Buffalo State senior Alexia Matos-Mateo advises first-year students to examine what motivates them to make the journey through higher education. Such examination, she believes, will contribute to their success.
For Matos-Mateo, the motivation was simple. Her mother, who was born in the Dominican Republic with a mental disability and cannot read or write, has worked a series of factory jobs in their Bronx neighborhood to support Matos-Mateo and her brother.
“Seeing my mother break her back day in and day out opened my eyes and fueled the hunger that I have now. I vowed to pursue higher education despite all the roadblocks,” said Matos-Mateo, a criminal justice major with a 3.7 grade point average and membership in three honor societies.
Since coming to Buffalo State, she’s taken on a number of campus leadership roles and was recently selected as a finalist for both the 2017 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence and the President’s Medal for Outstanding Student.
Matos-Mateo overcame enormous odds to reach these pinnacles. She was the first person in her family to finish high school, let alone attend college. Her father battled alcoholism and was killed by a bus when Matos-Mateo was 15 years old. Many of the girls she knew growing up ending up pregnant or selling drugs. But Matos-Mateo decided she would forge a brighter future by enrolling at Buffalo State four years ago.
“Buffalo State has been the best choice I ever made,” Matos-Mateo said. “The people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned are unforgettable. I always think of this school as the place that gave me a second chance.”
She made the transition from a “clueless freshman” to a poised and confident young woman who serves as a cadet in the Golden Griffin Battalion of ROTC and has been assigned as a second lieutenant handling military intelligence for the U.S. Army after she graduates in May.
Matos-Mateo cites a handful of Buffalo State mentors with helping her to find herself and overcoming the insecurities that plagued her when she arrived.
“When I was a student assistant my sophomore year, I worked alongside Brian Dubenion [student retention specialist in the Student Success Office], doing testing and surveys on the Residence Life Office. He taught me time management and SMART goals. He taught me to plan everything I need to do before I graduate. His support has pushed me to be a better person, and I’m extremely grateful that I met him.”
Such mentoring and a desire to get involved resulted in her becoming an Orientation Leader, an assistant with the Educational Opportunity Program, and a resident assistant overseeing a floor full of first-year students.
“I always tell people that Buffalo State is like my Harvard. I wouldn’t change a thing. My Buffalo State experience has taught me to be a leader, and I am always inspired when I am here.”
Not only has she become engaged with the campus, Matos-Mateo also participated in two Buffalo State service learning trips. In May 2015 she taught English as a second language to children in Chile. The following May she helped residents in the impoverished city of Borgne, Haiti, with health concerns.
After she graduates, Matos-Mateo will serve her eight contracted years with the Army, funneling what she learned in her criminal justice classes into intelligence work. Later, she said, she may pursue a career as an attorney or FBI agent. She also envisions opening a community center geared toward teens who suffer from alcoholism and/or mental illness in her childhood neighborhood. She wants to show other young people that they, too, can find a brighter future.
“It’s hard growing up in an urban community,” she said. “But I also believe everyone has a personal choice. You must be strong enough and have the will to want better for yourself.”