When Matthew Kinsler came to East Tennessee State University, he could easily answer the question so many college students are asked: What do you want to study?

The “what” was simple for Matthew. Since he was in second grade, he knew he wanted to be a math teacher. 

However, a mentor helped the ETSU junior realize the importance of another part of the equation to make the most of his college experience.

“My mentor, Timothy Lewis, told me that finding your ‘why’ is the most important thing you can do,” Matthew said. “I discovered that I enjoyed building up the connections around me, and that the people are part of my ‘why’ and my experience here at ETSU.”

Matthew found his niche at ETSU as a POLO (Preview and Orientation Leader Organization) intern and Expedition Leader in the Office of Admissions, taking new and prospective students on tours of the ETSU campus and introducing them to the university. That is where he met Lewis, who serves as director of New Student and Family Programs.

“POLO has been so meaningful for me because I’ve been able to interact with new people,” said the Morristown native. “I love getting to share why I came to ETSU.

“When I came to ETSU, I was looking for a place that really fit , a place where I could be more than just a number, and I could matter. I was really able to find my home here.”

Matthew, who has received several ETSU Foundation scholarships, was also looking for a place that was affordable.

“The donor and alumni support have meant the world to me because it’s allowed me to be able to get involved on campus,” he said. “It’s allowed me to actually really plug in and dive deep to make this college experience something that’s worthwhile.”

During his time at ETSU, Matthew has connected with his faculty, discovering opportunities to go beyond the classroom to enrich his education. During his first year, he met Dr. Scott Jenkinson, his Foundations of Education professor in the Clemmer College of Education and Human Development.

“He saw how passionate I was about education and asked me if I wanted to go on a service trip to New Orleans to study youth development and education, and so through that trip, I was able to dig deeper into my passion for education and ignite that into what my next four years at ETSU was going to look like,” Matthew said.

In addition to his work in Admissions and his academics, Matthew’s faith has also been formative to his ETSU experience. He is a leader at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at ETSU, where he is encouraged to cultivate his “why.”

“In everything I do, I try to live out my faith, and I try to love others as Christ loved us,” Matthew said.

  • Video Transcript

    I'm here at ETSU because I've always wanted to be an educator.

    I've always wanted to teach high school math.

    I've always wanted to do that ever since I was in second grade.

    Whenever I was looking for a university,

    I was looking for a place that I really fit in.

    I was looking for a place where I could go

    and be more than just a number and I could matter.

    I would describe this place at home

    because it has my friends, it has people that I now call family here.

    The faculty and staff, they really, really welcomed me

    in, they cared about me, showed me that they cared.

    They allowed me to get to grow into the individual that I am today.

    The donors and alumni support has meant the world to me

    because it's allowed me to be able to get involved

    on campus and it's allowed me to not have to worry about affordability.

    It's allowed to where students like me and other students

    have been able to actually really, really plug in,

    really dive deep and make this college experience

    something that's worthwhile.

    I'm a Preview and Orientation leader,

    which means I'm a part of the Preview and Orientation Leader Organization, POLO is what we call it.

    I love getting to meet new people and love getting to share my story and get to share

    why I came to ETSU and just share my general story.

    I've been able to see other people find this place

    as their home and that's been very, very, very meaningful

    for me to get to see people really grow, root in the same way that I have here at the institution.

    I think it is a testament to the university

    on how people matter, people over everything here.

    The relationships and the connections that you'll build here.

    If you get to the end of your four years

    and all you got to prove for it was a piece of paper

    that says, "Yay, I graduated with a degree in math."

    That's great, but you missed the boat.

    A big part of what that is is building up the connections

    that you have around you and the people matter.

    The people matter.

    The people are at the root of everything that you do,

    whether it's here at college or whether it's beyond that.

    And so, allowing those people to be the most important thing.

    The people are at the root of everything that we do.

    They should be the "why" of what you do.


East Tennessee State University was founded in 1911 with a singular mission: to improve the quality of life for people in the region and beyond. Through its world-class health sciences programs and interprofessional approach to health care education, ETSU is a highly respected leader in rural health research and practices. The university also boasts nationally ranked programs in the arts, technology, computing, and media studies. ETSU serves approximately 14,000 students each year and is ranked among the top 10 percent of colleges in the nation for students graduating with the least amount of debt.

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