Research program draws Presidential Scholar
Corey Matzat first thought about becoming an engineer when he played with Legos as a child.
“That was basically one of my only toys,” Matzat said. “Everybody told me – you should be an engineer.”
Matzat has already accomplished a great deal before coming to the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering. He graduated Branson High School with a 4.5 GPA, got a perfect 36 on the ACT, and was a National Merit Scholar and a Presidential Scholar.
Now, he’s studying electrical and computer engineering at MU and doing research as part of the Discovery Fellow undergraduate research program.
Matzat joined the lab of Gregory Triplett, associate director of the Honors College and an associate professor of computer and electrical engineering. Triplett, in his work with the Honors College, recruits top students like Matzat to the College of Engineering. This year, 16 more engineering students joined the Honors College than last year.
Triplett said he’s assigned a challenging project for Matzat to begin with.
“Corey is very disciplined. He plans everything out, he’s very detailed,” Triplett said. “He has untapped potential and I’m going to do my best and try to help him tap into it. In the end, I hope he says, ‘I learned how to think in real time.’ If nothing else, I’ll be happy with that.”
Triplett said research at the college level is very different from anything students typically do in high school.
“In high school there’s typically an answer. At the college level we solve problems where there is no pre-defined solution and the promising solutions make it into industry,” Triplett said. “You learn from failing. Every major discovery came with thousands of failures.”
The most important thing in first introducing a student to research, Triplett said, is to not let them walk away thinking it’s easy or boring.
“The last thing you want to do is take someone with no framework and underexpose them,” Triplett said. “I just say, ‘Solve the problem. Use duct tape, bubble gum, I don’t care.’ And sometimes, you catch lightning in a bottle.”
Matzat said he’s just starting to get into the research but that he expects it to be one of the most important experiences he has as an engineering major.
“At first, all of the specialized terminology and equipment in the lab was slightly overwhelming, but getting involved in research right away is giving me crucial hands-on experience,” Matzat said. “I feel that’s going to have the biggest impact in my time at Mizzou.”
The Missouri native said he’s been hooked on Mizzou ever since he came to campus for the Missouri Scholars Academy the summer after his sophomore year in high school. The academy invites 330 of the top gifted students in the state to spend three weeks at Mizzou for an intense academic experience.
While he had offers from other schools, Matzat said, he already knew where he wanted to go.
“For a while, Mizzou is where I felt I wanted to go,” Matzat said.
The proximity to his parents in Nixa, Mo., and the acceptance of most of his Advanced Placement credits only added to the Mizzou’s appeal. Matzat said he’s considering completing his undergraduate in three years and continuing to get his master’s in computer engineering at Mizzou.
One of the most important factors in choosing Mizzou was the number of different courses and extracurricular opportunities, Matzat said. In high school, he’d outpaced the math courses offered at his school and took college-level math online during junior and senior year. There weren’t any programming courses available, so he sought out an online course through Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development.
“You should always be looking for opportunities to get involved,” Matzat said. “I knew I would have lots of options here since it’s such a big campus.”
Matzat has already joined the Fellowship of Christian Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery, where he’s part of a group teaching themselves iOS programming.
“It’s been busier than I expected,” Matzat said. “But all with good things.”