Finding MSU Texas paved way for Matthew Mitchell to go national

Finding MSU Texas paved way for Matthew Mitchell to go national

Finding MSU Texas paved way for Matthew Mitchell to go national

Matthew Mitchell didn’t make Midwestern State his first choice coming out of Henrietta High School. But it turned out to be his best choice.

Mitchell, a junior chemistry major from nearby Henrietta, realized upon his return home that MSU Texas was the best path forward for him.

A return home wasn’t the end of his big dreams or adventures. It was the beginning. Mitchell has flourished academically and had the chance this summer to work as an intern at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D.C.

Mitchell said his summer at the NIH has been a “life-changing experience.” He’s thankful for those who helped give him this chance and the land of opportunity that MSU has been for him on his journey.

Going home facilitated more growth for Mitchell. He found a group that encourages him and holds him accountable. He loves being near his family and has found MSU Texas to be a perfect place for him to thrive. He plans to graduate in 2020.

“I think one of the main things I learned coming back was how much I rely on my social support system,” Mitchell said. “It took me a while to figure myself out. When I came back, and I’m taking all of these difficult classes, I realized what I was missing was my family. They help me get through everything.”

“One area I really have grown in during my time at MSU is being very in touch with my friends. I'm thinking about others and not just myself. We study and push each other.”


This summer has been special to Mitchell. It wasn't as easy as finding a destination spot. For Mitchell, it was a process of working, networking, and being ready to seize upon a chance.

"I was lucky to get to go," Mitchell said. "It started when I did an internship at a medical school in Fort Worth. I was encouraged to apply for a national conference in Indianapolis."

That led him on a path to bigger and better things. Just as incoming college students may apply for many scholarships to land the opportunity they want, Mitchell went to work applying for summer programs around the country. And he was accepted into the NIH with two internships, one at a clinical neuroscience lab and another with Health Disparities for Minorities.

"It was overwhelming at first," Mitchell said of his arrival to the NIH campus in Maryland. "It felt like a huge learning curve. Everybody around me had more experience (in neurology). Chemistry is my major. Other people around me have neurosciences as a major."

Maybe at first glance, Mitchell was a little fish in a big pond. But he knew he belonged. His study habits would translate anywhere.

"I've had to do tons and tons of reading on my primary literature since I've been here. The research I do at MSU has directly prepared me to be at the NIH," he said.

And building relationships with his professors, thanks to smaller class sizes, is an opportunity that Mitchell can already see has paid dividends. "It allows you to build those bonds with your professor, and they really care about me as a student. I can't get that in a place that's too big."


Long before he was representing MSU Texas nationally, Mitchell was displaying his smarts and competitive fire at Henrietta High School.

Mitchell won the 2014 UIL State Spelling and Vocabulary Championships in Class 2A in spelling. And Mitchell knows he came away with much more than three gold medals (two as team member, one individual). He qualified for three UIL state tournaments in all, including a runner-up individually in 2013.

"UIL was one of the best experiences I've been a part of," Mitchell said. "It truly prepared me to be a good college student; to know how to study; and that allowed me to be successful in college."

"Matthew brought a great deal to the spelling team table when he joined us at HHS because he competed in the Scripps spelling bee in elementary and junior high school, and he also took Latin in junior high," Henrietta High School UIL coordinator and teacher Laurie Schaffner said. Schaffner earned her master's in English at MSU Texas.

Laurie Schaffner

Mitchell has new friends from all over the globe, but his roots are very much with him. Building relationships he knows is pivotal to future success. At the same time, he remains connected to those who helped pave his road.

 "I still go back every year and help coach the spelling team," Mitchell said. "Our coach, Mrs. Schaffner, was like a mom to me. She helped me throughout the year and even last week she helped me revise and edit my medical school application essays. She really pushed us in our competition for state. State was in May and we would start in August after we got the list of competition words. We won because of our work ethic and what Mrs. Schaffner taught us."

"I started having spelling marathons at my house, and our very first one we started at noon and I was trying to kick them all out at midnight," Schaffner said. "We worked, ate, worked, watched part of a movie, played word games with the vocabulary we had to win. Then they worked, ate, watched the rest of the movie à the marathons caught on and we still do them throughout the school year (though typically not that many hours). Matt was on the ground floor of this intense style of learning. He motivated himself and others to spend many personal hours studying, and he shared all of his knowledge with his teammates very unselfishly."


That group effort is something Mitchell knew he had to get back to upon his return to MSU Texas. And again, the teamwork and accountability helped him thrive. Schaffner loves being part of Mitchell's "team" as a mentor.

"It's one of the reasons why I do what I do ù I want to make a difference in the lives of others," Schaffner said. "The countless hours we spent together formed a family bond among these students. I also love it when they tell me the only reason they know how to study in college for a test that is months away is because of our spelling team."

Mitchell doesn't plan to follow Schaffner as a teacher and UIL coach, but he does have a "coaching crown."

Schaffner tells the story. "It's not enough to be intelligent. I had one young man on the team a couple years ago who is super bright, and I think he thought that would do it for him. However, after a poor showing at district, he spent some long one-on-one hours with Matt and studied hard on his own." The student tied for the regional championship and won state as an individual. "On the way home he said, æI finally get it, Mrs. Schaffner. I never knew what I could do before this, and I'll never forget.'" 


Mitchell plans to graduate from MSU Texas in 2020 and is currently applying to medical schools across the country.

So what does he want to do with his education?

“The big answer is I don’t know,” Mitchell said.

It’s not for lack of a plan, he says, but because he’s keeping an open mind to possibilities. The past few years have taught him that.

“I’m interested in treating patients, that’s what I’ve been put on earth for, and I have a good base in neurology,” Mitchell said. “I have a good general idea of what I want to do, but I’m OK with change. I want to experience medical school with an open mind. And I would also like to have a family. Neurosurgery is pretty heavy and intense and not known for leaving time for a family. And I think it’s OK to have some dreams you may choose not to pursue.”

Matthew Mitchell with his group at the NIH
Matthew Mitchell of MSU Texas with his group at the National Institute of Health in June 2019.


Mitchell doesn't lack for confidence but remains humble amidst his success. And he wants to see others succeed and find the same opportunities at MSU Texas. 

"I think anyone has the ability to succeed if they put in the ability and the effort," Mitchell said. "I was able to get into a program with students from all over the world. I think a large part of that is because I'm willing to put in the work.

"I don't think there's anything inherently special about me. Anyone can do what I've done, just being focused on doing what you think is necessary to accomplish what you want. If anyone is willing to do it they can do big things."

Mitchell has been busy reading, observing and learning this summer, but when he's had some free time, he's found some small-town feel around the big city. "Everyone talks about the monuments, the White House, and the big Capitol building, but I like to get a feel for the local scene. There's a bunch of trails up here, and I'm big on getting lost in nature for a couple of hours. It's not too hard to escape out in the wilderness, and have fun in the woods."

This experience has sharpened his perspective.

"I'm very blessed to be here," Mitchell said. "I wouldn't be here without the friends who helped me, Mrs. Schaffner, my mom (Amy Mitchell) and dad (Glen Mitchell), and two really good friends, Bailey Smoot and Salvatore Capotosto. This core group of friends has made sure I'm being the best person I can be, academically and emotionally. I've become a person who is more in tune with the people around me at MSU."

Schaffer wouldn't dare hide her pride in Mitchell, one of many pupils she feels fortunate to have influenced.

"God has blessed me in many ways, and I believe I am blessed to BE a blessing," Schaffner said. "Matt will always succeed. I've seen him knocked down, but he fights back every time and comes back stronger than ever. I love that boy, a.k.a., my second son."

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