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Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.
Arizona State University graduate Nick Matula has been recently named lead of the Corporate Responsibility Team at the Verizon Foundation.
Matula has graduated with a social and cultural pedagogy master's degree at the School of Social Transformation.
"This master's degree prepares individuals as changemakers within a variety of fields, including education, nonprofits and culturally responsive organizations," Matula said. "What makes this program unique is the ability for students to curate their own learning experience by leveraging opportunities to take courses from a robust range of schools and degree tracks. As a student in the (social and cultural pedagogy) program, I was able to take courses from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and the College of Sustainability, to name a few. Not many programs allow a student to cater their educational experience based on their own needs and interests."
"Nick used his high school teaching and academic research experience to develop an innovative app that will eventually provide high school students with new civic engagement opportunities,” said Gregory Broberg, project committee member and lecturer in the School of Social Transformation.
Question: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: My “aha” moment came when I was working as an educator at a Title 1 school in New York City. My high school was selected to engage in a participatory budgeting experience, in which students were asked to use public funding to identify and address hardships that they experienced on a daily basis. This experience was not only meaningful for the youth that I was working with on a daily basis, but inspired me to learn about alternative opportunities for access, particularly as it pertains to adolescents. Knowledge, education and meaningful skills are not always learned in the context of a classroom but can be gained through nontraditional means as well; this is what led me to the master’s degree in social and cultural pedagogy.
Q: What's something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: In honor of the late Biggie Smalls, "We can't change the world unless we change ourselves."
ASU, and particularly the School of Social Transformation, emphasized the need to promote aspects of self-determination, especially when working with at-risk youth and other marginalized populations. Far too frequently do researchers and social scientists go into a community in order to create systematic change without considering the lens or perspective of the communities that they are trying to serve. ASU has taught me to provide individuals within marginalized communities with the tools, knowledge and skills necessary for them to make meaningful changes that are reflective of their specific needs unique to the community in which they live.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: ASU has the first program in the United States providing a degree in social and cultural pedagogy, so it was a natural choice from that perspective. But another reason came down to the far reach and visibility of ASU across the United States. Even as a public school teacher in New York, I was aware of the impact and scale of work that ASU does across the country. It was the potential network of connection and support that had encouraged me to join the ASU family.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Several professors had an impact on me for a variety of reasons, so it is difficult to pin down one individual. The first I would like to shout out is Gregory Broberg, who encouraged me to take risks when it came to my research and professional goals and to think outside the box when presenting ideas. He also instilled that education is meant to serve the needs of the individual and that individual is not meant to serve the needs of an institution. The second professor, Daniel Schugurensky, encouraged me to think about systems of transformation. Sometimes change is intended to be in opposition to current systems that exist within the United States, and sometimes change must work collaboratively within current systems and structures that exist. The final professor that encouraged me was Melanie Bertrand from the Teachers College, who taught me that we should trust adolescents. As educators, it is our responsibility to provide them with the tools and skillsets for progress.
Q: What's the best piece of advice you'd give to those still in school?
A: Keep going! I know at times things can be stressful. Late nights and early mornings. But do not lose sight of the end goal, and never forget that your education is not only personally transformative but will enable you to hopefully transform the experience of those who may not be fortunate enough to be in the position that you are in. Education is not a given and should be viewed as a privilege. Do not let that opportunity go by the wayside.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I love ASU Gammage! I was able to see "Hamilton" there, a once in a lifetime experience and I was not disappointed! This site, being one of Frank Lloyd Wright's final accomplishments, is a testament to Southwestern architecture and provides ASU with so much character, which many students can lose sight of considering the mass expansion and modernization of the campus on an annual basis. The second location that I genuinely enjoy is Hub 249, at the Arizona Chandler Innovation Center. I was able to learn about so many new and emerging technologies such as 3D printing. If anyone is looking to gain a new skill or just have fun playing with fancy technology, this is the place for you.
Q: You recently accepted a job at the Verizon Foundation as the lead of the Corporate Responsibility Team. What was your primary motivation to apply for this position?
A: Scale and impact. Many of us dream to create critical change that is meaningful and can impact a broad audience. The Verizon Foundation is an organization with a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure that will allow for the scalability of programs that are critical for supporting marginalized populations. The Verizon Foundation can leverage a network of support to help create systems that reinforce mechanism essential for social, political and environmental progress such as, digital inclusion, climate protection and human prosperity in order disrupt traditional systems which in many ways fails in providing individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary for progress and success.
Q: How did the School of Social Transformation help you prepare for success in this position?
A: The School of Social Transformation prepared me for the position by instilling the belief that I am not a servant of a mega-corporation, but a servant of the populations in which it serves. I was provided with the opportunity to leverage an abundance of resources, and (the school) has taught me to emphasize a vision of inclusion in which all individuals, regardless of gender, race, identity, creed, etc. are part of decision-making processes.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: In today's day and age, $40 million does not even seem like it's that much money considering many public corporations such as Amazon rake in revenues exceeding trillions of dollars. But if I were to acquire $40 million somehow, I would hope to create a community fund, and allow youth and marginalized populations to determine how the funds are spent.