Michael Dodds is a 23-year-old graduate student in Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems from Leola, Pennsylvania. Dodds won the $100,000 grand prize in the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway during halftime at the 2014 College Bowl.
The Triangle: First of all, can you give us some background on yourself? What do you do when you aren’t on national TV?
Michael Dodds: Without getting into too much detail, I was born in West Chester and my family moved to Lancaster when I was very young. Ever since elementary school I’ve been very involved with sports (particularly wrestling and football) and somewhat involved with the arts (e.g. chorus, guitar and theatre). After high school, I attended Penn State to earn my degree in biology (vertebrate physiology) with the original intention of attending medical school. Early in my junior year, after a lot of deliberation and reflection, I decided I wanted to pursue the more quantitative and creative aspects of medicine. So, I shifted my focus to biomedical engineering and applied to Drexel’s graduate program in fall of 2013. Because my undergraduate degree is non-engineering, I’ve been taking a few fundamental engineering classes to bring myself up to speed. Outside of studying biomedical engineering at Drexel, I have a somewhat eclectic pool of hobbies. My older brother and I like to bond over activities like snowboarding, jujitsu, video games, whitewater rafting and mud-running. We also occasionally like to partake in extremely spicy food challenges with a friend of ours from high school. My crowning achievement (so far) is eating an entire Carolina Reaper (the world’s hottest pepper) without having to drink any milk, water, etc. On a personal level, I’ve been playing guitar for about eight years and I’m currently pursuing independent video game development for enrichment and also to reinforce useful programming syntax.
TT: How did you get involved with this opportunity?
MD: It’s kind of interesting actually. A very good friend of mine from high school wrestling won the halftime competition last year and it sparked my interest. After briefly sharing my career goals on the tuition giveaway website, I was given the option of submitting a video for the competition. Then one day in early November, I got a call from Dr. Pepper saying they liked my video and were going to bring me and one guest to the ACC Championship Game to potentially compete during halftime for $100,000. I just think it’s really neat and remarkable that two people from the same high school and same wrestling team were both selected for such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
TT: What was it like to be on national TV?
MD: The best words to describe it are “surreal” and “numbing.” My head was just a jumble of thoughts ranging from “I wonder who’s watching right now” to “what will the implications be if I win,” so I almost couldn’t even comprehend the fact that I was on national TV.
TT: How did you feel when you realized you won?
MD: An unbelievable sense of gratitude and happiness. Obviously, at face value, I was happy to win $100,000 towards my tuition, but what really overwhelmed me with gratitude were the implications of the tuition prize. My parents were never really given the chance to earn degrees, yet they worked tirelessly to help me and my two siblings through college. Everything I do in school and the rest of my life is motivated by the thought of making my parents proud and showing them that their hard work was worth it. When I won the tuition prize, I knew I could go full steam ahead with nothing financially holding me back and earn my master’s.
TT: What was it like to hold a giant check? Did you get to live out a childhood dream?
MD: With my hands shaking the way they were, I was just glad I didn’t accidentally drop the check. Holding the check was an affirmation of winning the $100,000 prize, so naturally it made me feel a little giddy. And I did get to live out a childhood dream, but it didn’t involve holding the big check. Ever since I started playing football, I’ve always jokingly wanted to make it into a Sports Center highlight, Top 10, etc. Even though I didn’t get to see it, a friend of mine told me that the halftime competition was on Sports Center’s Top 10 the night of the ACC Championship game.
TT: When you woke up the morning that you were on TV, what was going through your head?
MD: I just approached the halftime competition like a wrestling match or a football game. Early in the day, I didn’t even think much about the competition and just tried to enjoy being in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a little funny, because I didn’t start really focusing until the pre-game party outside of the stadium, which was supposed to be one of the big attractions of the weekend. So rather than take everything in, I was in my own little world for the most part.
TT: How do you feel now that you have the money? Do you feel any different?
MD: I feel a lot more relaxed and focused. Before I won the tuition prize, I knew I was taking on a heavy financial burden by attending graduate school. And to be honest, I considered sticking it out with just my undergraduate and gradually moving my way into the engineering field throughout my career. Eventually I decided to bite the financial bullet and go directly to graduate school. Naturally, the tuition prize money makes the path I’ve chosen a lot easier.
TT: Why did you choose to go to Drexel for grad school?
MD: In addition to Drexel being a top-ranked school for biomedical engineering, it’s also one of the few schools I know of that has a good system for integrating students without an engineering background into the biomedical engineering graduate program. Also, because I live so close to the train station in Lancaster, I can save a lot on living expenses by living at home and taking the train into Philly whenever I have class.