One semester into his first-year at St. Ambrose, Matt Thole realized he wasn't built to be a 'carefree college student' who simply went to class and hung out.
"I realized pretty quickly that was not the lifestyle I wanted and it was not the person I am. The more I got involved, the harder I worked to make deadlines and pushed myself to innovate," Matt said. "I am very self-motivated and I knew in order to continue to grow and get as much as I could out of my education I needed to enroll in hard classes and involve myself in a lot of extracurricular activities."
On Dec. 14, Matt was one of 224 students who graduated during the 2019 Winter Commencement Ceremony. He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Sales, as well as two additional degrees in Marketing and Finance - a remarkable academic feat he accomplished in just 3.5 years.
On top of academics, this honor student participated in Dance Marathon, was president of the Sales Club, served as a Resident Advisor for three years and a Student Success Center tutor for one year, and participated in a long list of intramural sports to feed his competitive edge.
He also led Campus Ministry Antioch retreats, men's Bible study, and new student orientations.
Matt also jumped into sales competitions. Last year, after winning one on campus he advanced to a competition at Florida State University where he pitched a product in front of an audience of big corporate executives who paid admission to watch (and scout) the best up-and-coming salespeople in the nation.
Matt participated in the competition at FSU this year, too, and after two rounds, he finished in the top 10 for his 90-second elevator pitch, outranking his competitors from much larger universities like Purdue and Alabama.
That first competition reinforced Matt's decision to pursue a career in sales. "When I came to St. Ambrose, I knew I wanted to go into business and I liked math, so I thought accounting made sense for me." But after finishing a few core courses, he realized it wasn't the career he wanted.
The next semester, Matt met with the director of the sales program, Joe Kehoe, to learn more about the program and its focus on building relationships, something that resonated with Matt and matched his strengths. He switched majors, and added the other two, too.
Matt was challenged and encouraged throughout his education. "I had a great relationship with all of the sales faculty," he said.
"My finance faculty advisor, Art Moreau, PhD, never let me get complacent in the classroom. At no point was I allowed to just go through the motions. He pushed me to learn the finance industry and what a job in finance would look like," Matt said, adding his marketing, economics, and accounting professors also held him to high standards. "They never let me let go of my analytical side."
This past summer, Matt completed an internship in the employee benefits and commercial property and casualty division at Kunkel and Associates, an insurance broker in Dubuque, Iowa, which was immediately followed with a post-graduation job offer (he accepted).
Matt was tasked with research, comparing employee benefits packages, finding gaps in coverage, and making cold calls to set up meetings - which, at first, made him uneasy.
"That helped me realize I need to push myself out of my comfort zone. Cold calling is not something that interested me going in, but I knew if I wanted to be successful in sales, I had to do it. It was a struggle in the beginning. I didn't have deep knowledge of group health insurance and I knew I would be asked questions I wouldn't know the answers to," he said.
"But I had great mentors who told me ‘you won't know the answers until you practice.' As I went along, I learned the right things to say and more about the industry as well. The experience made me more confident in myself and my abilities," Matt said.
Looking back, Matt is proud of all he's accomplished at St. Ambrose. "I am more mature and I am making good conscious decisions. My health and professional growth came from being involved in a number of activities and not letting myself settle for anything less than the best," he said.
"I've grown in my faith a lot, too, and have taken on my Catholic faith as my own. Before St. Ambrose, I was just going through the motions. After getting involved in Campus Ministry, I realized I am not in this alone. I have an awesome God on my side," he added.
Matt will celebrate his graduation with extended family, and not too surprising, he's invited some of his professors, too. So many people have encouraged and supported him every step of the way, Matt wants to celebrate all of them, too. "I am thankful to share it," he said.
Matt will take some time to relax before moving to Galena, Illinois, and starting his new job on Jan. 8 as an associate account executive with Kunkel and Associates. "I am excited about the opportunities to come, the relationships I will build, and the impact I can have on lives in this new role. But, I will miss this place that has given so much to me in 3.5 years, and the faculty and staff," Matt said.
"I know, with social media and the internet, my connection to SAU will not be cut off when I leave. I am sad, but it has been a rewarding experience and I am proud to have a degree that says St. Ambrose University on it. I am definitely ready to enter the working world."