When did you begin your career at SIC?
I was hired in the fall of 2001. When I was hired I was only 25 years young (only seven to eight years older than my students and there were a number of non-traditional students who were quite older.) I will never forget, after the first class one non-traditional student approached me and said, “I am going to like you I just know it.” I asked her, “Well how do you know that?” She responded, “You remind me of my son.”
What other positions have you held prior to SIC?
I worked as a Fitness Instructor for five years at Richland Community College in order to help pay my way through school. In my previous life; I also worked campaigns and elections. I managed a City Council campaign and worked for former State Senator Duane Noland where I was campaign staff. If you’ve ever seen me in person you know I am fairly tall. At 6’5” I was over a head taller than the candidate. The Senator used to have fun by introducing me at events and then telling the crowd I was his bodyguard. Inevitably, one or two people would come up to me afterwards and say, “What is it like being the Senator’s body guard?” Duane would just laugh hysterically.
What does SIC mean to you?
SIC for me has been the realization of my life’s calling. I was inspired to pursue this career by my Mentor and friend Professor Larry Klugman. I attended a small community college, Richland Community College in my hometown of Decatur and I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. If that were not enough school never really appealed to me. I started that first semester in college as a photography major and then I found myself in Professor Larry Klugman’s American Government course, a course with little or no relevance whatsoever to my major.
I dreaded the course….”You mean I have to take a class about politics? Are you serious?” I felt that way until the first day of class. Larry Klugman walked into class and literally filled the room with his presence. He taught with such unbridled enthusiasm and passion. We had incredible discussions some of which would spill over after class. He was clearly brilliant, but that was not what made professor Klugman so effective. He was successful because he genuinely cared for his students.
Well, thanks to professor Klugman I changed my major and most importantly found my life’s calling. I suddenly had direction; I had a future. Consequently, my grades turned around. I ended up graduating the top of my class at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. One class, one professor changed my life entirely. This is why teaching is not just a career choice; it is my life’s calling. I wanted the opportunity to positively impact someone’s life the way professor Klugman impacted mine. My goal is not to turn students into Political Science Majors, but to help them in some small way to become the best versions of themselves. Southeastern Illinois College has made that dream a reality and for that I am forever grateful. I am always searching for other Matt Lees’ roaming the hallways.
What do you like most about your job?
One of the great joys of this profession – and I've been doing it long enough that I see it more and more – is to see students go on and do great things. I had former student Katie Pennell, who just finished up eight years as part of the Obama administration and now is a law student at Georgetown. Holly Healy served aide for (U.S. Rep.) John Shimkus, Josh McClusky who served as one of Governor Quinn’s filed coordinators, Jenny Pruitt, who is now an aide for (U.S. Rep.) John Shimkus, and very recently Dana Hooven was named a legislative aide to (State Sen.) Dale Fowler and David Blair is now serving as a confidential assistant in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Trump Administration.
What do you do in your spare time?
Although I do not train clients anymore, weightlifting is also one of my life’s passions. I work out at the Hub in Marion five days a week. I also LOVE waterskiing. I volunteer quite a bit at my church where I have served on the Parish Council. I also enjoy scaring teenage boys who want to date my daughter.
In the movie based on your life, who plays you?
I would like to be played by Christopher Walken. I know he looks nothing like me but I’ve always wanted to have an accent like that.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?
I would like to have dinner with Professor Klugman, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan. Larry just passed away in January and I miss his mentorship and his irreverent jokes. All three men were known for their wit, intelligence, and most importantly their humor. It would not be a dull evening.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever heard and can give to others?
“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has nothing to fear in life.” –Samuel Golden.
“Reach them…so you can teach them.”—Larry Klugman. I have never forgot that advice.