The American Council on Education has announced a Central Michigan University student as one of its two 2019 Student of the Year honorees.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Matthew Morin discovered CMU when he was stationed in Bahrain.
A CMU banner caught his eye as he headed to the gym after a 24-hour post guarding an airfield, and he asked himself, "Why don't I start going to school?"
Now, after three years of online courses, Morin is an ACE Student of the Year graduating from CMU in May with a Bachelor of Science degree, major in administration.
In March, he'll receive a $1,000 scholarship at the 102nd ACE annual conference in San Diego, California, in front of more than 1,500 higher education leaders from around the country.
"Just a simple banner out in the middle of nowhere made a difference." — Sgt. Matthew Morin
Along the way to his degree, Morin has become an ambassador for higher ed, mentoring at least eight fellow Marines on their own educational journeys.
"Education teaches responsibility," he explained.
He's also the first person in his family to earn a university degree.
"I never thought this would be possible," he said. "Just a simple banner out in the middle of nowhere made a difference."
All about ACE
ACE, a nonprofit U.S. association of about 1,700 higher education institutions, conducts research and public policy advocacy and offers leadership development training. Its ACE Credit program helps students receive academic credit for training outside of traditional degree programs.
Morin transferred nearly half of his degree requirements to CMU via ACE Credit in 2017, said Melissa Smith, a CMU Global Campus academic advisor based in Southfield, Michigan. She nominated Morin for the ACE award.
"He has placed a high level of importance on his education while serving our country, even during deployments to the Middle East," Smith said in her nomination letter. "I have not met a student more deserving than Sgt. Morin for the ACE Student of the Year award."
Never been to Michigan
After high school in Oregon, Morin worked at his family's residential roofing business and then joined the military.
An aviation maintenance squadron work center supervisor, he's now stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, with his wife and their children, ages 5, 3 and 1. On the base, he devotes time to the YMCA and coaches youth sports: basketball, T-ball and, soon, football.
"I have a thing in my heart for volunteering," he said. "It's just something that needs to be done."
Although Morin has never set foot on campus or even in Michigan, CMU's representative at Camp Pendleton, Vicky Schuman, helped him at every turn.
"She's been my rock here," he said.
The reasons why
If anyone wonders why they should pursue a college degree, Morin has a question: "Why shouldn't they?"
He says he lays out the pros and cons of earning a degree versus not having one — including the self-control and responsibility that education brings.
"In reality in today's culture you need to have a degree," he said. "I think it's important to have an education no matter what."
Morin will leave the military this fall after five years. His degree and experience has brought job offers in aviation, but instead he'll put it to work as he takes over the roofing business in Tigard, Oregon, that his father started.
"I have to go back and learn his job better than he knows it," he joked.
He said his education will help him run the 25-employee business, but the self-confidence he gained is even more important.
"The No. 1 thing I took away was "I did it.'"
Next up, he plans to earn a master's degree.