Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Susan Koch: From Illinois to Myanmar, graduate makes global impact

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 28, 2019.

 A central commitment of the University of Illinois Springfield is to prepare leaders who are capable of transforming their local and global communities. 

UIS graduates fulfill that expectation in myriad ways and across a variety of professions. The infinite possibilities our graduates represent were, as always, front and center as I shook their hands at recent commencement ceremonies. 

But another event on campus this May provided an exceptional example of the fulfillment of that commitment. That event was a special ceremony where UIS alum Matthew Wallace was honored with the University of Illinois Alumni Humanitarian Award

The award recognizes University of Illinois graduates who have made significant contributions to the welfare of humanity and whose outstanding leadership and service has enriched the lives of others. 

Matthew is a 2006 graduate – a member of the Capital Scholars Honors Program who earned a degree in political studies and then a master’s degree from the prestigious Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. 

Matthew and his wife, Heather, who met while attending UIS, live in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), where he helped found and serves as managing director of Opportunities NOW (, an entrepreneurship development program that seeks to reduce poverty by providing young people with financial literacy, entrepreneurship training, mentoring and access to financial capital to support sustainable small businesses. 

Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia – a country of more than 50 million people, 45 percent of whom are younger than 25. 

Since 2012, the enterprise has trained more than 700 youth and helped more than 400 launch their own businesses. “Our entrepreneurs earn more money and create jobs that weren’t there before,” Matthew explains, “but the main benefit is empowering young women to develop agency in their own lives – the ability to make decisions that can positively influence the direction of their lives and the lives of others around them.” 

Read the entire article online.