Guiding Light

ISD Graduate Student Coordinator James Tobias guides graduate students and gives back to his community as a youth wrestling coach


It all started when he was around 3 years old.

James Tobias would wrestle tirelessly with his three older brothers growing up on a small farm in Manchester, Mich. The combination of wrestling and working on a farm taught him the values of hard work and perseverance. 

“When I got into middle school, I started traveling around the state and country, finding practice partners, and competing with others who I knew were better than me,” Tobias said. “Many of my practice partners are now current Olympians and college coaches.”

The extra work paid off.

Tobias won a state championship in wrestling at Manchester High School in 2005 and was a three-year letter winner in wrestling at the University of Michigan from 2005-2010. After earning U-M undergraduate degrees in German and History in 2010, he moved to Berlin, Germany, for a year. 

After returning from Europe, he began his graduate program in Educational Leadership at Eastern Michigan University and started teaching first year students the science of learning. He also became the youth wrestling coach in Manchester allowing him to pass on the lessons he learned. 

“Wrestling is so much more than just taking someone down and putting them to their back,” Tobias said. “This is a sport that really pushes you mentaly. Wrestlers have to overcome their fears, learn from failures, and dig deep down in the toughest of times to come out victorious. These are lessons they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

It’s Great to Be a Michigan Wolverine! 

Tobias returned to U-M this past fall. He accepted the position of Graduate Student Coordinator, Integrated Systems + Design (ISD). 

“At ISD, I am constantly working in partnership to find and create student-focused outcomes while building a cohesive and inclusive campus community,” Tobias said. “I have a passion to help ISD students connect their interests, values, and goals with courses and opportunities so they can make sense of their education and become the most successful versions of themselves.”

He has always considered the University of Michigan to be his home. Two of his older brothers graduated with degrees from U-M and he has always been attracted to both the athletic and cultural aspects of this campus community. 

“Ann Arbor is just so vibrant with activity. Of course I love to watch Michigan football and basketball win, but many forget that all of our sports are consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally.” Tobias says. “Obviously, I love watching our wrestling team, but I’m also excited to watch field hockey, soccer, softball , and our other sports bring home national championships.”

Not only does he get excited about sports on campus, but he can tell you about the events he has gone to in Hill auditorium, concerts in Kerrytown, or walking down main street during the Taste of Ann Arbor. 

Passionate to Help ISD Students 

These days, Tobias applies his wealth of holistic experiences to advise international and domestic graduate students at ISD, while making sure they understand graduation requirements and take advantage of opportunities to supplement their education. He enjoys helping ISD students through one of the most pivotal points in their journey.

“I assist graduate students as they navigate their degree audits, backpack, and register for courses,” he said. “For students who need outside support, I help them make connections with departments and faculty members across campus. I have a background administering open houses, student visits, and orientations for potential and incoming students.”

Championing DEI

During his time as a student athlete and throughout his higher education career, Tobias has learned to value differing viewpoints. He’s worked with diverse and largely underrepresented communities, and has seen how a different frame of reference can bring a whole new outlook, and provide value for everyone who is working together to reach a shared goal. 

“This has given me an increased appreciation for working at ISD, which is a family environment that values, embraces, and promotes diversity and inclusivity,” he said. 

Tobias reports to Elizabeth Mekaru, ISD Assistant Director of Academic Programs, and the two of them have had many conversations centered around access and inclusion.

“James is passionate about these values and puts them into action on a daily basis,” she said. “When navigating various situations, James consistently takes a student-centered approach, asking himself as well as his team, ‘What is best for the student in this situation, and what can we do to remove the barriers to that path?’”

Future Wolverine

With a little one on the way, Tobias hopes his experiences as a successful U-M student-athlete, youth coach, and higher education professional will transfer to raising a child. 

“I look forward to becoming a father and sharing the lessons I have learned in my professional career and my volunteer experiences,” he said. “Life is good!”