Matt Zalman

Matt ZalmanHometown: Hastings, NE

Coordinator for University Housing
Gardner 104

What I do at Appalachian State: I work with students in Housing by providing a safe, clean, and educative atmosphere.


  • Undergraduate Institution: University of Nebraska - Lincoln
  • Undergraduate Major: Film Studies
  • Masters Institution: University of Nebraska - Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Master's Major: Higher Education / Student Affairs and English
  • Doctoral Institution: Appalachian State University
  • Doctoral Field of Study: Educational Leadership
  • Areas of Research Interest: Men and Masculinities

Reflections on Being a First-Generation College Student

As a first generation student, navigation without a map was the first skill learned on the journey to degree completion. I had no idea where to go, and the internet was still new, so going online and searching was not a thing. First, it was the process of getting to college with all the paperwork, choosing a major, and finding housing that made things overwhelming. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, wanted to accomplish, but it never really clicked. There were times when I first arrived where I felt like I didn't know anything or anyone, but luckily my high school teachers had always said, "If you don't know, look deeper." So I took it upon myself to look deeper for those answers. I knew that I couldn't go to my parents because they were very unaware of the processes that were needed to complete all of the requirements. They were helpful in asking questions that would prompt me to think differently, but I knew that their experience in situations like this was missing. I never considered leaving school because I felt so honored to be there. I was a Husker after all; Huskers don't quit, in Nebraska, being a Husker meant something. Pragmatically, I knew that this degree was needed in order for me to be successful and honestly a lot of my friends were going to college so I didn't want to be left out. I didn't want to be different so I just went with the flow of things learning from each mistake.

After undergraduate work, I considered graduate school because I realized my junior year that I loved learning about new things and I thought the best way in order for me (at that time to be an English teacher) was to consider going to graduate school for Creative Writing. I had to once again navigate through all of these new requirements at a new school and learn new ways and processes than I had become used to at my previous school.

As for right now, funny enough, I didn't learn of my current career in a classroom. I learned about my career through the extracurricular activities that I pursued or found myself a part of. I was a Conference Assistant for four summers, helping with camps that came to live in the residence halls, and one of those summers I had a conversation with a professional Residence Director who said that she got paid to work with students and she got paid to live in the residence halls and she got paid to put on events just to get people to be social. After this conversation, my mind was blown. I would have never known that this career existed if I had not gone to college or not lived in the residence halls. I was already halfway through my English masters degree at that point, so I immediately searched out roles that allowed me to find a job in Residence Life in a University Housing department across the nation. Funny enough, there was a spot open at the institution that I grew up in, so I applied, fine-tuned my interview skills and made sure that everything was on-point. Luckily, they chose me for that role and I worked there for 7 years, obtaining another master's in Higher Education simultaneously in the last two years. From there, I came to App State to work with Residential Learning Communities and then campus communities of students directly living in the halls. I am now finalizing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership.

Reflecting back, my most rewarding experiences as a student came in the world of film. In my film classes, I got to investigate things through a race, class, and gender lens, taking film from something that I truly just enjoyed watching to now seeing film as a learning tool in a way of constructing my knowledge in new and interesting ways. But the parts that I actually grew from and had joy in were working with the students on my floor when I was a Resident Assistant in Pound Residence Hall and allowing them to work through their problems. With that, making sure that I was connected with people, processes, and groups on campus allowed me to see life in so many different ways in such a short period of time. I think that's the goal of college, if I were to share one of my experiences it would be that you need to get out there and see how everyone lives and not just rest in your way of life, in order to facilitate hope in yourself and others to understand different ways of being so that we can live and grow together in a larger community recognizing our similarities and celebrating our differences.

Ask for the long-lasting effects on me, I think I still feel that I don't know what I'm doing (and that is normal) and so I still feel that I need to always look deeper and figure out the processes that I need to go through, knowing that I am going to make mistakes along the way. I don't think that feeling goes away and in fact I don't want it to go away as I think that those who have been given a lot don't necessarily understand that drive to earn as much as those that have had to work for it. I'm proud that I've had to work for it and that I had to consistently decipher and navigate, and I'm proud to help those going through similar instances.