Jackson State University accomplished theater major gets full-tuition scholarship to MFA program at University of Iowa

Michael Taylor is a spring 2021 graduate who is excited about his next chapter. (Photo special to JSU)

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Most people choose their career paths. However, for Michael Taylor acting chose him. Taylor graduates this spring with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and is attending the University of Iowa in the fall to pursue an MFA in acting.

Taylor has secured an offer for a full-paid tuition, a teaching assistantship, an additional scholarship, and medical benefits.

“I came all the way down here not knowing much about Mississippi, but I had a teacher/mentor who went to Mississippi Valley State University. He told me about HBCUs and the SWAC,” he explained. “Once I got accepted to JSU, it was a go. I didn’t know I was going to major in theater, but JSU just stuck out to me. It just felt like home.”

Michael Taylor came to JSU from Chicago after his brother was killed by gun violence. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

When considering colleges, Taylor didn’t necessarily have a dream school. He was looking for a way out of the Chicago environment, especially considering his brother was killed due to gun violence.

He came on a campus tour a month before graduating high school and visited Rose E. McCoy Auditorium, the theater department, and met Dr. Mark Henderson, associate professor in the speech department.

Taylor shared that he had never been in a department environment and was wowed at experiencing like-minded individuals all working together towards a common interest.

At one point at JSU, Taylor had a 1.6 grade-point average. Through perseverance, dedication, and hard work, he turned himself around.

“I was so far away from home and caught up in the parties and hotspots. I was just living the college life and wasn’t focused on school,” he said. “My freshman year, I suffered as far as my grades. At the end of the day, I learned a lesson from it, and it changed me for the better and helped me become a better student.”

In January, Taylor attended the University Resident Theatre Association, an annual recruiting event held each year in multiple cities, bringing together prospective M.F.A candidates and faculty recruiters from dozens of top theatre programs.

Michael Taylor received multiple offers from schools but chose the University of Iowa. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

After auditioning, he received a few callbacks from some smaller schools. On the second day, The University of Iowa reached out to him, commending his audition and skills.

Taylor explained that actors don’t get offers from schools until Feb. 2. Furthermore, schools don’t have to stay in contact with students until there is an offer on the table, but Iowa continued to call and check on him.

“When offer day came, I got a call from Iowa. From that point on, I felt the same way I did about Jackson State. I just knew it was the right thing for me. I just got that feeling when I got that call. I was excited and speechless the same way I was when I got accepted to JSU,” he shared.

During his time at Jackson State, Taylor has starred in more than 10 productions, including “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Hoodoo Love,” and “Livin’ Fat.” He has been nominated for the Irene Ryan Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in both 2018 and 2020. He has also won the Department of Art and Theatre “Best Actor” award in 2017, 2019 and 2020 as well as “Best Actor” at the first annual Thee I Love Awards.

Taylor is walking across the stage on May 8 as a proud graduate of the theater department. He credits his success to his supporters, professors and faculty, MADDRAMA troupe, and Dr. Henderson.

“If it wasn’t for Dr. Henderson, I probably wouldn’t even have the motivation to finish school or pursue higher education at another institution,” Taylor said.

Calling his new Iowa City school “home” the same as Jackson State, Taylor said he is looking most forward to shaping young actors the same way he has been shaped during his collegiate career.