Recruiting the next generation of researchers

Zach Matson ’00, M.Ed. ’03

Chemistry teacher at Lafayette (Ky.) High School
Majors: Chemistry and Spanish

Zach Matson doesn’t talk much about his multiple nominations for Kentucky Teacher of the Year. Instead, he’d rather discuss the Fame Award, given each year at Lafayette High School, where he teaches chemistry.

The Fame Award is awarded by graduating LHS seniors. Each spring, students may write an essay about the teacher who made the most difference in their lives. Almost every year, at least one senior writes an essay about Mr. Matson.

Zach knows he engages students because of his love for chemistry, which he developed at Valpo. He also credits Valpo with supporting him along a career path that best fit his personality and goals.

“Based on my experience, research is not for everyone,” he says. “Many schools measure their effectiveness by how many people attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. But not everyone needs a Ph.D. in chemistry.”

Zach became a teacher through Valpo’s Lutheran Education Alliance Program with Parochial Schools (LEAPs) program teaching full-time in a parochial school while also completing the requirements for a master’s in education. He earned his M.Ed. at Valpo in 2003 and has taught chemistry for more than a decade at LHS.

Zach says Valpo’s embrace of future K-12 educators is both uncommon and important.

“The idea is, when we put our top students on the front lines in science education, they inspire the next generation of top students to continue in this field. If we create teachers who really inspire the students, people who students look up to, we will recruit more young people into the field,” he says.

Zach sees this in his high school classroom, where he says he is thrilled by how many students tell him they plan to major in chemistry or other STEM fields. Though Zach did not pursue a Ph.D., some of his students are now on that track.

Zach is happy with the path he took.

“Valpo has given me three degrees and a career that makes me happy,” he says. “What more could I ask?“