d found his home. “[What] I love about the communication major [is] there’s so much you can do and there’s so much you can learn,” he said.
Malek began attending UW Tacoma in the spring of 2016. “The structure here and the curriculum was exactly what I was looking for,” he said. However, juggling school, a full time job and a family has proved no easy feat. With a 40-hour workweek and a full time class schedule, Malek has had to learn how to balance his hectic, often overwhelming responsibilities and sleepless nights. “I'm tired, I'm tired a lot,” he said. “I have to be very organized.”
Yet, his seemingly impossible schedule notwithstanding, Malek’s priorities have remained intact. Rather than spend hours outside of the classroom studying on campus, he puts aside time to make sure some of his homework stays at home. That way, his daughter can help with his assignments and feel like she is included in his learning. “Spending time together as a family: I always make sure that there are those days, because if I don't it puts me in a bad place mentally,” said Malek. “I'm doing this for them, for me and my family, but if I don't see them then it's like almost pointless.”
Malek will graduate in the spring of 2018. While he dreams of moving to a film hub such as Vancouver, B.C., to get more experience with movie production, he hopes his pursuit of education makes a lasting impression on his daughter. “I think her seeing me [go to college] may help her in the future understand why it's so important,” he said. “It's a good teaching tool.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communication, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org