As a right fielder and pitcher for the Graves County Eagles, Matt Byrn displayed above-average talent. He sported a fastball in the 80s as well as, by his own modest admission, a “pretty good” curve ball. He didn’t envision ever playing professionally, but he was good enough to earn a scholarship to play baseball for a private Christian university in Tennessee.
But during Matt’s senior year, he was thrown a curve ball when the coach who offered him a scholarship left the school. Suddenly, baseball was no longer an option. Matt needed a back-up plan.
“When the scholarship fell through, I started thinking about engineering at UK in Lexington; but as I looked at the financial cost, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen unless I won a full-ride scholarship,” says Matt.
Fortunately, Matt’s father discovered UK’s engineering program located in Paducah. He and Matt agreed that enrolling in Paducah would save money and allow him to get started on his education. After two years, Matt’s father said, Matt could finish his degree in Lexington.
Two years later, a funny thing happened. Matt no longer wanted to move to Lexington.
“I loved it here,” Matt, now a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, shares. “I liked the small community and small classes. I was a part of a tight group of fellow engineering students and we would help each other through the tough times and didn’t want to leave them. I was getting the best of both worlds—paying less to go to school and receiving a more personalized education.”
Not only has Matt’s education benefitted from student-to-faculty ratio, he has also been mentored by faculty members Charles Lu and William Murphy. Their insights have helped Matt gain a clearer picture of how to sort through the opportunities that come with an engineering education.
“This fall, I rode to and from the Tau Beta Pi convention in Lexington with Dr. Murphy. We talked about my ambition and how he has made career decisions. A special thing about him is that he gives advice on how to make decisions without actually telling you what he thinks you should do.”
But Matt hasn’t waited for his diploma to begin seizing opportunities. This past summer, he was accepted into a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville where he did biological research on the aggregation of motile bacteria. For the first time, Matt saw engineering’s versatility.
“I was surprised to see how my mechanical engineering education applied to molecular biology. Because it was strongly physics based and involved computer simulation and analysis, my skills transferred easily.”
As he prepares to graduate, Matt has already interviewed with two companies even as he continues to think about graduate school. Whichever route he takes, he believes he can apply his learning toward solutions to problems new and old. That knowledge gives him satisfaction and confidence, even if he becomes slightly nostalgic when baseball players start working out for the upcoming season.
“I miss baseball sometimes, but once the coach left and my scholarship was withdrawn, I took it as a sign that perhaps I needed to focus on my career instead,” he says. “I’m glad I did and I believe the quality of my degree is on par with what I could get anywhere else.”