At first, he was going to be a business major, and why not? He was a clerical co-op at a major company during his senior year at Gladwin High School and then for four and a half years while he studied at SVSU. Then for a while, he thought he wanted to be a secondary education English teacher. That morphed into something to do with creative writing and a change from a psychology minor to a theatre minor, and then to a theatre and creative writing double major.
Every experience, through every step of his journey, Mat Easterwood learned valuable lessons that ultimately led him to a degree he loves and a small town in Romania where he now is with the Peace Corps, teaching English with his wife and fellow SVSU grad, Marisa Gwidt.
Mat Easterwood is a real believer that it is as important to learn what you do not want to do with your life as it is to learn what you want to do, when, how and with whom. Further, he believes that every experience is a teaching moment if the student is willing to learn. If these beliefs help define the true value of higher education, then Mat has learned a great deal, both inside the classroom, as well as on the stage, in the SVSU Writing Center and around the table of the writers and staff of the " Valley Vanguard ."
Though Mat decided early on that the corporate world wasn’t for him, he acknowledges that he learned a great deal from the experience, most especially the value of interacting with all sorts of people from all sorts of place and “understanding how taking the initiative really gets you places.” Mat helped start a student resource center, and wrote technical testing reports as well as edited others’ work. Giving feedback was something he really enjoyed and over time, he married that interest with a developing enthusiasm for creative writing and found himself with a new major and a calling which ultimately led to work in the SVSU Writing Center.
So many students and alumni speak to the impact that staff and faculty have on lives, sometime through simple acts and other times through more overt influence. In Mat’s case, he benefited from it all. Helen Raica-Klotz, lecturer of English and instructor for Mat’s “Introduction to Creative Writing” class, took notice of Mat ‘s talent and made it clear to him how much potential she thought he had.
“Creative Writing Poetry “class with professor of English Eric Gardner was initially ‘painful’ for Matt, as he offers that Dr. Gardner is “notorious for condensing everything to as few words as possible and I am (was) incredibly wordy.” But Mat adds, “without his forcing me/helping me develop, I would not have grown. He put me on a path to get it (writing) down to the bones and then, put some meat back on it.” Midway through another class with Dr. Gardner and one with Vince Samarco (associate professor of English), Mat was asked by both professors if he ever thought of working in the Writing Center. Mat met with Helen and Diane Boehm (director, University Writing Program) and soon began an assignment that lasted three and a half years.
As Mat’s love of writing became clearer and clearer, so too did his keen interest in the theatre. He decided to do a double major, creative writing and theatre. His love for the theatre runs deep, and his two favorite roles were in “Angels in America” and “Pillow Man,” “Angels in America” because of the university’s creative support of a controversial subject matter and “Pillow Man” because the main character, the character Mat wanted to play, felt so similar in a very personal way. Mat recites a line at the end of the play that even in repeating it, chokes him up: “I was a good writer. That’s all I ever wanted to be. And, I was. I was.”
In February 2008, Mat and then girlfriend Marisa took home a Valley Vanguard issue that mentioned a Peace Corp meeting. Marisa, says Mat, suggested that they should join. They applied, got married and learned that they both qualified to be English teachers and involved in youth development. For a young man who “has never been beyond Stratford, Ontario” the feeling of living for twenty-seven months in another country was “an amplified feeling of opening night times ten!”
Mat’s #1 goal for the Peace Corp is to ingratiate himself within another culture. He wants to “meet people vastly different from me and learn about a different culture, its value and heritage.” Mat’s lifelong dream to travel, his desire to become one with a culture and his love of the theatre’s ability to allow an actor to be one with the character, all found meaning and came to fruition in the Peace Corp. “I didn’t necessarily have a name for it, but it’s come with time and education.”
Staff member of “ Cardinal Sins .” Tutor in the Writing Center. Vanguard arts and entertainment editor, campus tour guide and member of the theatre’s Alpha Si Omega fraternity who has used every experience to bring him to his current role of teacher, and proud resident of the village Targoviste, Romania. This is Mat Easterwood. This is SVSU.
Jamie Wendorf is a double major (literature, Spanish) with a sociology minor, originally from Brown City (in Michigan’s Thumb). In 2009-10, Jamie was a member of the prestigious Roberts Fellows. She also presented her honors thesis, and with the help of a Foundation grant, created “Living through Literacy,” an end-of-life program for patients to share their life narratives.
SV: What was the topic of your honors thesis?
Jamie: For my honors thesis, I looked at end-of-life narratives, particularly in terms of literary patterns and sociological perspectives. I chose this because it blended many of my passions: literature, sociology, and understanding life as we approach death. Though the thesis took an incredible amount of work, it was so rewarding; I was inspired by how others approached one of the most intimidating parts of life, and it helped shape what I want to do with my future.
SV: As a result of your research about end-of-life narratives, you created a volunteer organization. Tell us about the "Living through Literacy" program.
Jamie: Living Through Literacy gives Hospice patients a chance to create a record of their life stories to pass on to their loved ones. Volunteers can create scrapbooks, videos, short stories, and other types of narrative projects. I received an SVSU Foundation Resource Grant in Winter 2009 to start the program.
I started the program after I had volunteered with my first patient. I absolutely fell in love with working with Hospice patients - it's so inspiring to see how much life people have, even when approaching death. I wanted to try to give other volunteers the same experience I had. These end of life stories allows us [volunteers] to grow, while giving the patients and their loved ones a sense of permanence through their stories.
SV: You were a 2009-10 Roberts Fellow. How did this program benefit you?
Jamie: I've learned to take chances. There are so many opportunities out there for us, and before, I was too afraid to go after them. I was afraid that I would fail, or that I would not measure up. I do have potential and being afraid of things isn’t going to serve me in the long run. Being a Roberts Fellow gave me confidence. Taking a leap and going after one opportunity has given me the confidence to chase after others.
SV: The Roberts Fellows program concludes with a three-week trip to Asia. What did you gain from that experience?
Jamie: My perspective was certainly changed by my time in Asia. I realized how much more there is to the world - and I still have only seen a small part of it. The cultures there are so beautiful, with so much history. It opened up my eyes to other ways of thinking, and gave me a hunger to learn more about other cultures.
SV: Why would you recommend SVSU to another student?
Jamie: I would say that SVSU presents so many opportunities, more than I had ever thought possible. At a larger school, I don't know that I would have had some of the amazing experiences I've had here. From the chance to go to Asia, to start a volunteer program, to the general atmosphere of support, SVSU has given me the resources to mold me for whatever direction my life goes in.