Inspiring grads: Michael Oliveros

Michael Oliveros is among the first UIC graduates to receive a bachelor’s in global Asian studies. (Photo: Ian Battaglia/University of Illinois Chicago)

Michael Oliveros credits being in the first group to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in global Asian studies with helping them find a home to truly be themselves at the University of Illinois Chicago.

In addition to being one of the first to graduate this spring with the inaugural global Asian studies degree, Oliveros also has earned a bachelor’s degree in gender and women’s studies. Both programs are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Oliveros, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines, is a first-generation college student who transferred to UIC sophomore year after changes in family circumstances.

“UIC seemed like the right option, and I honestly like this school better. I’m very grateful that my circumstances changed,” Oliveros said. “I came from a background where my identities were not celebrated and were very much repressed.”

Oliveros, who identifies as “queer, brown and disabled,” said the pieces fell into place at UIC when the global Asian studies program they were minoring in became a major in 2022.

As this was occurring, Oliveros was confronting housing and food insecurity issues. After reaching out to faculty from both majors, they responded with campus resources that helped them succeed.

“If I did not find the global Asian studies department and if I did not find the gender and women’s studies department, I honestly can say that my entire college trajectory would have been shifted,” Oliveros said. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would be able to say, ‘I’m finishing college now.’”

They have been a member of the GLAS Student Advisory Board since 2020 and currently serve as its co-chair. In addition to their academic work and serving in a leadership role on the advisory board, Oliveros self-published their book, “They, Singular,” which explores themes of queerness, religion, diasporic identity and race. 

“’They, Singular’ was born during the strife of anti-Asian hate, Pride Month, and Black Lives Matter/George Floyd and COVID because I just wanted to give something back to my community,” Oliveros said.

Their artwork can be found on Instagram, and they are the artist behind the emotional support blobfish named chAAMP and the accompanying webcomic we_are_the_chAAMPions, a comic series created by GLAS 495 interns for the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center’s Asian American Mentor Program.

Oliveros also earned their EMT license and works as a patient care technician at a Chicago hospital, where they assist nurses to help 15 to 30 people on average during overnight shifts. Oliveros, who is on the pre-med track, plans to continue working at the hospital and save up for medical school.

“I can’t image what my collegiate career or my life would look like if I did not accidentally end up here,” Oliveros said of UIC. “It’s just been the foundation for why I’ve been able to make my own space and to thrive.”

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