HUMANS OF THE U: OCTOBER & NOVEMBER

“I used to do ultramarathons, but I wanted to find something new. I am a Harry Potter fan, but I don’t really associate playing Quidditch with that. It has some of my favorite parts of different sports combined into one.

I played for the U’s team for two seasons and last season I played Major League Quidditch for the Salt Lake City Hive. At the regional championships last year we played Arizona State. We were just incredible; very physical. People who had been nervous or who were developing really stepped up. Just playing with that group of people made me more happy than I’ve been doing a lot of things.

Seeker is an interesting position. You have this neutral player called the snitch, and they have shorts on with Velcro and a flag that contains a tennis ball. It’s pretty simple, you grab the flag. We can’t tackle the snitch. A snitch can do whatever they want to you, within reason. You’re limited because you have to stay on broom. You are wrestling with them, but you only have one arm. What I do have is the element of surprise. If I’m very quick or physical or tire him out, all I need to do is get back there for a second and grab that flag.

Quidditch is a gender-integrated sport. You can make waves with any particular athletic background as long as you’re leveraging your natural gifts. I’m 6’5”. I leverage my length really well.

Quidditch can be whatever you want it to be. I would love to see people who might hear about it and say “I play real sports” to say, “let me see if this is a real sport” because it is full tackle and the things that seem hokey really aren’t. I think people would love it if they gave it a shot.”

Learn more about Crimson Elite here.
Learn more about the U’s official club Quidditch team here.
Learn more about the Salt Lake City Hive here.

— Nate Western, Keeper and Seeker for Crimson Elite


“You know how they say, bad things come in threes? I now believe that. Last summer my uncle-in-law passed away from a sudden heart attack; then our family dog was put down; and that June, my mother was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma – non-smoker’s lung cancer – stage 4. The doctors gave her six to 12 months to live.

One day, while waiting for my mom’s diagnosis, I was at my in-law’s house and walked past their piano. I stopped suddenly and stared at it, and it was like we had a silent conversation with each other.

My family is not musically gifted. None of us can really hold a note, but the pull I felt was too strong, so I decided to start lessons. For Christmas, I wanted to give my mom something that could not be purchased, something from the heart: her favorite song. When I showed my teacher the piano piece I wanted to learn, she had this terrified look in her eyes. It was very advanced, especially for a first-time student. But, I was determined and got to work. I practiced and slowly learned the piece line by line.

I finished learning the last note three days before Christmas. My mom was able to be home, and with the entire family present, I played the song. It’s called “Lòng Mẹ,” which means “Mother’s Love in Vietnamese. It was the first and the last song I ever played for her.

I devoted so much time to the piece so that my mother could know how much I loved and appreciated her. It was as if the music grieved with me. All the pain and anger, all the feeling that I could’ve possibly felt, was flowing out of my fingers.

My mom passed away in March. Learning the piano allowed me to live, while a part of me was dying. Now, I play for my mother. I play for what I lost. For my emotions and my recovery. I had a fantastic support system. But it was the piano that helped me with the journey of grief.”

— Tina Nguyen , University of Utah Information Security Office


“I experienced a turning point in my academic and pre-professional career last fall.

I had signed up for 18-credit hours, which included some of the hardest classes in my major. I also was selected as an inaugural Greg Goff Strategic Leadership Fellow, was working 20-hours a week and was heavily involved in the men’s Ultimate Frisbee club team.

As the semester wore on, one thing added onto another and I found that instead of being successful I was a bit overwhelmed and stressed out. I had spread myself too thin, which became clear in a peer evaluation I received as part of the Goff program. It wasn’t terrible, it was pretty middle-of-the road. But it was honest.

My team said I had taken on too many things and it was hard for me to focus on the job at hand. They also pointed out I needed to work on being an active listener who solicited others thoughts rather than focusing on my own ideas.

I hadn’t been constructively criticized like that before in a classroom setting. That was new to me. It was a bit tough to swallow at first, but I took a step back and said I have to trust my classmates, take their feedback honestly and truly work to improve in these areas. They were not trying to hurt my feelings, they just wanted to help me improve as a peer, classmate and a professional.

It was a good opportunity for me to refocus. I learned the most valuable of lessons: I have to take ownership of everything I do if I want to have a positive impact.”

— Jeff Letsinger, senior majoring in finance, 2016-17 Greg Goff Strategic Leadership fellow

“Last spring, I was having an existential crisis with where I was going, what I wanted to do. Part of it was that my mental health wasn’t in the best place. I was showing classic symptoms of acute depression, but I had no idea what was going on at the time. It got pretty bad. I would stay in bed, hours would roll by, and I started missing tests and projects. I told myself that I had to find a way to re-inspire myself.

At the time, I was volunteering at Shriners Hospital for Children, making braces and prosthetics. Kids quickly outgrew and returned them in amazing condition, but we just had to throw them away. Something felt wrong. Ten years ago, I visited an orphanage in India where children suffered from these exact same diseases, but didn’t have access to the medical devices needed to treat them. Those images stuck with me. So, I started Project Embrace, a non-profit that repurposes unwanted medical devices for patients-in-need abroad. Right from the beginning, I knew I wanted to partner with that orphanage.

This summer, I spent a full day with the kids to see what they needed. In broken Telugu — the dialect that they speak — I’d ask, ‘How would you feel with a new set of crutches?’ They were like, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s so great! I really need it!’

Project Embrace brought things into perspective. I was so caught up with school, it was crushing when I failed to meet crazy expectations. By talking to a counselor and working on an initiative that I cared about, I kept the debilitating self-doubt at bay. The world’s not going to end if you retake a class. At the end of the day, taking what you learned in the classroom and solving real world problems is what’s rewarding; not the letter grade.”

— Mohan Sudabattula, founder of Project Embrace, is triple-majoring in biology, philosophy and health & society


“My brother Steven unfortunately inherited the more problematic genes in our family. He developed a fairly significant bipolar illness in his early 20s, which manifested in some pretty distressing and scary behaviors that bordered on psychotic when he was manic. He fell into a pattern where he would be arrested or taken to the VA hospital, and he lived on the streets a lot.

When Steven was in his late 40s, he was finally getting treatment and medication that helped him start to stabilize. He was living in a community home and was developing relationships with his fellow residents and caregivers. In January of his 50th year, he complained of not feeling well and was planning to go to the hospital the next day, but then he had a heart attack that night and passed away in his bathroom. I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I’m pretty sad about the life he had but am glad he spent his last years with some stability. His life was often chaotic, but he always had the love of his family around him, even when it was hard for him to let that in. He was a survivor.

Looking back, he gave me so many gifts. We always shared a bond over music, which was a real place of connection for us. Even remembering one instance when I lost it with him is something I’m grateful for because it allowed me to feel anger in its purest form, which is an emotion I don’t typically express. He gave me a different level of empathy and appreciation for what people living with mental illness have to navigate and helped me realized that not having a mental illness is such a privilege in so many ways.”

— Lauren Weitzman with Steven’s guitar, Director, University Counseling Center

“As a history student interested in entering law school, I believe that gaining an awareness of the many carceral issues of our nation faces – such as understanding why the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world and why recidivism rates have increased in the past few decades even as our country has developed in many other areas – is very important for shaping my future career.

As part of the Education and Incarceration Praxis Lab in the Honors College, I was able to visit a medium-security correctional facility with a newly created higher education program in Nashville, Tennessee. Visiting the prison was both eye-opening and humbling at the same time. Upon entering the facility and interacting with the incarcerated students, many of my preconceived notions of their attitudes, life perspectives and experiences in prison were thrown out the window. All of the incarcerated individuals I met who were eager to pursue higher education were incredibly bright, well-spoken and passionate about creating a better future for themselves.

Along with the visit to the facility in Nashville, my class also visited the Salt Lake County Jail, the Utah State Prison and the Timpanogos Women’s Facility to learn more about their existing educational programs. One of the most humbling experiences I had was when we were given the chance to speak with the women at Timpanogos to learn about what kinds of opportunities they would like to see created within the facility. Currently, the DOC only offers two vocational programs for women – cooking and cosmetology – compared to seven programs for men. Not only is this questionable and discriminatory, but vocational programs in general do not have nearly the effect that comprehensive college-in-prison programs have. During the semester, we learned that many formerly incarcerated individuals are unable to find employment using their vocational program certificates.

I believe that providing higher education to incarcerated people is not only critical in addressing some of our nation’s crippling carceral issues, but it is also beneficial for American society as whole. Beyond the well-established and quantifiable benefits that higher education in prison programs bring, they also empower people to become productive and contributing members of society.”

— Hans Liu, co-founder of the University of Utah Prison Education Project

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 ThisWeek@utah.edu.