Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Shattering Sterotypes: Track and Field Standout Isaac Matthews Says He Has Worked Hard to Overcome the Myth That He Can't Both Be a Dominant Athlete and at the Top of His Class

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Shattering Sterotypes: Track and Field Standout Isaac Matthews Says He Has Worked Hard to Overcome the Myth That He Can't Both Be a Dominant Athlete and at the Top of His Class

Article excerpt

Any highlight reel documenting the accomplishments of Isaac Matthews both inside the classroom and on the track would make for a true crowd-pleaser. Though holding down a 3.88 GPA as a mechanical engineering major would be a full-time endeavor for most students, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County senior still finds time to serve as treasurer for the school's chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. He's also a motivational speaker for NASA Sharp students, a mentor and tutor to high school and middle school students and a concert cellist. And he's a member of an NAACP outreach program to encourage and motivate minority youth.

Matthews' passion to excel is also evident in his performance on the track. Matthews finished seventh in the 800-meter run at the 2005 America East Indoor Championships; finished eighth in the 800 at the 2004 America East Outdoor Championships; and among other accolades, he was named a Toyota Athlete of the Week in 2003.

Matthews also holds a Meyerhoff scholarship at UMBC. The Meyerhoff program was specifically designed to populate high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields with minority scientists who are both world-class scholars and social-conscious mentors, says LaMont Toliver, the program's director. Toliver likens Matthews to a modern-day renaissance man.

"When you talk about a prototype for a scholar-athlete ... if you were searching for a well-rounded intellectual with the potential to be the Paul Robeson of our time--he's that well-rounded. He's an accomplished cellist, athlete extraordinaire, scholar, a leader within the UMBC community as well as the Meyerhoff community. You expect this coming from the director, but if it were not true, I wouldn't say it. I think the world of him," Toliver says.

Matthews gets similar kudos from the head track and field coach at UMBC, David Bobb. He says Matthews "epitomizes the student-athlete because he always puts academics first. It's just a joy to see a young man do what he has done in the major that he has done it. It's always a plus to see someone handle and balance academics and athletics."

Matthews says he brings a holistic approach to his roles as athlete and scholar. Though some say athletics has the potential to detract from classroom performance, Matthews says he excels in the classroom due in part to the welcome diversion that track provides.

"I don't think I could do well in academics without having an outlet such as track to give me [relief] from a lot of the stresses that are involved in academics" he says. "Of course there are stresses in athletics, but those stresses, I think, keep me and my body sound and my mind sound as well it gives me that balance that I need."

However, what's most striking about Matthews is his aversion to discussing his achievements in favor of discussing his passion for mentoring those following in his footsteps. As a young Black student, Matthews says he has struggled to shatter stereotypes that say he can't both be a dominant athlete and at the top of his class.

"For me, it started off with teachers saying a 'B' is good. If you get 'A's, they don't think you're Black anymore. I feel like I did good work. I deserve an 'A.' I expect an 'A;" he says.

"It becomes an issue like being academic either pulls away from you being Black, or pulls away from you being a man--it's very difficult. …

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