From confusion to clarity at Pima Community College

Story and photos

by ERIK MEDINA

From Feb. 10 through 13, the annual Community College Legislative Summit took place in Washington, D.C. 

This is a summit that Pima Community College has participated in for several years.

This year, Pima attended the summit with two student representatives. 

This issue, we’re focusing on Pima student Matthew Gowan, a Navy veteran and family man. 

Matthew Gowan

 Many individuals leave high school without a clear mindset of what they want to do whether it be work, college or military they can’t decide the right path to take. 

This was the case for Matthew Gowan, who was born and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma. He graduated from high school in 2002, but after that, he didn’t have a plan for what to do after. 

“I just wanted to make money and hang out with friends,” Gowan said. 

Gowan was working a series of dead-end jobs and at one point was living out of his car. He then figured he needed some sort of discipline in his life.

“For lack of better words, I needed a foot in my rear end,” Gowan said. 

He served 11 years in the Navy until being medically discharged after blowing out his L5 disc twice, leading to two spinal surgeries. If Gowan would have stayed in the Navy, it was likely he would have lost more discs. If it weren’t for the discharge, Gowan had planned to serve the entirety of his 20 years and then retire. 

“Basically, the Navy looked at it and said, ‘You’re fixing to lose some more discs. So, we’re going to go ahead and pay for you to get out instead of being an expensive liability,’ ” Gowan said.  

During his time in the military, he met his wife and eventually had a child together. It was because of his wife that they moved to Tucson. His wife is originally from Tucson, and once they had a child, they were not sure what to do after that. So, they moved to Tucson to be near his in-laws. 

Once in Tucson, Gowan wife’s parents encouraged him to enroll in Pima. Both his mother and father in-law are former Pima faculty members. 

Gowan’s mother-in-law is Jane McCabe, who was the department chair of academic skills and a reading instructor. Gowan’s father-in-law is Mark McCabe. He held several different positions at Pima, but the most notable was his position as interim vice president for Student Development.

Currently, Gowan’s in Applied Science of Associates in administration of justice. He will then transfer to the University of Arizona for the same program to get a bachelor degree.

During his time at Pima, Gowan has gotten the opportunity to become a student representative for the college. While working at his work study job at Downtown Campus in the veteran center. He met with the veteran advisor James Perez and Perez supervisor Hector Martinez, who informed Gowan that there was an availability for a student veteran to go to Washington, D.C. and represent student veterans at the Community College National Legislative Summit. He accepted the offer.

Gowan had been to D.C. when he was very young but couldn’t remember much so for him it felt like it was the first time going. 

“It was very fascinating and a little bit overwhelming at times just because of the fast pace,” Gowan said. “Me being from Oklahoma, I don’t talk fast and there’s not a lot of fast in Oklahoma.”

Gowan felt a little overwhelmed at times, especially at the meetings because of how frequently they talked to the Congress members. 

“As far as students and deans that have gone and participated,” Gowan said. “There were a lot of networking opportunities for me.” 

The most notable moment for Gowan at D.C. was meeting Sen. Martha McSally. It was one of the last meetings for Gowan. 

When he met McSally, he said she was very down to earth because they we were able to relate very quickly because they were both prior military and they understood the jargon. They were able to have a conversation regarding the Higher Education Act, Pell Grant opportunities and student veteran opportunities for growth. 

After finishing his higher education, Gowan plans to use his degree and past experiences to become an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency or FBI. This career was inspired by when he interned with the San Diego field office of the DEA.

“There’s a lot of ins and outs and a lot of facets to being involved in a federal agency,” Gowan said. “It’s not like the movies, where you are jumping out windows.” 

Gowan gained valuable knowledge from participating in the internship. He learned that there are lots of jobs and opportunities offered by the agency, and the diversity is fascinating because there are positions for various jobs for various skills. 

He also cherished that during his internship he heard the back stories of many people and how they got to where they are in the DEA.

Gowan hopes that in the future Pima will increase benefits and offer as many opportunities as possible for student veterans 

“When we get out, we do get a lot of information on how to partake in schooling in general, but were kind of blindsided,” Gowan said. “It’s all crammed into a small period of time. So, we get out basically not knowing anything.”

Gowan says that the veteran centers that Pima has are very valuable to the student veterans who are trying to come in. Mainly because many don’t know what they’re doing at the time. The centers help inform student veterans that they have benefits, and they should know how to use them.

He also hopes for growth in the veteran center spacing. There’s a few centers that are very small and to see those spaces grow, not only that but to see the population of student veterans in Pima grow, would be a great accomplishment.

For any students that are contemplating what to do after high school, Gowan has a few helpful guides. 

First, he urges people to go to community college when starting college to get a true feel of what college is. It can easily get overwhelming if you go straight to university. The sheer number of students in each class means there’s often no intimacy between the relationship of the student and the teacher and understanding the concepts that you are trying to learn. It’s also a cheaper option to get two years out the way.

If college isn’t on your itinerary, the second choice Gowan suggests is to enlist in the military. You do four years, and you get a four-year degree that is paid for. You also get on-the-job experience for the things that you might be interested in and things that you didn’t know you might be interested in. It offers a lot of critical thinking and life skills that are taught in the beginning and instilled throughout the time that you are in the military.

What Gowan takes from Pima is that college is a mixed bag, each individual experience is different. 

“There have been hits and misses with faculty members with understanding concepts of what may be supposed to be thought but on the other side,” Gowan said. “I have met some faculty members that I can consider lifelong friends. They have taught me more than what should have been taught in the curriculum, way more. 

“They go out of their way to help students and care for students.”

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