NYU student Tyson Lee Upshaw out in the city of Shanghai.

Every year, millions of first-year college students get the same piece of advice: use this time to explore your interests. Social Science major Tyson Lee Upshaw, an NYU Shanghai student from Ohio, took this advice to heart. Why? Because he came to NYU to break away from what felt familiar. His priority was to challenge his own ideas about what he should—and could—achieve. And on his journey of self-discovery, he became a scholar of how to be human.

Resisting Comfort

“My hometown of Canton, Ohio, sometimes feels like the smallest city in the world. Living there can create the temptation to get stuck in your comfort zone,” says Tyson. “That’s why I’ve always sought experiences that take me off the beaten path. It is also why I was ready to trade in the farmlands of my hometown for the skyscrapers of Shanghai.” He came to college prepared to take advantage of all that NYU Shanghai has to offer. And in his mission to push his own boundaries, he studied broadly, exploring courses in everything from speculative fiction to design thinking. As he began to narrow down the field, he took a range of social science courses from legal psychology to social research methods.

He also tried out more than 10 student clubs, organizations, and initiatives to see what felt right. In the Acapella Club and the Thespian Society, he cultivated his love of music and theatre. He tapped into different parts of his identity and stretched his skills in the Queer and Ally Society, the Marketing Society, and as a writer for the student newspaper, On Century Avenue. What’s more, he is also an orientation ambassador and has held student government positions. “I fell in love with NYU Shanghai early on and wanted to help others fall in love with it, too,” he explains.

“Little by little, all that I was involved in became a piece of me. Now I feel like I have a much more well-rounded outlook on the world.”

Tyson posing while people quickly walk past him. The people are blurred due to their fast pace.
Putting the Pieces Together

So where did his journey of self-discovery lead? In trying to figure himself out, Tyson became a student of the complexities of being human. He declared a major: Social Science with a focus on psychology. He also chose two minors, one in Interactive Media Arts and one in Creative Writing. In his experience, they all come together to help him explore how people think, feel, and communicate.

For example, his Legal Psychology course helped clinch Tyson’s choice to be a Social Science major. That is because it is where he learned just how contradictory people can be. “People can be convinced they have committed a crime even when they have absolutely no link to the crime they are being accused of,” he says. “The more we learned about that, the more I was intrigued by the strengths and faults of human nature.” Our ability to share information and knowledge is one of those strengths, he believes. So through interactive media arts, he explores how emerging technologies help us communicate—and even change how we do it. And through creative writing, Tyson works with his professors and classmates to create realistic characters and write stories that get to the heart of the human condition.

Finding the Way Forward

As Tyson looks to the future, he is confident he will find the right path. And, true to his nature, he is more than open to the twists and turns his path may take. But ultimately, he knows where he would like it to lead. “My endgame is to be a teacher,” he says. “My teachers at NYU Shanghai and beyond have played an integral role in my development as a human being. I’d give anything to pay that back to others one day.”

Cat has been telling NYU stories for nearly 10 years with NYU’s University Relations and Public Affairs Office of Marketing Communications and is constantly inspired by what the people of this community make real. She’s also a proud alum of the NYU MFA program in creative writing, and runs a literary magazine in her free time. When she needs to get away from words, she does work in her neighborhood gardens and parks.