ASU graduate raises the bar for academic and athletic excellence

man holding pole vault

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Wherever Matt Eckles goes, he stands out. Literally.

At 6 foot, 5 inches tall, he towers over his peers. But perhaps even more impressive than his height is the reach of his undergraduate career.

This December, he’ll graduate with two degrees from the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a Bachelor of Science in integrative health.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Eckles is also a Division I athlete, having accomplished outstanding feats for ASU’s track and field team. 

To say his plate has been full would be an understatement. 

Ask anyone about the rigors of nursing school and you’ll get an earful about clinicals, lab hours and exams — it’s a 24/7 program.

Add to that the hours of dedicated training on the field and in the weight room to perform at the highest collegiate level and now you’ve raised the bar to a near-insurmountable height.

“Almost all of the schools I applied to wouldn’t accommodate my goals of being both a Division I athlete and a nurse. They told me it was impossible,” he said.

But you don’t become the 2017 Pac-12 pole vaulting champion by giving up in the face of adversity.

“The more you say no to me, the more I want to do it.” 

His persistence paid off when he found the right program at the right university.

“Everyone here — my advisers, my coaching staff and my professors — supported me to make things work, to think differently, knowing that it would require a lot of mentoring, flexibility and personal sacrifice. But they still said yes.”

And with a grin laced with defiance, Matt proudly declared, “And that’s why I came to ASU.”

Now, as he prepares to make the leap from college to a career in nursing he shares some of what motivated him along the way and offers advice to his fellow Sun Devils.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: It was in high school. I really liked biological sciences, but having explored the field a bit more, I found out that I was really wanting more of that human interaction. Quite simply, I wanted to combine biological sciences and people, so nursing made absolute sense to me.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The entire nursing faculty here at ASU is incredible. You’re dealing with a lot of men and women in nursing who have been in the profession for over 30 years, so they are the most empathetic, caring people you can imagine. They’re always super outgoing and willing to help. Beth Walker, who is a psychiatric nurse at Edson College, always cracked students up during class by offering them to borrow her kayaks or to go on mountain bike rides. She’s amazing and even comes to my track meets — you don’t get that kind of support from your average professor. The glimpse I’ve had of hearing her talk about her career and her life, as she was working in the profession, is just so pure. It really taught me about having a good career balance in nursing: to make time for your passions, even during those odd hours that we as nurses have to endure. She’s someone I aspire to be.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Know the why behind what you do. When I got into nursing school, the mentality wasn’t, "I need to pass this test so I can get the grade," it was, "I need to learn about diabetes so that I can help someone." So knowing the why behind what you do allows you to chase that goal. You can’t just do something just because. If you understand what you’re doing and why you want to achieve it, then the only limiting factor after that is how much heart you have. It becomes pure, and you can begin to build a solid ground for what you’re about to do in your professional life with reason.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I really want to throw myself into the water and just sink or swim by working in an emergency room or intensive care unit, just because I want to learn as much as I can. But I’ve noticed that I really love kids from all of the clinicals that I’ve done here. Once I’ve had my fill of all the action of being in the ER, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up in pediatrics hanging out with all the kiddos.

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