Tyler Barrett (B.S. ’97) and Kelly McGill-Barrett (B.B.A. ’97) have spent many years as University of Michigan boosters. They’re scholarship donors, student mentors, and, back in the day, Tyler was even a cheerleader—a result of a spring break bet.
“I met some people who were on the cheerleading team during spring break,” says Tyler, now an emergency medicine faculty physician at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “My punishment for losing a bet with them was that I had to learn how to do a backflip.”
So he did, and when the cheerleading team captain blew out his knee before tryouts that year, the coach encouraged him to try out for the varsity team. The rest is history.
“At one point, I even had to cheer for my friend, who was on the basketball team,” laughs Barrett. “But it was really fun, and I even appeared in a Sports Illustrated photograph after the Michigan-Virginia football game—in the background.”
Barrett had known he wanted to be a doctor since he was seven years old, but he says that that didn’t stop him from taking full advantage of the range of courses available in LSA as an undergraduate student. He loved classes like Great Books and Classical Civilizations, and he eventually majored in psychology as a natural science. He credits this broad course load with preparing him for life after college, including his high-pressure career as an emergency physician.
“A liberal arts education teaches you how to think and how to critically appraise topics, and that’s incredibly important in the field of emergency medicine,” says Tyler. “You have to be able to take small amounts of information and come up with conclusions that may have life-altering results.”
Barrett also values the connections he made with others at the University, ranging from fellow students and classmates to inspiring professors.
“At Michigan, I was surrounded by intelligent individuals who came from all walks of life,” he says. “Some of my best friends had different opinions from me, but we always had important dialogues. The world would be a better place if people had more conversations like the ones that occur daily at U-M.”
Barrett’s favorite memory from U-M was the night he met fellow U-M student and future wife, Kelly McGill-Barrett at—of all places, Rick’s, where he worked as a bouncer.
Kelly, who began in LSA and transferred to Ross for her B.B.A, also says that a diverse array of courses helped prepare her for her career in information technology. As an LSA student, she loved history courses, and was particularly passionate about a course on the history of the Vietnam War.
“Aside from academics, the friendships and networks you develop are very important too,” says Kelly. “You learn a lot outside of the classroom by meeting people from all types of different backgrounds.”
As the Associate Director for Relationship Management at Vanderbilt University, Kelly has to translate the technology needs of the school into workable problems for IT staff members. She says that her ability to work with people from different walks of life is a result of her U-M education.
“At Michigan, I gained important thinking and analysis skills,” says Kelly. “In my career, I need to be able to understand the strategic vision of my customers and help figure out how IT can help achieve those goals.”
The Barretts both credit the skills, life lessons, and friendships they developed at U-M with their desire to give back. Already longtime scholarship donors, the couple recently cemented their legacy by creating the Tyler and Kelly Barrett Scholarship, ensuring that more talented students can attend college regardless of their financial situation. Although they’ve only recently turned 40, the couple has also made plans to add to the Barrett Scholarship through a gift from their estate.
“We were hoping to help eliminate some of the barriers to getting an undergraduate education,” says Tyler. “I like the idea of contributing to something over time, and to be able to direct our future donations there—and I like that we will be able to see the scholarship’s impact and know that it will continue for generations to come.”
The Barretts also volunteer their time with the Alumni Association’s Alumni Student Recruitment program, where they meet with interested high-school students to answer questions about college and tell them about life at the University. They even alternate each year with Jim (B.S. ’77, M.D. ’80) and Marty Conrad (M.P.H. ’84) to host an annual reception for students in the area who gain admittance.
Tyler’s best advice to them? “The biggest thing I learned at U-M is to challenge yourself. If you think you want to do medicine, take a law class. Take trips, join groups. Make the most of it,” he says.
Kelly’s wisdom is similar: “Try to do as many things as you can when you get there,” she says. “Find a group that works for you. Try something you’ve never tried before. And bring a warm winter coat.”