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Overcoming obstacles

The road to college graduation was rough for Matthew Moon, but on Saturday, he will receive his degree and has earned a special academic award

May 6, 2011
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - Back when he was butting heads with teachers in high school, Matthew Moon never dreamed he'd ever excel in college.

But in fact, Moon - a 28-year old environmental science major and Marshall native - will be one of 705 Southwest Minnesota State University seniors who will graduate at the 43rd commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday at the R/A Facility.

"Attending college makes you think on so many different levels," Moon said. "I learned about the environment and the world, but I also learned about myself, That gives you confidence to succeed after college, too."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Environmental science major Matt Moon, who now lives in Minneota, shows his appreciation for the school and professors by posing in front of the Southwest Minnesota State University sign Thursday. Moon is set to graduate from SMSU Saturday after turning his life around and persevering in college.

The journey toward college graduation was not an easy one for Moon. He bounced from Marshall High School in 1998 to Life Skills Learning Center - where he was eventually kicked out over an incident involving a cappuccino - and back again.

"At MHS, I was skipping class a lot, hanging out with my friends rather than going to school," he said. "It just wasn't a priority and I butted heads with my parents and everybody. I ended up taking my GED test and getting out of there (MHS)."

Between 2001-2006, Moon floundered around trying to find his place in the world. He married and started a family. After finishing a year in graphic design at Minnesota West Canby campus, Moon worked for his brother in Sioux Falls, S.D. for two years, but found he did not enjoy sitting behind a computer all day. He went back to Minnesota West for automotive technology and worked alongside his father-in-law at Prairie Diesel.

"I was interested in how cars work, but I realized that I didn't like getting my hands dirty, or at least not greasy anyway," Moon said.

It was then that Moon made a difficult decision, but one flipped his life around and led him on the path to success.

"Having children made me realize that I have to be more responsible and be able to support them," he said. "I figured the best way to do that is to go to college."

Moon got a wake up call his first semester, however, failing a class and getting a D in another.

"It was pretty rough," Moon said. "But the next semester, I took earth science and I realized I was really interested in it. So I switched my major."

Moon said he's a problem solver and that's what environmental science is all about.

"Growing up, I never really imagined that people were out there making a living doing this kind of stuff," Moon said. "The thought never crossed my mind. Physics ended up being one of my favorite classes, too. It opened my eyes that I can do math. I just had to try."

Four years later, Moon has a lot to be proud of. Even a car accident in 2010 that left him with a broken collarbone and a concussion could slow him down much. He received recognition on the dean's list the past two years.

"Matt is an excellent student," SMSU environmental science professor Emily Deaver said. "He's a good group player and well-liked by his peers. He's also interested in a lot of things and will go out of his way to learn more about a particular topic."

SMSU geology professor Thomas Dilley also enjoyed Moon's presence in the classroom.

"I've definitely seen him mature over the last four years," Dilley said. "He's very dynamic. He has a bright future."

This past spring semester, Moon was awarded the Randall J. and Jean S. Replinger Award for Excellence in Environmental Science.

"First, the student has to have an excellent academic record, but it's also designed for students who do outstanding research projects," Deaver said. "They have to present them at the undergraduate conference and at another venue."

Moon presented his senior research project - "Determining a Source of Fecal Coliform Bacteria (E.coli) in a Tributary of the South Branch of the Yellow Medicine River" - at the 2010 SMSU undergraduate research conference and to the Yellow Medicine River Watershed board in December.

"It was a very good project," Dilley said. "Matt did all sorts of interesting things. He's a bright young man."

Moon also presented a second project - "Identification, Classification and Monitoring of Dead Coon Slough in Lyon, Country, Minnesota" - at the 2011 Celebrate Science Week this spring.

"Matt is very curious about nature and is very interdisciplinary," Dilley said. "He deserved the Replinger Award."

Moon said he is honored to receive the award, but is quick to give credit to those who helped him along the way, including his wife Stephanie, parents, in-laws and professors.

He's looking forward to celebrating his 10th wedding anniversary and spending more time with his three children. With his degree, Moon has abundant possibilities, and he's clear about what is important.

"My wife does daycare, so she's pretty much been supporting me," Moon said. "She wants to get her photography going, so I'm hoping to get a job and support her now. I'm not really interested in making money for the sake of making money. I need to know that I make a difference and I'm doing something I enjoy."



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