NORFOLK, Neb. -- More than 35 years ago, Brad Matthies learned to weld at Northeast Community College. Four years later, he returned to Northeast and earned a degree in criminal justice.
Today, he is the associate dean of library services at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., – and he said the time he spent at Northeast was a valuable part of that career journey.
It was the instructors at Northeast who really left a lasting impression on Matthies. He remembers the late Merle Meade who tried to build his self-confidence, tutors who helped him get through college level algebra, and psychology instructor Patty Gubbels who introduced him to the concept of college-level writing and studying.
“They were awesome, inspiring,” Matthies said of his instructors. “I was pretty rough around the edges and did not appreciate how great they were until I got to graduate school.”
Matthies’s career journey started at Norfolk High School. “I didn’t take high school seriously,” he said, “just shop class. I was good at welding, so I took that at Northeast.”
“Merle Meade recognized early on that I lacked self-confidence,” Matthies said, “so he tried to make me the quasi lead on a project. I bombed on it, but he was awesome about working around my deficit. I’m now in library leadership, have been in administration for 12-15 years, and that’s one thing I think back on.”
After earning his welding certificate from Northeast, Matthies worked at Great Dane in Wayne for four years. “It wasn’t a good fit for me,” he said, “and I recognized it would be hard work to do for a lifetime.”
While working at Great Dane, Matthies returned to Northeast for some night classes, including pre-algebra. “Math was always hard for me,” he said, “and I was worried I couldn’t catch up. I lived in the Northeast math tutoring center during my semester of algebra. But I did well enough in that class that it gave me the confidence to quit welding and work on a bachelor’s degree.”
Matthies has family members in law enforcement, so when he decided to return to school to get a bachelor’s degree, criminal justice seemed like a natural choice. He enrolled in a 2+2 program, with the first two years at Northeast and the second two years at Wayne State.
It was while working on his criminal justice degree that Matthies ended up in a psychology class taught by Patty Gubbels, as well as a sociology class. “Some of the foundational skills I got from those two instructors helped me finish the four-year degree,” Matthies said. “Writing papers using APA (American Psychological Association) style is part of graduate school.”
“One other class I still remember,” Matthies said, “was with English instructor Larry Holland. I’m not a Shakespeare guy, but he had this class called ‘The Novel and the Movie.’ Basically, we read the novel and then watched the movie. The class had a western theme, so we read things like ‘A River Runs Through It,’ ‘Lonesome Dove’ and some cowboy poetry. He was another awesome instructor who made me take a second look at some of the classical stuff I ran into at Wayne State.”
After graduating from Wayne State in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Matthies worked for the Nebraska Department of Corrections in Lincoln. But again, that career choice was not a good fit. “Corrections was another hard row to hoe,” he said.
While in Lincoln, Matthies met his wife, Kathy, who was a graduate student studying education and career counseling. “She had access to career assessments and gave some to me,” he said. “They kind of ranked fields that fit my personality, and suggested I might be a counselor, professor, clergy, or a librarian.”
Matthies said he has always had a love of libraries.
“I have always been a voracious reader and spent a lot of time as a teen at the Norfolk Public Library,” he said. “And during my time at Northeast, I spent a lot of time studying at the college library.
“Kathy got a job at Indiana University-Bloomington,” Matthies said, “And I followed her there, applied for graduate school in the school of information sciences and was accepted.”
Matthies was a research assistant at Indiana University Libraries from 1999-2001, earning his master’s degree in library sciences in 2001. From 2001-2012, he was an academic librarian at Butler University where he achieved the rank of associate professor and was promoted to head of access services.
Matthies then served six years as library director at Casper College in Wyoming where he updated library services and spaces and doubled the patron gate count over a five-year period. He also partnered with the library staff and librarians to create an annual library book drive to benefit the Wyoming Food for Thought Project.
This annual book drive collects over 800 juvenile books and 400 food items that are redistributed to food insecure children in Natrona County, Wyo., each year. In 2018, Matthies was named associate dean of library services for the Foley Library at Gonzaga University.
“Without Northeast,” Matthies said, “I wouldn’t have the foundational skills needed to move on to Wayne State and then eventually graduate school. I’m a first-generation college student, and the experiences at Northeast and the support that was there . . . I can’t say enough about how important that was.”
Brad Matthies is shown with a National Hispanic Heritage Month book display. The Northeast alum has worked at various college libraries, including most recently as the associate dean of library services for the Foley Library at Gonzaga University. (Courtesy photo)