From kitchen staff to Trinidad State graduate
Valley Campus / March 25, 2015
From tutoring to recycling to gene research, Matthew Harris does a little of everything. When he graduates in May from Trinidad State in Alamosa, he'll be a long way from the restaurant kitchen where he started his work career as a teenaged dishwasher.
Last summer Dr. Kleinschmit, the Trinidad State Biology instructor, took Harris to a Genomics (genetic} Research training at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. “It was a little intimidating at first. There was some pretty hefty material, but I came back the next semester and applied what I learned to some research,” said Harris. “Now, I’m going to Portland, Oregon, after graduation this May to a Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative where I will present about annotating genes. It’s about finding evidence about where exactly the genes are in chromosomes. When “Dr. Mel” (the students’ affectionate name for Dr. Kleinschmit) came to me and told me to register for this, I did!”
Yes. Harris has come a long way from the restaurant work he did in South Fork for 12 years.
He graduated from Del Norte High School in 2005. Once, he actually enrolled in college but never went. His wife, Jasmine, “was a big part of my whole life change and deciding to come to college. She’s getting her master’s in art from Adams State. She was very influential and inspiring,” Harris said.
As a local resident, Harris chose Trinidad State because it was close and it made the most sense to him. He said, “It’s cheaper than universities and I knew I could get all my prerequisites here first and then transfer.”
After two years at Trinidad State, Harris now says, “I didn’t know anything about college, the difference between degrees or any of that,” said Harris. “It was all new for me, but everybody has been very helpful. There are a lot of resources. You just have to be open to trying new things. Whenever I hear of people going straight to a university right out of high school, I try to persuade them otherwise.”
Harris chose the science field, not because he enjoyed it or was drawn to it, but because it seemed to him like it would be easier to find a science career and actually be able to use his degree. “It just seemed practical to me,” said Harris who is majoring in Biology. But now, “I really do enjoy it. I’m fascinated by it.”
Roberta Taylor-Hill, the Career and Disability Services Coordinator at Trinidad State, keeps in touch with outside agencies because there are often entry level positions students can apply for. Last spring she told Harris about an opportunity for summer employment as an intern at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. “I jumped on that opportunity,” said Harris. “Last summer I was an entry fee collector. I am hoping for a promotion to Resource Management where I will be able to do some field work as a biologist and apply what I have been learning.” He will transfer to Adams State University to complete his Biology degree and hopes to either continue with the Sand Dunes, or seek work with the Forest Service or another national park. This month Harris received the Valley Campus Academic Award, but academics isn’t the only place Harris excels. Service minded, Harris simply enjoys helping others whatever their need. Although he was never in to recycling before, he is now. “It was kind of by accident,” said Harris. He was a new student and was standing in the hallway when Ellen Hanson who is the TRiO Retention Specialist at the college, grabbed his arm and led him in to a meeting about recycling. She said she needed his help on a project. “I hardly knew her,” said Harris, who has now been involved with this project four semesters. “I kind of coerced him into it,” said Hanson, “and from that time on he has led it. He even takes the recyclables to the drop-off in the summer when he isn’t even a student here. He does it on his own time without pay twice a month.”
After a semester of college, Harris needed to find a job that allowed him to work around his class schedule. By now he had been visiting a lot with Hanson. “I’m sure she had something to do with me getting this work study position in the Learning Center. I like it,” said Harris. “I get to see everybody and help everybody if they need help. And I tutor too. I’ve tutored in Physics, General Biology and computer courses.”
Juliana Chaparro, the TRiO Transfer Coordinator at the college, said, “I can rely on Matthew to get anything I ask done. He’s an on-call tutor and helps with our free bread distribution.” Harris will continue tutoring at Trinidad State while he attends Adams State.
Harris is also a Job Coach for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. “Ellen got me into that too,” laughed Harris. “It’s been awesome and a lot of fun. My first client worked with Head Start and the kids were really excited about us coming.” He is now working with a client in an auto body shop.
About Harris, Hanson said, “Matthew is a great work study. He is not afraid to tackle anything. Any job that comes up, he’s there. He comes in early and stays late. He never lets us down. He will help anybody at any time. He’s trustworthy. He’s quiet. He’s very confidential. Matthew always tells the truth. He lives in integrity. We’re going to really miss him.”