Rutgers Graduate Becomes University’s First Luce Scholar

Matthew Cortland heads to Asia to further education career.

By Carl Blesch, Courtesy of Rutgers Today

Teaching reading to ninth graders in Miami with Teach for America since graduating from Rutgers in 2011 has convinced Matthew Cortland he wants to devote his future to education.

When his two-year assignment concludes in June, he will head to Asia to continue pursuing his career. Through the Luce Scholars program, he hopes to gain skills in technology he believes will individualize education and make it more accessible to people all over the world.

The School of Arts and Sciencesgraduate is the first student from Rutgers that the Luce Foundation selected to participate in a fellowship-like experience that 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.

“I hope to work for a technology startup that works with apps designed for smart phones and tablets,” said Cortland, hoping for placement in a high-tech international city such as Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo or Seoul.

“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.”

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 pursued graduate study and plans to complete a master’s degree in education and social change in May at the University of Miami.

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. “The Luce program is for people who don’t have much exposure to Asia. Being less knowledgeable about Asia makes you more qualified.”

Cortland credited Arthur Casciato, director of Rutgers' Office of Distinguished Fellowships, for helping him focus his interests and ambitions.

“People don’t win Luce scholarships unless they know exactly how they’re going to make the world a better place in their careers,” said Casciato. “Matt’s two years in Miami gave him the insight to see opportunities at the intersection of education and technology, and the Luce Foundation recognizes that he is going to be a leader in that endeavor.”

Cortland’s years at Rutgers included establishing a mentoring program for teenage boys with autism through his fraternity, Theta Delta Chi. Two years ago, 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. Cortland is thrilled that it continues to thrive.

“It’s in its fourth year,” he said. “The brothers care a lot about it, and have expanded it.”

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.”



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