April 17, 2003
Ag student named top male senior at Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE "When I was a kid, I thought everybody went to college and got a Ph.D.," says Matt Eckerle, a Columbus, Ind., senior who recently was named recipient of the G.A. Ross Award as the outstanding graduating senior male student at Purdue University.
And why not?
His father, Wayne, earned his bachelor's ('75) and master's ('76) degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue and later taught fluid mechanics at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. At the same time his mother, Lynne, was earning a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in liberal arts.
So the only one surprised with the award announcement was Eckerle himself.
"I have a hard time believing that out of so many graduates, I'm deserving of this award," Eckerle says. "I thought there was no way I could win this award. When they called me into the office to tell me about the award, I thought I had done something wrong."
On the contrary, the award is about doing a lot of things right.
Betsy Smithka, associate dean of students, says, "The Ross Award honors the graduating man who best demonstrates high standards of academic achievement, evidence of outstanding leadership, strength of character and overall contributions to the university."
Each spring 15-20 students are nominated by deans, department heads, school counseling directors or staff in the Office of the Dean of Students. A committee of students selects the winner.
Eckerle is the third consecutive School of Agriculture student, and seventh in the last nine years, to win the prestigious award.
Once the reality of his achievement set in, a different feeling overtook Eckerle the pressure to succeed.
"If people think I am deserving of this award, maybe I should be doing more in school, maybe I should be working harder," he says.
But with his schedule, it would be difficult to find the time.
For three years Eckerle has been president of the Purdue Triathlon Club. He also is a member of the Purdue Cycling Team, Outing Club, Ski Club and Solar Car Team. He is the adult adviser for the Columbus North High School Solar Car Team and is a 50-hour volunteer at Camp Moneto, a youth camp in southern Indiana.
Eckerle also has earned two bachelor's degrees (botany and plant pathology and agricultural and biological engineering) in his five-year Purdue undergraduate career.
"It's a pretty incredible story that anybody could do what Matt has done in five years, especially considering he spent one semester studying abroad in New Zealand," says Ron Coolbaugh, professor of botany and plant pathology and Eckerle's academic adviser. "I've been absolutely delighted with his commitment to getting a broad education. I'm more proud of him than any student I've been associated with as a academic adviser."
But Coolbaugh says he refuses to take any credit, deferring instead to Eckerle's parents.
"His family has had a tremendous influence on Matt," he says. "They taught him to be a great citizen as well as a committed student. He has a very bright future. It will be fun to see where it takes him."
And just like mom and dad, Eckerle plans on continuing his education. Later this summer he will enroll at the University of California at Berkeley to pursue his master's and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering.
Writer: Tom Campbell; (765) 494-8084; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Matt Eckerle, (765) 743-5426; email@example.com
Ron Coolbaugh, (765) 494-9902; firstname.lastname@example.org
Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, email@example.com; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/
A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/rossaward.03.jpeg.