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Sharing compelling stories from the heart of the U's campus. Read the latest Humans of the U.

“I started dancing so young I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t a dancer and wasn’t going to dance classes. I believe my mom put me in ballet classes because my older sister wanted to start dancing and because I never stopped moving and singing around the house. I was so shy as a kid and often felt very out of place, but for some reason I felt very comfortable in dance classes. I loved the structure, I loved the comradery and I loved the sense of achievement after accomplishing something I had to push myself to work for. I also developed a love for performing that seems at odds with my more introverted nature, but was very empowering.

Dance has been a constant for so long that has shaped much of who I am. My life is marked and remembered by dances I was in or teachers I had over the years. So many of my milestones were met in the studio or on stage that I can’t even imagine who I would be without dance.

My training as a dancer influences how I move throughout the world, how I understand my body and how I interact with others. It affects how I think, how I process things and how I choose to engage with the world. I can’t hear music without thinking about movement and I don’t feel like myself if I go long periods of time without engaging with some sort of movement practice.

One of my most rewarding experiences was the creation of my first full-length piece. I worked with two amazing collaborators and I had the ridiculous, but exciting idea that we were going to learn magic tricks. We assumed the roles of magicians. I sewed and hand painted yards of fabric for scarf tricks, learned a few card flourishes and tried to pick up some sleight of hand tricks with coins. My thought was that if we tried and believed, we might really be able to create magic.

My peers in the Salt Lake Dance community and beyond have had a huge impact on me. The people I get to work with and take class with are the ones who push me to put my work out there. They know how difficult and heart breaking it can be, but also understand how necessary dancing is. I have had so many setbacks and disappointments that without my friends and community reassuring me that my work is worth being seen, I’m not sure I would have the grit to keep going as an artist.”

Samantha Matsukawa, Class of 2014, modern dance, marketing and communications coordinator, College of Fine Arts, University of Utah

“Words can’t really describe how it feels [to speedskate]. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself to know exactly the feeling that we’re having as we’re going through the turns – all the forces that are acting on the body at the same time. The closest thing I’ve found in my life is riding a motorcycle.

People look at a Michael Phelps or Lindsey Vonn and they see all the endorsements. The reality is a lot of us are amateurs. If you’re in the top three in the world consistently you’re making a good living, but it’s a pretty big fall off after that. The struggles of making money and setting yourself up for life after being an athlete are tough sometimes especially as you’re climbing the ranks.

Coffee Lab kind of fell in my lap. I wasn’t a coffee drinker. La Barba Coffee had a shop where we are now [in the Skaggs Pharmacy Research Building atrium] and Simon Zivny was working there. When they were moving shop the dean’s office, right next door, told Simon he should open up his own spot. My teammate at the time, Sugar Todd, was dating Simon. I heard her talking about it one day at practice and I asked if he needed some financial backing. I made the correlation between his passion for coffee and my passion for sport. We sat down and had a couple meetings and then Coffee Lab was born. And now I don’t like to race without drinking coffee. He introduced me to the world of good third-wave coffee and focusing on quality over knocking out drinks. We have a good partnership going where I keep him honest on business things and he keeps me honest on coffee things. We’ve been open a little over two years. We look forward to seeing where it goes.”

Joey Mantia, U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team, competed in 2014 and 2018 Winter Olymipcs, co-owner, Coffee Lab

“When I was 17, I left Venezuela due to the political turmoil there. My formative years in a developing country shaped my character and my interest in public service. I moved to the U.S. and worked for several years to save enough money so that I could afford college.

Like other college students without financial support, I worked three jobs while attending the University of Florida. Science and health had always been a passion of mine so I majored in biology and then pursued a master’s in public health. It was during my MPH externship on the island of Saba that I felt the calling to come to law school.

While there, it was visible that the lack of regulatory protections was preventing the Public Health Department from implementing the necessary public health measures. I understood how important it was to have a useful health policy framework and realized I needed to get a legal education. I chose S.J. Quinney because I knew I wanted a law school with a smaller class size and I had been interested in moving out West.

After graduating in 2019, I will keep pursing my goal of improving the lives of others by contributing to health policy reforms. My ideal job would be working for Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, Pan American Health Organization, or for non-governmental agencies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. All these agencies are working to improve the health of the population and have the clout and resources to affect meaningful change.”

Carlos Quijada, a third-year law student at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, is serving a summer internship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Atlanta.

“Had I asked myself in high school if I’d end up working with birds for so long — and working towards a Ph.D. for it — I never saw that coming.

It started when I was seven and my mom worked at the Tracy Aviary doing ticket sales and brought my sister and me. We’d run around there all day. We knew where all the duck nests were, and we’d help clean out the emu and turkey vulture enclosures. Eventually, my mom got into bird rehab. Within a couple of years, our house turned into a full-on bird house — in the summers, we’d have anywhere from 20 up a few hundred injured or orphaned birds.

That’s when I started raising pigeons. I’m not sure originally why I was so drawn to them, maybe it was their cute squeaks or their yellow baby down, but that was always my favorite bird. I raised my first pigeon in third grade, and I liked the responsibility of taking care of them. Raising my pet birds and watching the wild ones that were in rehab was really important for me.

I’m a first-generation college student, and college was never really talked about in my family. But in high school, I was lucky to have an awesome biotech teacher who helped me get internships in labs at the U. When I applied here, I wanted to get back into a lab right away. I was introduced to Mike Shapiro and joined his lab, and the first thing I did was catalogue the hundreds of different breeds and their traits. The diversity was striking — there are pigeon breeds with head crests, feathered feet, even different flying behaviors! I’d grown up going to dog shows, cat shows and horse races. But I’d never been to a pigeon show. Most people don’t know how diverse pigeons really are. Now, I get to research the genetic basis for the incredible variation in this species and hope that what we learn can inform us about the molecular basis of similar traits in other species.”

Anna Vickrey, research assistant and doctoral candidate, Department of Biology, Pigeon Genetics Lab

“Nick was about 1 ½ years old when we started noticing something wasn’t right. He wasn’t talking much, and he didn’t understand what was going on around him. But it was more than that. We took him in for testing, and it took about a year before we got a diagnosis that he was on the spectrum.

You have all these hopes and dreams when you have kids, and when he was diagnosed, it was like all those hopes and dreams were gone. And then, I started to realize that those were my hopes and dreams — not his — and that was pretty selfish. I realized he needed to have his own, and I needed to support him.

I think one day I realized that Nick doesn’t really need me. I need him. He’s been better for me than I’ve ever been for him. I helped him learn how to talk and helped him do the things he needed to do to live in our world. But he taught me things that are more important — like kindness, patience and not judging other people. He just came that way. I had to learn it from him.

People with autism have this wall they struggle to get past. Part is built by their difficulty in navigating social situations and the other part is built by neurotypical people who won’t let them break through the wall. They want to keep them on the other side. The problem is — we’re missing out. These are people that could change the world.”

Tammy Mabey, class of 2018 and director of operations for the U Academic Advising Center
Click here to watch a mini documentary Tammy made about Nick’s journey.

[bs_well size=”md”]We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at[/bs_well]