A Poet in Nursing Scrubs
Most students can attest to a teacher who inspired them and helped to change their lives. Jamie Mattos, on the other hand, is a student who has permanently and positively affected Goodwin College.
Mattos, who received her associate degree in Nursing in December 2013, is the embodiment of the Goodwin College mission. A mother and grandmother who has endured more than her share of life’s challenges, she thrived as a student and continues to develop a voice and presence in the Goodwin community that resonates beyond the classroom.
“I just put one foot in front of the other and pray quite a bit,” Mattos says. “I’m so happy just to be here at Goodwin having new experiences.”
As she struggled to balance her family responsibilities with her student obligations, Mattos sensed the need for a creative outlet. She eventually found the perfect escape in a most unlikely interest: her passion for poetry. Her verse, heavily inspired by her life experiences, has helped her cope with the changes that she has made in her life and propelled her as a leading voice of the student body. She has been featured in poetry jams, published in Goodwin’s Beacon magazine, and soon plans to self-publish a book of her favorite pieces.
“I’m able to express some things that are on my mind,” Mattos says. “At times, it’s been a distraction and outlet from the intensity of nursing.”
Mattos was in a difficult situation when she arrived at Goodwin College in 2010. She was a single mother raising her eight-year-old daughter, Jiana, who had been diagnosed as schizophrenia and autistism. Plans to sell her house and move South were dashed with the decline in the housing market, and a series of harrowing car accidents had forced her onto disability and out of her career as a computer programmer.
“I needed a new plan, and it took a while to figure out what I was going to do,” she says.
Friends suggested that Mattos would make a good nurse. She visited the Goodwin College River Campus and met with academic advisor Glenn Black. He recalls how Mattos worried about her age, her ability to be a student again, and especially Jiana’s needs. After a “long talk,” Black says, she realized it was the right decision.
“I didn’t expect the school to be so warm and supportive, which was wonderful given my age,” Mattos says. “It was scary coming back to school. The whole environment had changed.”
By that time, Mattos was nearing 50 and her older daughter, Jessica, was expecting a little girl of her own. She was at a critical juncture, and she had to sell the idea of returning to school not just to herself, but to her growing family as well.
“It hasn’t been without struggles and tears,” Mattos says.
A Rising Presence
Despite her initial concerns, Mattos started at Goodwin and soon found an environment where she could thrive. A dedicated student, she found herself doing well in her classes, and inspired by her classmates, instructors, and a culture that embraced her.
“One of the things most striking for me was the strong female presence here,” Mattos says. “It helped to have so many strong, positive women surrounding me.”
Soon the challenge shifted from whether college was right for her to whether she could afford to continue. Though she received financial aid, Mattos and many other Goodwin students faced a crisis when the state legislature threatened cuts in the Connecticut Independent College Student (CICS) grants. As a nonprofit, private institution, Goodwin College relies on CICS funding to provide opportunities to students.
The cuts would have significantly impacted several colleges throughout the state. Mattos was inspired to speak out against such a measure and volunteered to appear in front of the Connecticut State Legislature’s Education Committee. In 2011, she found herself sitting before the committee, as well as television cameras and reporters, to plead the case against the cuts.
Mattos’ testimony was taken to heart. The Legislature moved to exempt colleges with small endowments, such as Goodwin, from the cuts.
Goodwin’s Poet in Residence
Mattos was later accepted into the Nursing program and began the rigorous course work. While concentrating on her labs, clinicals, and other technical courses, she discovered a more creative outlet through another voice that had been developing inside of her, that of writer and poet.
English professor Cynthia Hendricks was one of the first to realize Mattos’ talent. Hendricks encouraged Mattos to continue to write, not just for class assignments, but also for herself.
“I have seen such tremendous growth in her writing, from her initial submissions — personal, insular, and mystical — to opening up in her later work to a broader audience with a wide range of appealing strategies,” Hendricks said.
Inspired by some of her favorite writers and poets, such as Maya Angelou, Rudyard Kipling, and Edgar Allen Poe, she developed a style that ranged from playful to serious. The poems draw on her life experience, age, race, and gender.
Indeed, Mattos has become one of Goodwin’s star student talents. She is president of the Poetry Club and frequently shares her work during poetry slams and recitals
“She practiced hard until she found her voice, and the audience found her,” Hendricks said. “She was one of the first poetry slam winners, and as time went on, Jamie continued to prove herself as an emerging force that could not be ignored.”
Mattos’ poems touch upon many themes — faith, femininity, cultural pride, shame, humor, and love. In Grace, she explores religion as a shield against the sometimes harsh realities of the world.
Between a rock and a hard place
There is a space,
Deep within and far from view,
That is where you will find the essence of you.
That part of you no one can touch,
That shields your spirit from the crush.
She does not shy from controversy, using verse to frame her opinions on divisive issues and events, such as the death of Trayvon Martin, which is the title of the poem from which the following verse is taken:
Another star in the sky
To weep for our ignorance
The bodies of our children litter our streets
Our soil is soaked with their blood
We cry out in anger, and load another gun
It wasn’t long before the College published some of Mattos’ work. Her confidence grew, and Mattos found herself performing her original verse before audiences of students and administrators.
“It’s nice to have other people appreciate what I write,” Mattos said. “It was kind of rewarding to get that response.”
One Journey Ends, Another Begins
As the end of her nursing education approached, Mattos found life becoming much more manageable. She and Jiana moved into one of the College’s properties in East Hartford, and her daughter found classroom success at a local elementary school. Mattos’ nursing clinical experience brought her into the oncology ward at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, where she connected well with her patients.
Although she was working with patients who were suffering from cancer, Mattos wasn’t intimidated or overwhelmed. She says that her age and own experiences contributed to her ability to forge good relationships at the hospital and find commonality with those she served.
“Being older and having more life experience can be an asset,” says Mattos. “Your perspective is different than someone in their 20s or 30s. You can connect with people in different ways.”
On December 19, 2013, Mattos and her cohort were pinned as graduates of the associate degree in Nursing program. Her family, who now understand that her sacrifices and return to school were worthwhile, cheered her on as Program Director Jan Costello placed Mattos’ pin on her nursing scrubs.
But Mattos isn’t done with Goodwin College yet. She continues her education here, now in the RN-to-BSN baccalaureate degree program.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily,” says Mattos, with a wry grin.