The May 2021 graduation will be simultaneously joyful and sad for our department as we say goodbye to our student worker, Matthew Vining.
Matthew will be graduating with a B.S. in Environmental and Ecological Engineering. He was one of the winners of the 2020-2021 Engineering Fellows. It’s a prestigious award and an honor just to be nominated. Nominations are sought from the Purdue Engineering faculty and staff.
Matthew joined our department in the second semester of his Freshman year, in 2018. He started working 5 hours a week, with tasks like making copies, putting packets together, and keeping track of various information. Today, he is a fixture in our department. I don’t know how many hours he is supposed to work, but it feels like he’s always there (even if it’s just virtually). He runs our Ambassador program, oversees our events, updates our social media accounts, makes numerous marketing material for our programs, comes up with ideas on how to reach out to students, and makes solid contributions in our staff meetings, and on top of all of that, he does it all with a positive attitude. He’s friendly and easy to talk to, and brings youth and energy to our department. He is a real bright spot and has become such an essential part of our office that it will feel like losing a full-time employee.
I asked Matthew to reflect on his time in our office and this is what he had to say: “I have been able to grow so much personally and professionally. In our office, we interact with so many people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, that I never stopped learning a new perspective or idea that I was unaware of before. I also just love the sense of community that GEPP offers me. It's nice to know, as a student and employee, that people really care about my undergraduate experience and even how my life is outside of academics.”
To be sure, Matthew has had plenty of mother-hens watching over him. On his first study abroad program in Sweden, two female colleagues from our department went along to assist with the program. I imagine he probably thought twice before partaking in any partying activities. It’s something we all laugh about now. One of his favorite memories from that trip showcases his amazing personality: “My favorite memory was taking the train all the way from the northern-most part of Sweden in Kiruna all the way south to Stockholm. The country and its landscape were gorgeous and I had such meaningful conversations with students on the trip, that by the time the train ride was over, we were even closer friends then before.”
It did nearly break our hearts when his semester-long study abroad to the University of Canterbury in New Zealand was cut short after only a few weeks because of Covid. He handled that disappointment with such grace and dignity. I think we felt that loss for him even more then he did.
The pandemic has robbed us of getting to spend his senior year with him. We get to see him on Zoom calls and occasionally in-person, if we stop by the office, but it’s not the same. Like all mothers everywhere, we are expecting him to stay in contact with us when he goes out into the bigger world. We tried to get him to complete his Master’s at Purdue, but he has other plans. He will be pursuing a 2-year MPP (Masters of Public Policy) in Environment and Energy at Duke University. He hopes to pursue a career in government with an entity like the EPA, “to help develop policy that connects the STEM world and policy leaders. I would like to focus my work on implementing more equitable policies that work for all communities and put safety as a top priority of engineered solutions that mitigate environmental issues.”
Matthew, we have no doubt that you are going to make a huge mark on the world. We are so proud of you and wish you the absolute best in all your future endeavors!!!