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USC student gives youth a political voice

by Andrea Bennett
Matthew Wong is teaching U.S. and world history for his fieldwork at the USC Rossier School of Education. (Photo/Albert Lu)
Matthew Wong is teaching U.S. and world history for his fieldwork at the USC Rossier School of Education. (Photo/Albert Lu)

Matthew Wong, Master of Arts in Teaching candidate at the USC Rossier School of Education and recipient of the Hortencia M. Torres Endowed Scholarship, developed his passion for politics at an unusually early age.

During the 1996 presidential race, Wong, then age 6, recalled polling his second-grade classmates on their favored candidates and watching the coverage obsessively for weeks on the television in his parents’ San Gabriel living room, leading up to election night.

“I’ve always been fascinated by American politics so I knew I was going to study political science,” said Wong, who received an undergraduate degree in political science and Asian-American studies from the University of California, Davis.

He decided to pursue his master’s in teaching, with plans to teach high school social science; his first and only choice was USC Rossier.

“I only applied to USC because I knew the quality of the education I receive would be phenomenal, and when I first stepped on campus, there was this aura or feeling that made me so proud,” Wong said. “I am so grateful to have USC give me this opportunity to learn.”

His pursuit of graduate education was made possible, in part, with support from the Hortencia Torres Scholarship. Torres EdD ’80, a lifelong educator, was able to pursue a doctorate in education at USC due to financial support from her employer.

“Dr. Torres has broken many glass ceilings and barriers, and her story resonates with me,” said Wong, whose parents never received a college education. “She has given me this opportunity, and I take that as a responsibility to really change the lives of students.”

Wong is currently teaching U.S. and world history for his fieldwork in the program and said he is inspired by the tools and methods to engage students that his professors have given him thus far. He strives to make social studies come alive for his students, as it did for him when he was in high school.

“High school students are at a point where they’re about to take off and discover what they really want to do in life,” Wong said. “It is really important as a social studies teacher to empower them, and say, ‘You have a role to play, and if you exercise your voice and engage in the process, you can bring about change and really impact this country.’ ”

While at Temple City High School, Wong founded and managed the Temple City Voice, a student-run newspaper focusing on issues of local government. At 23, Wong still heads the publication, where he mentors the high school student staff in writing and management skills and teaches them about politics in their community.

“It’s at the local level, more than the presidential or even state level, where you can really bring about change and where your vote counts the most,” Wong said. “It is important to have an informed citizenry. Our mission is to educate the community and empower them to participate in the political process.”

The paper, which Wong hopes to expand to the community college population, has hosted five candidate forums for the local school board and city council elections, all of which were planned, executed and moderated by the students themselves.

Wong said he also wants to bring diversity to the pool of political candidates, which is one reason the second-generation Chinese-American ran for his community’s school board in November.

“I felt that we needed a school board that represented more of the diversity in the community, especially in the San Gabriel Valley where the Asian population has grown significantly in the last two decades,” he said. “I thought I could bring that and bridge the gap for parents who do not speak English or are not familiar with the American education system.”

Wong didn’t win a seat, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the political process. And it only reinforced his drive to get the next generation involved.

“We’re seeing a growing number of ethnic candidates, but there are still many glass ceilings that haven’t been shattered and many high barriers to climb,” he said. “I hope to facilitate and encourage people of different backgrounds and cultures to climb that political ladder.”

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