Matt Paske left Athens Drive High School dreaming of a career in professional baseball. But he ended up in a different kind of spotlight – as student-body president at East Carolina University and a member of its board of trustees.
Paske, 23, just graduated with a dual degree in nursing and psychology. Here, the Cary native shares his experience with student government, as well as some advice for this year’s high school graduates.
Q: What made you decide to run for student office?
I didn’t expect to do this coming out of high school. I saw myself as a jock. I dreamed of being an all-star catcher for the Yankees or the Tigers.
When I came to school at ECU, I started doing nursing, and I joined a fraternity and became the fraternity president.
Then I joined SGA (student government) to be involved on campus and learn different things and meet new people, and I ended up falling in love with it. So I rose through the ranks, running for vice president and then president.
Q: What was your job like?
We work on state issues, local issues and university issues, all of which impact the students. And the job of the student body president is to unify the students into as much of a single voice as possible among all three of those bodies so that I can work for their benefit.
Q: What kind of concerns arose this year?
Each year, the student body is concerned about tuition increases, fee increases, and that’s something we dealt with.
And as higher education costs continue to increase, we look to influence people who make those policies and for alternative ways to save students money.
One thing we did was adopt a textbook policy so that instead of a student having to purchase a book, it’s included in their fee, and they’re given one that is used during that class and returned.
In Greenville, there was an ordinance that allowed only three unrelated people to live in a house together, and we worked against that so we could decrease the rental price for students to live in the university neighborhoods.
At the state level, there’s a bill that’s out there that would allow guns on campus for those who have concealed-weapons permits, and that’s a really controversial issue on campus.
Q: Did local and state leaders take you seriously?
At first it was tough to realize that instead of just another student, you’re almost more of a colleague to them. Being in your 20s, you’re not used to dealing with people on that level.
But once you start experiencing it, you realize that everyone with a title is just another person. That’s when it becomes easy, and it was fun for me.
They do take our opinion very seriously, because we have 28,000 students. It’s a large percentage of the population locally, so we have a resounding voice.
The challenge is to unify that voice into one.
Q: So what’s next?
I am figuring that out now. Down the road, I really want to be an advocate for mental-health reform or a hospital administrator.
I’ve been looking for jobs that are not clinical-based nursing, and there are many opportunities. I just need to find the right one and make the most of it.
Q: Do you think your student government work will play a role in your career?
It teaches you a lot. You learn how to effectively lead, how to draft and research policy, how to unite people and organize. And in a small community like Greenville, you learn to be a figurehead.
All of that will definitely help me down the road, I’m sure.
Q: What advice would you give this year’s high school graduates?
Never rule out any opportunities, even if it seems like something you never thought you would have done. I never imagined I would have done this, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for this experience.