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No one could blame Joe Matta, ’13, if a few years ago he would have had a tough time imagining himself attending an Ivy League university. The Bridgewater native and 1999 graduate of Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton, was working construction and delivering auto parts in the years before coming to BSU.
However, things changed after Mr. Matta stepped into an organic chemistry class that granted him entry to the world of research. “Suddenly, it all fell into place,” he said.
This fall, Mr. Matta will enter Yale University’s Ph.D. program to study chemistry with a teaching fellowship. It will be a long way from the 0construction sites and delivering carburetors of his past, the outgoing young man said recently as he stood in one of the new Math and Science Center labs. “Yale wasn’t really in my plans.”
Professor Steve Haefner, Joe’s mentor, said he’s one of the best students he’s ever worked with and that he realized he was special right off the bat. “You could really see the spark,” he said. “I think he’ll have a great time at Yale. He’ll do really well.”
Mr. Matta seems well suited for his future life. He loves to talk about the synthetic compounds he’s isolated and the methods that brought them into existence. Spend a few minutes in the lab with him and the overall impression is that of being in the company of a born researcher and educator. In addition to being accepted to Yale, Mr. Matta’s credentials also include being one of 12 students selected to present at this year’s National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, which was held in New Orleans.
Both Mr. Matta and Dr. Haefner sing the praises of BSU’s undergraduate research program. They point to a summer grant Mr. Matta received as an important part of his time at the institution. The young researcher was able to forgo a summer job and instead spend eight hours a day in the lab.
Dr. Haefner said experiences like that are transformative for a young scholar. “It’s the administration’s support of undergraduate research here that gives students a chance to do this important work,” he said. “These opportunities give students the chance to excel and compete with other students from institutions across the country.”
The professor also talked about the pride he has in seeing one of his students succeed to such a degree. “It’s amazing to watch students you’ve worked with for a couple of years follow your career path,” he said.
However, Mr. Matta remains humble. “I never imagined anything like this happening,” he said. (Photo by Karen Callan, story by John Winters, G ’11, University Advancement)