Feature Story

‘Standing Stronger’

August 20, 2020 – by Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan student and WCSA President Jose Armendariz Matute is a double-major in Political Science and Pre-Law and a minor in Economics. The first-generation student and first Hispanic president of OWU’s student government hopes to attend law school after graduating in May. (Photo by Cole Hatcher)

Ohio Wesleyan Senior is Student Government’s First Hispanic President

As a high school student in Clinton, North Carolina, Jose Armendariz Matute knew that he wanted to go to college, but he was at a loss as to how to make it happen.

“One day I scheduled a meeting with my school’s college adviser to talk about my future plans post-high school, and I realized that there was an immense barrier that could halt all of my aspirations: my legal status,” says Matute, a first-generation college student who will graduate in May from Ohio Wesleyan University.

A DACA Dreamer

“As a DACA recipient, you cannot receive federal assistance, which is an integral part of being able to afford college. I lost hope,” says Matute, who came to the United States with his mother and sister when he was a year old.

Displaying the tenacity that has helped him to thrive at Ohio Wesleyan, Matute kept exploring his options, including private college scholarships. He ultimately earned a competitive Simple Gifts Scholarship, which doesn’t require its recipients to be U.S. citizens and covers all costs not met by their college’s financial aid packages.

Matute says he applied to five schools in three states, ultimately choosing Ohio Wesleyan.

‘My Place’

“I determined that OWU was my place,” he says of his rigorous college search. “The conversations that I had with students were warm and rich. I felt like I had a home. ... To this day, I do not regret my decision and am forever grateful for everyone lifting me up at OWU and helping me get to where I am today.”

The son of pastor parents, Matute’s memory of his childhood and his background remains sharp and has influenced both his time at Ohio Wesleyan as well as his future plans. As president of Ohio Wesleyan’s student government, WCSA, Matute says he wants to ensure that everyone feels supported and heard.

‘A Seat at the Table’

“My main two goals as president are to ensure that everyone is seen on campus (and) to transform OWU to be equipped and prepared to enter a new reality in these unprecedented times and leave it standing stronger than it has ever been,” says Matute, noting issues including the Black Lives Matter movement and global pandemic.

While running for the WCSA presidency, he says, “I spent hours in conversations with folks from all backgrounds and identities just listening and taking notes. ...

“Much of the conversations that I had have largely shaped my agenda, which (includes) giving people a seat at the table, recruiting a diverse group of people to WCSA along the way to be a voice in the senate, and appointing students to student-faculty committees where decisions that impact the curriculum and shape the structure of the DNA at OWU are made.

“As the first Hispanic president in OWU history,” he continues, “it is critical that we break barriers and glass ceilings to ensure we have a more just and equitable ‘tomorrow,’ and that starts with bringing people to the table who have often been left out. It shapes conversation, initiative, and ideas that will benefit the culture at OWU for the coming years.”

A Lawyer in the Making

Matute’s desire to break barriers extends to his plans after he earns his OWU bachelor’s degree in the spring.

He says he initially considered studying environmental science, but changed his mind at the end of his first year amid “what was happening in the political world,” citing DACA being rescinded and the Zero-Tolerance Policy separating migrant families.

“I felt like my community was being overlooked and their sense of dignity was being tarnished by policies and politics for political gains and a desperate need to find a scapegoat,” Matute says. “Upon the completion of my sophomore year, I decided to major in Political Science and Pre-Law, which changed my trajectory. I planned to go to law school and become a lawyer to help the most vulnerable among us and still plan to do so.”

But yet again, Matute acknowledges, he has barriers to overcome to achieve his goal.

‘There is a Way’

“The same hurdles that were present as a senior in high school are creeping up as a senior in college,” he says. “Because of my status, I cannot receive federal funding to pay for law school. But with the same belief that there is a way, I will find it.”

For now, Matute says, he is working on things he can control: “my resume, my accolades, and my academics. Today I have a 3.7 cumulative GPA and have built a profile that I am very proud of.”

Of his many mentors, Matute says, “Dr. Franchesca Nestor will always have a special place in my heart. She has had such an impact in the trajectory that I have taken.”

‘Get to the Core’

It was in Nestor’s Intro to American Politics class, Matute says, that he learned “one should not blindly just follow a perception, talking point, or belief. Instead you should challenge it, get to the core, and then align yourself again with a belief on that topic. …

“Dr. Nestor has given me insight in every aspect: life, career choices, academic choices, but on a more personal level, has had extensive conversations with me about my upbringing, the hurdles ahead in my aspirations, and where I envision myself in the future. For that, I am forever grateful.”

Assistance Available

As the first in his family to go to college, Matute says, he needed the support he has found at Ohio Wesleyan.

“What surprised me the most is the amount of help and assistance there is in college,” he says. “In high school there are the basics: tutors after school, guidance counselors who objectively assess your situation.

“In college, we have our very own academic coaches who personalize their relationships with us and give us advice based on our unique situation,” he says. “We have mental health services and a career department that helps you score internships.” (As an OWU student, Matute interned with Bridget Newton, mayor of Rockville, Maryland.)

“It really is the full package,” Matute says of Ohio Wesleyan, “and makes me, as a first-generation college student, comfortable in understanding that I am not alone.”