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"I want to continue to help writers and broaden people's minds with literature."
Jerry Mathes II, 40, has been a fisherman in Alaskan waters, a firefighter in Western forests, and a pizza-maker to earn his living, but now he is a first-generation college graduate who wants to write and teach writing. Despite a long absence from the classroom, Mr. Mathes earned a 3.9 GPA at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID, and was named outstanding graduate in the humanities division. He founded an off-campus writers' group and ran a public forum to read original works by students, faculty, and others. Jerry plans to seek a doctorate in English at East Carolina University and return to teach at Lewis-Clark.
Jerry's love of books began when his mother taught him to read while his father was serving in Vietnam. Jerry writes that, as a result, "my entire life, I have carried that love of books and learning with me, which led to my desire to write." After his daughter was born in 2000, Jerry decided to go back to school and seek a college degree - the first in his family.
Having earned his diploma at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho, Jerry wants to return there and teach at the institution that changed his life. "I feel that I can be a valuable asset to a public institution because I have such a strong background in the working class and have an intimate knowledge of the value of education," he notes. As part of his commitment, Jerry hopes to conduct public forums and combine performance art with visual art to create greater interest in literature and the arts.
Mr. Mathes had a rough road to advanced education. He found that work-study programs often meant reverting to work just to earn a living. But his motivation was strong and it overcame his concern that, as an older student, he would be singled out for ridicule or worse. When he started at Lewis-Clark, he was working as an assistant fire warden. "During the late summer, I occasionally had to miss classes to fight wildfires, and during the winter I often drove through snowstorms," he recalls. His wife and daughters encouraged him all the way. "Everyone in my small family deserves credit for my degree," he says.
In all his work, he observes, he has been a teacher of others, whether in firefighting, fishing, college writing, or even the Korean martial art, Hwa Rang Do. "It is through teaching others that I gained confidence in my skills, no matter what it is I do," he says. "If people are the bricks, then education is the mortar that builds up and holds the human legacy of a nation, indeed the world, together."
North Carolina School of the Arts
Undergraduate Transfer Scholar
North Carolina State University