Michelle Story

Michelle Story's commencement cap features her familyMichelle Story has a lot to be proud of. She is the first in her family to graduate from community college. She’ll be the first woman in her family to earn her bachelor’s when she graduates in June. And soon, she’ll be the first in her family to attend graduate school when she heads to Pepperdine University in July.

“I am somebody that has broken every generational curse that has been put before me. And now I've inspired the next generation in my household to do the same,” Story says.

Navigating adversity

The psychology major has crossed long distances to arrive to class. When she transferred to UC Irvine, she discovered that her funding didn’t cover her family’s expenses. So, she relocated back to Visalia, where she was born and raised, in California’s Central Valley (a distance of over 230 miles) and has been commuting ever since.

Visalia is a farming town surrounded by fields of orange and walnut trees. Story’s parents divorced when she was young, and she describes her childhood as “rough.” She was drawn to her psychology major out of desire to understand her mother.  

“I wanted to understand why she made the choices she did and allowed my brother and I to experience the type of childhood we did,” she explains. 

Story raised her younger brother and became a mother herself at 19. After struggling through high school (she had a learning disability that wasn’t diagnosed until her 30s), she attended community college where she continued to struggle academically. She eventually left to enroll in a vocational program in clinical medical assisting.  

After years of working as a medical assistant, Story suffered a devastating loss. Her daughter Rosalie was stillborn. Soon after, she transitioned from the clinic to teaching at the same clinical medical assisting program she had previously attended. To teach in the program, she was required to complete her associates degree. It wasn’t until she obtained her A.A. that she realized she wanted to continue her studies and had ambitions to attend a UC.

Mentorship matters

When Story first arrived on campus as a transfer student, she found the transition nothing short of “brutal.” She had just relocated with her children while maintaining a full-time job. After receiving her first quarter grades, she was devastated. She was consumed by imposter syndrome and was convinced that she didn't belong. It was then that she called Blake Stone, her scholarship advisor from the UCI Alumni Association. Stone spoke to her for three to four hours and has met with Story on a regular basis ever since.

“Blake is one of the reasons that I’m here today. She has supported me and never let me go through it alone,” Story says.

Story’s success at UCI hasn’t been achieved alone, but with the guidance of faculty and staff who have supported her along the way. She credits social sciences professors Long T. Bui, Jeanett Castellanos, Jonathan Lui, and Caesar Sereseres for playing an important role in her life at UCI.

“They all believed in me, my potential, my aspirations, and my research. They provided their platform to stand on while I created my own. They have all spent their careers helping others and gifting their expertise to all those who ask. I will forever be grateful for all they saw in me, and for them guiding me to the next step in my journey,” she says.

Unveiling inequality

Bui, an associate professor in the Department of Global and International Studies, first met Story when she entered the Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP), a five-week intensive summer program within the UCI School of Social Sciences that introduces first-generation students to the fundamentals of research and graduate education.

“She was a clear standout and displayed strong leadership skills from the outset. As a parent, non-traditional transfer student, and super-commuter who spent much time and mileage traveling between her home in central California and Irvine, Michelle never let any obstacle—social, geographic or academic—get in the way of her career goals or passion for public service,” he says.

Story was interested in conducting research as soon as she transferred to UCI but was unsure on how to accomplish it. Participating in SAEP showed her the way. Her SAEP project earned her an invitation to join the honors thesis seminar, where her current project explores how health perceptions and racism influence personal health behaviors among Latinas in her hometown.

“I feel like my research chose me. My study has truly become a work from the heart,” she says.

The future is bright

Story takes the greatest pride in her children who want to follow in her footsteps.

“I have a future teacher who wants to attend UCSB. I have a future veterinarian who wants to attend UCI. And I have a future animator who wants to attend community college for a few years and then transfer to UCLA,” she says. 

Story tries to bring her children, who range in age from five to 16, to campus as much as possible to introduce them to higher education.

“This has been very important to me since I was not fortunate enough to experience the same. I want to give my children the world and inspire them to take it,” she says.

Community catalyst

In July, Story will begin a master’s in clinical psychology at Pepperdine University where she plans to earn her Professional Clinical Counselors licensure. The program is based online, so her five-hour commutes will be a thing of the past. Once she completes her M.A., she plans to practice while working toward a Psy.D. Her ultimate goal is to bring reliable and affordable mental health services to the Central Valley.

“I'm very community based. I know what it's like to struggle with mental health and learning disabilities in the Central Valley. My hope is to close these gaps,” she says.

Story's dedication to her rural working-class community is evident in her dreams and actions. With a firsthand understanding of its struggles, she aims to uplift the community she calls home.

“Michelle has begun to advocate for her hometown,” Bui says. “In short, her clarity of vision is remarkable in its lucidity and sureness.”

-Jill Kato for UCI School of Social Sciences
-cap art by Kimberlee Morales
-photos by Mary Novelo


connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766