Army veteran Mike Mattox is grateful to be the first recipient of the Dr. John D. Bower Veterans Scholarship. “I am very proud to have earned this award, and I am very thankful that the scholarship is available to people like me,” he said. In November, Mike had the opportunity to meet Dr. Bower during LC’s Veterans Day celebration and to thank him in person.
Dr. Bower, a 1957 graduate of University of Lynchburg, established the scholarship fund to provide annual scholarships to eligible veteran students with first preference to those pursing degrees in science at LC. A U.S. Navy veteran, Dr. Bower is a retired physician renowned for his pioneering work with kidney disease and dialysis.
Mike, a ninth-grade earth science teacher at Rustburg High School, says he couldn’t pursue his MEd in science education without the scholarship. “Schools can’t help with tuition support because of tight budgets,” he said.
“With every class, I’ve taken something away that I can immediately apply to the classes I’m teaching,” he explained. In addition to his classes, Mike serves as a docent at the Belk Observatory at Claytor Nature Study Center, an experience he finds enjoyable and enriching.
Completing his MEd is the first of many goals Mike has set for his future. In addition to strengthening his academic background in science, he wants to build a solid foundation for doctoral work and intends to enter a PhD program at the University of North Carolina that focuses on research into how sea level changes will affect coastal environments. His ultimate goal is to teach and conduct research at the college level.
A native of Altavista, Mike graduated from Altavista High School and entered Virginia Tech. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he recalled, “so I decided to join the Army.” He landed in special intelligence and became a code breaker. “I was the one walking around with a brief case handcuffed to my wrist,” he said.
Primarily stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, Mike also had assignments in Europe. “It was a great experience. I met a lot of good people and visited a lot of places,” he said. But even though working with radio intercept and trying to break codes was fun, Mike knew this was not what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
When his tour of duty ended, Mike came home, got married, started a business, and had two children. The business, E & S Mart, is a country store named for his daughters, Emily and Sarah. “I built it from the dirt up,” Mike said. “When 2001 hit and so much of our industry left our area, I had to look around for options, and I decided to return to college.” He enrolled in Virginia Western Community College in 2002 “to fill in the holes,” and then transferred to Virginia Tech where he majored in geology. Meanwhile his wife was minding the store.
He graduated summa cum laude – first in his class – even though he commuted from Altavista every day and worked at the store on weekends. Mike still owns and works in the store with his wife, who keeps it going so he can complete his education.
Mike is no stranger to business ownership. His father owned Dude’s Restaurant in Altavista, and Mike started working there when he was eleven years old. “It was great experience,” he said. “I got to know everybody in Altavista.”
Knowing everybody has paid off for him since he was elected to Town Council in 2002 and was elected mayor in November. “I want my hometown to be a place where people want to live,” he said. “We need for people to see Altavista as a place of opportunity and make things happen for businesses and for people so they will feel they can be successful here. Then they’ll start to move back in.”
Mike admits that he can’t sit still and he needs to be involved in a variety of activities. Even so, his education is a high priority and he is impressed with his University of Lynchburg experience. “LC is a wonderful institution – a true asset to Lynchburg and the surrounding communities. I am thankful for the scholarship that made this experience happen for me.”