Matthew Waalkes ’13 says he wanted more out of a college than just an education. And no one could say he’s not gotten the most out of his time at VMI.
In just four short years, he researched the use of soybean plants as a biofuel and attended several graduate-level conferences. He traveled to Bolivia twice and also to Haiti with Engineers Without Borders.
Waalkes says of his trip to Bolivia in the summer of 2011, “I saw the grave poverty of a Third World country, but I also saw an indomitable inner-strength among the villagers. These people were what seemed to be on the edge of the world, living in a mountainous tundra, surviving with just the bare essentials. And yet, there was present in their smiles a genuine joy.
“They were truly happy, or much closer to true happiness, than most Americans. They were thriving in this ‘wasteland,’ stronger due to its challenges. So as much as we may have aided them during the trip, they also taught me a valuable lesson about the difference between living simply and poverty.”
But Waalkes didn’t confine his service to trips overseas. On post at VMI, he was a member of VMI’s service committee and the Recycling Club. He participated in the Nabors Service League at neighboring Washington and Lee University. He majored in biology, with minors in chemistry and writing, and he tutored other cadets in all three subjects.
After graduation, Waalkes took a job teaching science at a Catholic school in Northern Virginia. One thing is clear – he’ll always be open to an opportunity to serve.