Teaching reading to ninth graders in Miami with Teach for America after graduating from Rutgers in 2011 convinced Matthew Cortland to devote his future to education.
When his two-year assignment ended in June, he went to Taiwan as Rutgers’ first participant in the Luce Scholars program. Now he has earned a coveted Mitchell Scholarship to do a year of graduate study in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Next year, he will study mobile, tablet, and dynamic web application design at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland’s capital city.Through both of these exclusive programs, he hopes to gain skills in technology he believes will individualize education and make it more accessible to people all over the world.
“There are wonderful things being done by companies trying to transform education, creating new products that make learning more individualized for kids,” he said. “I want to pursue that.”
The School of Arts and Sciences graduate will be the first Rutgers student to participate in the Mitchell Scholars program. The nationwide competition attracts nearly 300 applicants annually for 12 scholarships, and is named after former Maine Senator George J. Mitchell to honor his contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process. It is administered by the US-Ireland Alliance and sponsored by government agencies in the United States and Northern Ireland.
“Dublin is a hub for technology startups and entrepreneurship in Europe, and the Dublin Institute of Technology is very hands-on,” said Cortland, who is looking forward to pursuing a master of science degree there next year. “And with the Mitchell program’s roots in the Irish community, I’ll learn about Irish culture in ways that would not otherwise be possible.”
After graduating from Rutgers, Cortland joined Teach for America, a national corps of recent college graduates who spend two years teaching students in resource-challenged urban and rural public schools. During his assignment in Florida, he also earned a master’s degree in education and social change at the University of Miami.In June, he began his fellowship-like experience in Taiwan through the Luce Foundation, which places Americans in Asia to enhance their understanding of Asian countries and cultures. Luce Scholars are graduating seniors, graduate students or young professionals who spend a year studying the native language in their host country and working in a setting related to their professional aspirations.
Cortland believes he could gain the technical experience he desires by moving to Silicon Valley in California and working with firms pursuing educational technology, such as Apple, Google or a host of startups such as Khan Academy or Coursera.
“But I think this is a cooler way to understand more of the world and more of myself and other people and how we interact,” he said.
“It’s an incredible accomplishment to win just one of these awards,” said Arthur Casciato, director of Rutgers Office of Distinguished Fellowships. “So it’s unbelievable that Matt has won both. It takes a committed, hard-working and imaginative person to do this.”
Cortland’s years at Rutgers included establishing a mentoring program for teenage boys with autism through his fraternity, Theta Delta Chi. In April of 2011, New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie gave Cortland and his fraternity brother Alex Lewis a New Jersey Heroes award for “BrosUnited,” in which boys with autism are paired with fraternity members to participate in activities that build skills and camaraderie.
While at Rutgers, the Marlton native combined an individualized interdisciplinary major with a second major in art history and a minor in Italian studies. He also earned a certificate in cultural heritage and preservation studies.
When it came time to choose a university, he chose Rutgers for its size and diversity.
“People seemed to really love it,” he said. “There was something for everyone, and I could never outgrow the campus.”
This is an update of a story first published in February, 2013