New Faces: Michael Cummings

The business law professor changed fields of study more than once as he made his way through his undergraduate and graduate studies. His tip for success: Never be afraid to start over.

Some would say Michael Cummings took a circuitous route into academia. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and a J.D. before pursuing a master's in public administration and Ph.D. in strategic management. Today he's exactly where he wants to be -- at UNLV teaching business law in the Lee Business School, beginning this fall.

What inspired you to get into your field?

My plan was always to go to law school. It wasn't until law school that I realized I was more drawn to the scholarly side of things rather than the practice of law. I did practice law for a year before going on to my master's, but it didn't stick. Almost immediately, I started hatching a plan to earn a Ph.D.

Describe your research.

My research focuses on how the governments of developing countries engage with "diasporas," or groups of people who have emigrated and live abroad. Countries, such as Haiti, establish engagement institutions to make it easier for people abroad to vote, travel, visit, invest, maintain dual citizenship, and keep a foot in both places. I study the change in investment patterns and political behavior of diasporas as they respond to these host country institutions.


Several reasons: a familiar geography and climate; young, dynamic, exciting institution; and the comfort of coming to a place where a trusted colleague works. (Cummings has co-authored scholarly articles with Hans Rawhouser, a Lee Business management professor.)

Where did you grow up?

Up the road a bit in American Fork, Utah.

What's the biggest misconception about your field?

When people outside of academia find out I'm teaching at a business school, they often assume I have one of two areas of expertise -- making lots of money in the stock market or founding a startup company that's going to be bought for millions of dollars. I know little about either one.

What's the biggest challenge in your field?

My work touches on a lot of different scholarly areas: law, business, public policy. When I begin a new research project, it can be difficult to identify my target audience. Depending on whom I am writing for, the presentation and framing of the paper can differ drastically.

Proudest moment in your life?

The day my wife and I graduated from law school together. I still have a picture of us in our caps and gowns holding our 9-month-old baby girl, also wearing a cap and gown.

One tip for success?

Don't be afraid to start over. Ten years from now, you'll be 10 years older, but will you be doing what you want to do?

If you could fix one thing in the world, what would it be?

Remove the barriers that exist in international adoption so that kids in need could be placed in good homes. It shouldn't take three years and $30,000 to rescue a foreign child from an orphanage.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I have an irrational fear of grasshoppers. I think it stems from a bad childhood experience with them.

What can't you work without?

Google Scholar, the best search engine for academic articles.

Who is your hero?

My Grandpa LeBaron. He grew up poor on a farm in Barnwell, Alberta, Canada -- the middle of nowhere. Despite his humble beginnings, he later became a world traveler, book author, and professor of religious studies and church history at Brigham Young University.

Pastime or hobbies?

I enjoy outdoor things: camping, hiking, fishing. Earlier this summer my wife and I decided we'd take our four kids to visit all the national parks. So far we've hit four: Voyageurs in Minnesota, Badlands and Wind Cave in South Dakota, and Grand Teton in Wyoming. Our challenge might be getting to the ones in Hawaii and Alaska.

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