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Take a minute and think about all of the people around you that you know – now ask yourself, how much do you really know about them? Most likely, we’re only glancing at the surface.

But what if you could know more about the people around you? What if you had the opportunity to understand those who surround you on a deeper level – what drives their success, what motivates them, what keeps them pushing forward?

How would that change the way we treat each other?

We think we know who Oakland University is. Research defines the people of OU as resilient, dedicated, determined humans who are persistent in discovering and manufacturing their own success.

But what we want to know is who is OU beyond the research – beyond these walls. Who is the real OU?

Everyone has a story and this is ours.

View our stories Share your story with us

Daniel's Story

Daniel Lewis – Flint, Michigan
Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership, 2018
Bachelor of Health Sciences with a Concentration in Pre-Physical Therapy, minor in Exercise Science, 2016

Daniel Lewis grew up in Flint, Michigan before coming to Oakland University for a bachelor of health sciences. Growing up in Flint prepared him with the grit and determination he possesses today. After drastically changing his career course, Daniel is now a success coach at Wayne State University – where he is able to inspire other young students to transform their futures.

“I want to show that there is hope in this route – if you dream it, you can achieve it.”


Growing up in Flint was definitely a humbling experience. You hear a lot about the negativity in Flint and the adversity that a lot of students in Flint go through, but you don’t hear about the positivity. So you don’t hear about the mentorship and the leadership that’s in Flint. At Flint Northern High School, it was a predominantly black school. A lot of us had similar backgrounds, a lot of us grew up in single parent households, low income, first generation, and these are things that we thought were normal. So this is Flint Northern High School. This is the high school that I graduated from. Um, it actually closed in twenty thirteen, I graduated in two thousand twelve. The main thing it helped me with was grit. So we had a lot of challenges, most of the time we were the underdogs, we were underfunded. A lot of times, we had to fight for what we wanted. That really instilled a lot of values in me and so it showed me that no matter what your circumstances are, no matter what the situation is, you gotta stay optimistic. When I was in high school a lot of people would tell me sports was my way out, that had to be my way out. I didn’t necessarily agree with it even though I was an athlete, I wanted to prove myself and I wanted to show them that like academics could be my way out as well and it could be the way out for a lot of other students. My drive for helping other people definitely started at home. My mother and grandmother, they used to drop everything just to make sure everybody else was okay. I knew he was gonna be special cause I used to test him when he was little and I saw things in him. When he chose Oakland and he went up there and I saw some of the things that he was involved in, then I saw the way the people up there gravitated toward him. That’s what I’m really proud of also, the way he’s able to encourage others and his future is gonna take him a long, long way. I think he’s gonna be very successful whatever he decides to do, wherever he'll go. So he’s on his way, he’s on that journey now. The energy in Detroit is electric so there are new businesses open, students everywhere, downtown is always buzzing. When my mom found out that I received this position, she was ecstatic. So I could actually hear her on the phone, jumping in the background. She was so proud of me because she knew that this is something that I wanted and that also that this job fit who I was as a person. Growing up in Flint, Michigan is really what inspired me to go this route. Students face a lot of challenges, but there are some of the most talented individuals that I know that come up from Flint. Just to know there are people in their corner to help them achieve their dream and achieve their goals was the most important thing for me. I knew that my passion was within education so understanding that I needed to follow my passion in order to show younger students to follow their passions. Not just to do what everybody else wants you to do but do what you love. So that was kinda the turning point for me. What I really hope to accomplish is if a student hears my name come up, somebody has a story to tell, a great story, about where I’ve come from, things that I’ve been through and how I made it all work. So it’s really important to show that whether a student is a minority or not that there is hope. I want show that there is hope in this route. If you dream, you can achieve it and so you just gotta keep working toward your goals and the most important thing is to keep going.

Ernesto's Story

Ernesto Duran-Gutierrez – Saginaw, Michigan
Bachelor of Arts in Dance, 2020

Born into a family of dancers, Ernesto Duran-Gutierrez was always drawn toward expressing himself through movement. Determined to master his passion, Ernesto joined Oakland University’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, and found not only the perfect environment to express himself in, but also a door to an opportunity he would never have imagined.


I hear people say like, “Oh I can’t dance,” or you know, “Oh I can never be a dancer.” My quick response is dancing is just glorified living.

My name Ernesto Duran-Gutierrez and I’m a dance major at Oakland University.

Growing up my aunts and uncles were traditional Mexican folklore dancers. And every time we had like family gatherings my parents or my grandparents were always like the first ones on the dance floor. So I think that kind of inspired me to pursue dancing.

I love being able to connect with my culture through movement. Having the family support, it gave me the drive that I have today.

What really drew me to coming to OU to study dance was me wanting to understand what it is I’m actually passionate about. I feel like it was such a perfect environment for me to not only learn other styles of dance, but also learn what my style of dance was. I’ve learned that dancing is just as mental as it is physical.

For me when I’m in the zone, it’s my time to really just test myself and really discover what I can handle.

So my job for the Detroit Lions is the flag crew. We run the flags, we hold up signs, and I have the opportunity to perform. When I got the news that I got the job I felt fulfilled. It was a perfect fit for me. I knew my family had to be the first ones that I told. So they knew that all the work that I was putting in was eventually going to lead to an opportunity like this.

Putting on the Lions uniform really just makes me feel confident because it just feels like where I belong. My goal is to travel the world and communicate and connect with as many people as I can through dance.

You don’t necessarily need a plan, you just need a vision. Always have an idea of where you want to go, but be open to every opportunity that comes along the way, because you have no idea what they could turn into.

Karla's Story

Karla Gudino Avila – Detroit, MI
Master of Education in Educational Leadership, 2020

Karla Gudino Avila's unwavering dedication to education makes her successful for her community. Karla’s immigrant parents struggled to provide for their family. Today, Karla is the first in her family to graduate from high school and earn a college degree. Oakland University enabled Karla to advance her career while caring for a son and working a full-time job.

Her tireless resilience advanced her from math teacher to assistant principal, and she is on the fast track to becoming principal.


[MUSIC] Being the first one from my family to graduate from high school and college was difficult. I knew that school was the key to success, but no one really was there to guide me. My name is Karla Gudino Avila, I am the Assistant Principal at Detroit Cristo Rey High School. Not seeing many minority students in college was what motivated me to come back to my neighborhood and help them, inspire them to go to school that they can do it. My mission is to serve. I wanted to learn how to be a better leader, it just made sense to work towards a leadership program now that I'm in a leadership position. It's never too late to go back to school and earn your degree. My degree of Oakland University helped me be more confident, identify what type of leader I am, and what are my strengths, and what are my areas that I need to grow. I hope to become the next principal and hope to continue to inspire others to pursue their dreams. [MUSIC].

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