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Week of May 23, 2011

Staff Spotlight

Financial aid officer has passion for martial arts

Mike Ross’s natural patience and good humor serve him well in his job in the Office of Financial Aid, where he works closely with students and staff to help them navigate the financial aid process. His welcoming smile puts them at ease.

But outside of work, Ross pursues a more confrontational kind of social interaction. An accomplished mixed martial artist who holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Ross won a Triple-X Cage Fighting tournament title in Livonia in 2009.

Photo by Eric Bronson, U-M Photo Services.

Ross began working at the Office of Financial Aid in 2007. He says it’s a good place to work, and he especially likes the people and the atmosphere. When he brought his championship belt into to the office after his 2009 fight, he says, his coworkers “thought it was awesome.”

Being a competitive person has helped him not only as an athlete but also in his performance at work, Ross says. As a financial aid officer, he counsels students about financial aid application deadlines and requirements, processes aid applications, and answers families’ questions about the finer points of grants, loans and work-study.

“It takes a lot of motivation and attention to detail to do my job well,” he says. “I am very competitive in everything I do, and that helps drive my motivation at work.”

That motivation is enhanced when he receives emails and letters from families thanking him for helping their student attend U-M. “With the economy down, families want to know how much financial aid they can receive. They appreciate advice on how to find resources for college,” he says, adding that he gets satisfaction from knowing that he has helped students fulfill their dreams.

Ross grew up in West Virginia and came to Michigan in 2001 when he was recruited to play basketball at Eastern Michigan University. After basketball, the 5-foot, 9-inch point guard needed a new sport to pursue.

He’d been interested in mixed martial arts since the 1990s, when he’d started watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship on TV with his father. So in 2006 he started training, and within a couple of years he was fighting in tournaments.

Ross says Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is called the “gentle art” because the goal is not necessarily to hurt your opponent but rather to use submission moves and leverage to defeat the opponent. Jiu Jitsu is just one among many weapons for the mixed martial artist, who can draw on techniques from wrestling, boxing or kickboxing.

Ross, who commutes to Ann Arbor from Belleville, heads to Dexter three or four nights a week to teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts at Master Lockman’s Black Belt Academy. “Teaching makes you better,” he says. “It helps your all-around game, and helps you memorize moves at the same time that you’re helping a student who’s trying to reach your level.”

Ross says he has put his own training on pause while he pursues a master’s degree in accounting and a side business with AdvoCare, a nutritional supplement company. But he plans to get back to training eventually, and hopes to go pro in mixed martial arts and get his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at



Mike Ross, financial aid officer senior, Office of Financial Aid, on how training and preparation for sports competition positively impacts his approach to work: “It takes a lot of motivation and attention to detail to do my job well.”


“Reconstruction of an Antenna (as seen on TV)” from UMMA Projects: Amalia Pica, May 28-Sept. 18, U-M Museum of Art.

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