‘Big Dog’ Abell cowboys up, earns master’s degree
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
The myth, the legend, the college graduate.
Everyone seems to know Mike Abell.
“He’s tall, he wears a cowboy hat. You can’t miss him,” a Grand Canyon University staff member said of Abell, lovingly known by friends as “Big Dog.” He was one of the graduates at fall commencement Friday, earning his master’s degree in Professional Counseling.
True to form, Abell skirted the typical mortarboard graduation cap for his signature cowboy hat, tassel attached for good measure, along with his crocodile skin boots, his bulldog bolo tie and his belt buckle.
“It makes it easier to see him,” said his granddaughter, Emma, one of many family members who attended commencement.
“I kind of stick out. … It’s all part of ‘Big Dog,'” said Abell, who also is blind and wears dark sunglasses along with his cowboy hat.
He slowly started losing his vision after a firecracker accident in 1968, completely losing it in 2003. But blindness doesn’t seem to have slowed down Abell, a bigger-than-life, happy, self-described cowboy. He counsels visually impaired clients at Family Ministry Counseling and Psychoterapy Services in Phoenix. Earlier this year, he launched a support group for the visually impaired called “Visionaries.”
And he has been a big fixture at the University. He said he was told by a member of the GCU administration that he will be presented with a brick that will be placed in the University’s Walk of Fame.
Abell, who also is a Southern Baptist minister, took his first class at Grand Canyon in 1982, earning his bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Religion in 1988. He has experienced, firsthand, the growth of GCU.
It was in 2014 when he started the journey to earning his master’s degree.
“This is my calling. I feel God has called me to this. … This is where God has led me,” he said.
And it is leading him even higher in his educational career. He will start work on his doctoral degree in January.
“It’s been a fantastic journey,” he said, hoping ultimately to teach at the University one day. “I’m Lopes all the way.”
Read more about Mike Abell here.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at (602) 639-7901 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.