An academic focus on the Central Valley region’s historically African-American communities brought Michael Eissinger to UC Merced.
He decided the UC’s newest campus was the best place to pursue his doctorate in world cultures. The university was geographically convenient for Eissinger, who lives in Fresno, but the main draw was something else.
“Really, the people I wanted to work with were at UC Merced,” he said.
Today, the onetime disc jockey, computer consultant and college instructor has found fresh success both in and out of the classroom. Eissinger recently won an Outstanding Teaching Assistant award and in May published a book about the Madera County community of Fairmead.
Robin M. DeLugan, a professor of anthropology and Eissinger’s graduate adviser, said his partnership with Fairmead is an example of community-engaged scholarship. Sales of the book, “Fairmead: A Century of Change,” benefit the community, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in June.
She also praised Eissinger’s professionalism, competence and humor as her teaching assistant.
“He’s not afraid to make fun of himself and to communicate to students his own foibles and lessons learned,” DeLugan said.
Eissinger, 56, talks openly about the long road to UC Merced. He’s working toward a new career — teaching at the university level — after spending decades in the workforce and in college classes.
“It took me 34 years to finish my bachelor’s degrees,” Eissinger said. Those degrees, earned at California State University, Fresno, are in history and anthropology.
Originally from North Dakota, Eissinger has lived most of his life in the Central Valley. He built a following as DJ Allan Michaels on area radio stations, earned a two-year computer degree from Central California Commercial College and worked in UCLA’s information technology department.
Later, he opened a computer consulting firm. But at age 48, a burned-out Eissinger went back to college with the goal of shifting careers.
Eissinger enrolled with his wife, Corkey, at Fresno City College in 2004. The two took the same class and shared a book.
Eissinger persevered to earn an associate’s degree, then added the bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree in history from California State University, Fresno. He also worked as a part-time college instructor.
At Fresno State, Eissinger developed an interest in rural, historically African-American communities in the Central Valley. Many started more than a century ago when farming interests recruited African-Americans to work in the fields.
Eissinger explores the history and transformation of those communities — some have disappeared, and others have evolved into predominately Hispanic towns. Those communities are the focus of his dissertation.
Eissinger, who enrolled at UC Merced in 2010, said he enjoys solid support and strong one-on-one relationships with faculty.
“I’m very proud to be part of the school,” he said. His son, Nikolas, also plans to transfer to UC Merced.
Eissinger still has a few years to go in his doctoral program, but he’s already taken part in commencement as a volunteer at UC Merced’s recent ceremony.
He carried the banner for the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts — an experience he hopes to repeat.
“If they’ll let me, I’ll continue to do so until the May evening when I’m there to get my hood,” Eissinger said.