Ren Harman: Good afternoon. This is Ren Harman, the Project Director for VTStories. Today is Thursday, November 2, 2017 at about 2:13 PM. We are in the Alumni Library in Holtzman Alumni Center with a very special guest, and this is the only time I will prompt you. If you could just say in a complete sentence my name is, when you were born, and where you were born.
Matt Arden: My name is Matthew Arden, and I was born in 1976 in a sleepy littletown called Washington, DC.
Ren: What years did you attend Virginia Tech?
Matt: I was at Virginia Tech 1994 to 1999, and actually stayed on an extra yearfor my first job, so I was here through '99-2000ish.
Ren: What was your major?
Matt: I was actually an IDST major, which no longer exists here as I understandit, but it was Interdisciplinary Studies in the Liberal Arts School. 1:00
Ren: So, you said you grew up in a little town called Washington, DC. Can youtell me a little bit about growing up in your early life?
Matt: So, I was the second child of Allen and Georgina, who were one of thefirst neighborhoods in Woodbridge, Virginia which is about 20 miles south of DC, so there were no hospitals or a lot of infrastructure out there at the time. In fact, our subdivision at the time still was at the end of a dirt road. So I was born in DC and then raised in Woodbridge, Virginia. My parents divorced when I was about 1, and odd for that time, but my dad retained custody, so I was raised by my father in Woodbridge and my mom left and went to live with my stepfather in Ohio at the time, and my sister did too. So it was weird; there are four of us, there's siblings and there's four of us, but I was sort of raised as an only child with my dad for a huge chunk of that because I stayed in Woodbridge. 2:00
Ren: What was that life like, just being raised by your father?
Matt: It was different. You know, I remember, I always like to say I'm kind of adumb poor kid from Virginia that got lucky, but we didn't have a ton of money. My father was putting himself through Law School at George Mason at the time, but he had a full-time job with the Department of Defense, but he had cashed in his pension to pay for law school, or portions thereof, so money was tight. I remember my dad likes to pick bluegrass a little bit, and we used to have music nights. I remember our neighbor was named Elmer and he played banjo and my dad played guitar, and we would have music nights by candlelight. It wasn't until I was an adult I realized those were the nights that the power got shut-off. I mean it didn't happen all that often, but it was tough for a while there. And then in about the beginning of middle school I think, the end of elementary school my sister went to go live with my mom and so it was just me and my dad from there on out.
But it was a pretty normal upbringing. I feel like that Generation X anyway was3:00the one that sort of had the benchmark of 50% of parents were divorced, so I didn't feel too much like an outsider. When I was younger I did a little bit, which made me a little bit of a class clown. I think I was probably seeking a little bit of attention and a little bit more positive reinforcement, so I was definitely the class clown. I wasn't the most studious, but other than that a pretty normal upbringing, aside from spending my summers away from home. I know I spent my summers with my mom and stepfather and siblings.
Ren: That was in Ohio?
Matt: It was all over. He was a franchise manager for a number of different bigrestaurant chains, so it was a stint in Columbus, Ohio and then Queens, New York for two summers, and then Dayton, Ohio, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and then they finally settled right outside of Boston in Ashland, Massachusetts when I was in like 5th or 6th grade maybe. And that was the place I went every summer pretty much until I was in high school.
Ren: Did your dad finish law school eventually?4:00
Matt: He did. He's an interesting character. Thanksgiving are weird because hewent to UVA, but #nojudgement. He was tough. He raised two kids and he basically almost not kidding, he lived for four years on 30 cups of coffee and four packs of cigarettes a day. Our day would start at 6 AM when me and my sister would get up. We would go off to daycare. He would drive into the City to have a full-time job with the Department of Defense, drive home at night, get us from the daycare center, or from the babysitter at the time, there were no daycares, but make us dinner and get us settled. And either my mom who lived nearby for a while there would come over or my grandparents would come down from Falls Church, see us through the evening, and my dad would turn around and drive back in DC when George Mason Law School was in DC, and go to school all night. Come home at 11 or 12 o'clock at night, study until 4 or 5 in the morning and we would get up at 6 AM again. So it was a pretty tough run, and he finally graduated in the top 7% 5:00of the entire law school, and then had a massive heart attack within a year.
But he's a local small-town attorney. His office was in Occoquan, Virginia for along time. He was just like the town attorney, always doing good by everybody and worked in barter and trade a lot of times. Our cars would get fixed, but we didn't have a lot of cash sometimes, but it was good.
Ren: I want to ask you, kind of growing up in the DC area and during that time,it is obviously vastly different now, what kind of things did you get into? Were you involved in sports or any type of extracurricular activities.
Matt: Yeah, my dad was pretty good about maintaining sort of a normal flow forus as much as he could, so I played youth soccer my entire life. I started when I was about 4 or 5, and I still play in New York City in rec leagues. So I grew up playing sports. I played soccer, a ton of friends in the neighborhood. But still, Gen X is still a little bit of that throw-back generation where we didn't 6:00wear bike helmets and we made ramps in the middle of the street and sometimes we would fall down and crack our head open. We were always out riding bikes on dirt trails under the power lines. I remember in Lake Ridge Virginia in particular they built this huge complex called Tacketts Mill, which was our first sort of like our first commerce section in Lake Ridge. And they had a comic book store, so it was about a mile away, a mile and a half away from our house off a main road called Old Bridge Road. You couldn't ride your bike on that, but we did know the trails on the powerlines. And so if we were lucky enough or if we were crafty enough we were able to ride our bikes up to the comic book store. Me and my best buddy, Mike Lewis, who actually went to Virginia Tech also, and you know, it was a pretty...
The urban sprawl hadn't really happened yet, so there were still like it had aregional airport in Woodbridge that was off a dirt road. There was a skating rink off a dirt road, and a lot of things off of dirt roads for a while. But I lived right behind Woodbridge High School, which was sort of the first big huge 7:00high school out beyond the beltway, and so it kept me pretty connected to school and a lot of students and teachers and stuff. I think people got used to having divorced parents, so we had a lot of the neighbors looking out for us. It was really kind of a community feel. It was good. It was fun.
Ren: Doing a little research on you, I don't know where I found this, but itcracked me up, when you meet someone, when you introduce yourself and you tell them where you from -- do you know what I'm talking about? What you say? The home of Robert Duvall?
Matt: Oh yeah, that's in my bio in my work thing, yeah. I will literally, I havea tattoo of Virginia on my arm. I love being from Virginia. When I was driving down from Charlotte today, I flew from New York to Charlotte and then drove in from Charlotte, I stopped at the border at the Virginia rest stop to buy a Virginia is for lovers t-shirt. I mean I love being from Virginia. I think it's an amazing place to be from. So yeah, I will tell anybody who asks I'm from 8:00Virginia, home of Robert Duvall where they shot October Sky which involved Virginia Tech. I went to Virginia Tech. I have literally like 400 sweatshirts and all of them are Virginia Tech sweatshirts. Again, I have a tattoo of Virginia on my arm. One of my favorite t-shirts is the State of Virginia with the word 'home' in the middle of it.
Ren: Yeah, I have the same one. It says born and raised in Virginia, inSouthwest Virginia.
Matt: People make fun of me all the time. They say that's all I talk about isbeing from Virginia.
Ren: Yeah. The Robert...
Matt: My wife and I have a joke, because the funny thing is Virginia is sort oflike this weird little intersection in everyone's lives, and it could be because of the DC area or because of all the military in the Norfolk area and stuff like that. But you're never like more than 6-degrees from someone from Virginia, right. And I tell my wife, she's from Jersey and I kept telling her everyone is Virginia and she is like, "No they're not," and everywhere we go we meet someone from Virginia.
Ren: It gets to this idea of wearing a Virginia Tech shirt or hat somewhere, and9:00out of all these interviews we've done out of these 100-plus interviews we've done for VT Stories, people bring that up. Like 'I was in Paris or Italy' all these international places and you always find someone who is either associated with the college in some way or from Virginia. So October Sky, Homer Hickam we've been trying to do an interview with him. I don't think he travels a whole lot, so maybe over the phone, but he has emailed us back.
Matt: That's awesome.
Ren: Hopefully we can get an interview with him. So going to Woodbridge HighSchool, when did Virginia Tech kind of come into the picture? How did that happen?
Matt: You know it's funny, fate is a funny thing, I was definitely meant to goto Virginia Tech, and I guess it's easy to say that in retrospect because wherever you end up going you tell everybody that's where you were meant to be. Although people have bad...and they try to transfer, so you never know, but for me it was interesting. I've always been in the entertainment industry, but I started out as a sportscaster. When I was as early as 13-14 years old I knew I wanted to be a sportscaster. So there was a career fair at Woodbridge High and I 10:00went and met colleges. What's funny is I didn't meet Virginia Tech there. I met Alabama and University of Virginia Clench Valley.
Ren: Yeah, that's where my wife went.
Matt: Oh really?
Matt: See, so it's interesting, because it's a small school that I had neverheard of, but they had a sports broadcast program. And my dad went to UVA, so I thought all right, well I may not want to go to Charlottesville, but I'll be in the UVA family. And then I ended up going to another college fair and was introduced to WVU and applied and got in, and I had a dorm assignment and everything at West Virginia. Because I was looking for like a huge college experience with big football. I wanted to be in a big school. And then one of my good buddies whose dad played Virginia Tech basketball, a guy named Wayne Mallard played here back in the 60s, Spencer Mallard, his son, got in Virginia Tech. He was a great friend of mine and he called me and he said, "Hey, I got into Virginia Tech," and I said, "I didn't yet, I haven't heard." And then 11:00literally within a couple of days I got a wait list notice. It was in a weird transition year where JMU became hugely popular in the late '90s and all of us were going to go to JMU, UVA or whatever. It was all the same applications. I didn't get into UVA. I didn't get into JMU, and that's not to say like Virginia Tech was like a second choice, it was a weird period where like some of my really good friends that were like some of the smarter kids in class didn't get into UVA and JMU that year. Like there was this weird influx of kids.
And I ended up getting into West Virginia. I may have gotten wait-listed at UVA,who knows, whatever, but there was something where I couldn't go when I wanted to go. And Spencer called me and said, "Hey, I got into Virginia Tech and a bunch of us got in this week," and I got wait-listed and it became this fixation for me, where Virginia Tech, it was like the girl who turns you down, and I just was fixated on Virginia Tech. My dad kind of caught in on that and he behind my back, I didn't know this until later, would call the University and was like, 12:00"What's going on? When are we going to find out? He needs to know." And two weeks later, maybe three weeks later I got a letter saying I had finally gotten into Virginia Tech.
And what's funny is I think it was because of an influx of students in the Stateof Virginia at that time, because I was in an overflow room in Pritchard. I was in a triple, I don't know if anyone has ever talked about triples?
Ren: Yeah, the same when I was here, yeah.
Matt: So for the first time they were throwing three people in a room and therewas this overflow and I think that's probably why I got wait-listed, was there was so many applicants. But I got in thankfully. I canceled my dorm assignment at West Virginia and came to Virginia Tech. So I ended up at Virginia Tech kind of out of spite.
Ren: What's funny is thinking about the mid-90s, it's not something you couldkind of check online, you were actually waiting for the mailman probably to deliver, or something to put in your mailbox.
Ren: So you lived in Pritchard?
Ren: West Pritchard?
Matt: East Pritchard right on the corner by Dietrich.
Ren: I was in Pritchard too, 3rd floor, 3045 I think.13:00
Matt: Nice. I was 1045 Pritchard, which is the corner, which is why they made ita triple. It's a big corner unit and you would literally walk out of our door and you would hit the stairs to Dietrich basically. It would kick you out right on that corner by that field, so yeah, I ended up in a triple with these two dudes from Salem, Virginia. And all of us when we met were like all right, well these two guys planned to come together and they picked each other as a roommate because they knew each other from high school, and they were like who is this clown? This third guy from Northern Virginia. So we all agreed like hey, we'll just ride this out and make the best of it. We will make a double loft and we'll figure it out, and within two weeks we were like hey, when we get the letter we'll just decline it. We're going to stay in a triple and the three of us lived together for a year in that room. It was crazy.
Ren: It seems like, because I started my freshman year in '07 and there was acouple of triples, but I will tell you out of all these interviews you're the only person that I've ever interviewed that also lived in Pritchard. 14:00
Ren: So finally, yeah.
Matt: How is that even possible? Because for a while it was the largest dorm onthe east coast, right?
Ren: Yeah, that's why I could never figure it out. Because I guess a lot ofpeople we interview were in the Corps I guess, and so that kind of gets it, but then I've also interviewed people that lived in Vawter. I interviewed a guy on Monday who lived in Vawter and some others, AJ and stuff, but you're the first Pritchard, so finally I find someone. My brother lived there also.
Matt: I was in the asylum for a year.
Ren: Now it's co-ed and nice remodeled bathrooms and things, so it's a lotdifferent than obviously when you and I were there.
Matt: Everything is different.
Ren: Right. I want to ask you, your first memory of the campus do you rememberhow you felt, what the campus looked like or smelled like or anything?
Matt: I do. It's interesting. I never really focused on Virginia Tech becauseobviously I grew up in a house where my dad went to UVA, so Virginia Tech just wasn't talked about. My dad and I were planning to go to Atlanta for a family reunion with my grandmother's family, and we planned my orientation visit around 15:00that, so we drove from DC to Blacksburg and then Blacksburg to Atlanta. I had never been to Southwest Virginia. So we got off of, and this was before all this new construction and these highway, like you would get off on 460 and it was just a road with gas stations and sparsely-populated stores and whatever, and there weren't a lot of signs, because the boom hadn't quite happened yet. So we stopped at a gas station and I remember thinking oh my God I'm in the middle of nowhere. Like I don't know this place. And it had already gotten dark because we got a late start, so we decided we would drive around campus for a minute, and we pulled onto campus kind of the classic way off of 460.
Ren: South Gate?
Matt: Yeah, and the VT hedge right at the base. You would see it under sort ofthe shadow of the stadium which was much smaller back then. And it was the first time I thought oh my God it's its own place, right. And then I got dropped off 16:00and put into a dorm. I think they put us up in AJ and it was my first night in a dorm, and I wasn't quite sure that I thought. It was almost like being dropped off at camp when you were a kid and you were like this could be cool or this could be really bad. I don't know anything, I don't know anyone. There's no air-conditioning. And then all these girls walked down the hallways checking on all the doors, being like, "Hey, we're all going to go out tonight and hang out. Let's go check out campus and go down on Main Street and get some dinner or whatever," and I thought I could go here. [Laughs] This could be fun.
And then orientation was just pretty cool, and driving down to Atlanta Idistinctly remember telling my dad, "I really can't wait to go back. I want to go attack this. This is going to be cool." But it was that turn-on in the VT hedge and the stadium and I thought this is college. It felt cool.
Ren: You mentioned you were interdisciplinary studies and you focused on17:00professional writing and American History?
Ren: Okay. When you entered into Virginia Tech as a freshman did you declarethat major or how did all that happen?
Matt: No. Part of the reason why I'm back here is because I now am on thismentoring board with the Pamplin College of Business. And one of the reasons I'm very interested in coming back and giving back is because I was lost, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Kids now just know a lot more. I'm sure that has a lot to do with technology and the internet and all these other things, but I didn't really know about declaring majors. I just knew you went to college next. Like that was the next grade you went to, right, 13th grade, right, you were a freshman in college, and I assumed they tell you what you do next. I chose to go to a college that was really big and so it was easy to get sort of lost in the shuffle and I didn't go meet with my advisor a ton. And so I spent the first year undeclared and sort of listless. I just took classes to fulfill the requirements, right. You took a math and a science or whatever.
And then I finally met with my advisor at the end of freshman year and she said,18:00"What do you want to do?" and I said, "I just want to be a sportscaster and that's not really a major here, so I don't know what to do." So she said, "Well there's this major called ITSD, Interdisciplinary Studies. You pick three minors and that becomes your major." And then over the course of the next few years they narrowed it down to two minors. I actually think I might have been one of the last classes that even graduated with ITSD. I think they went away with it.
But for me it was great because I knew I had a skillset I was chasing, and Icould find that through internships. And volunteer work at Virginia Tech at the time was EMCVT, which is Electronic Media Company of Virginia Tech which is where the TV, radio station and all that stuff was. So I just needed to get a degree, and this allowed me the flexibility to sort of chase some of my passions which is writing and history and things like that, and then I could figure out the job stuff later. So the degree for me wasn't necessarily a means to an end, it was more of a all right I'm in college for four years, it turned out five, let's just study some cool stuff because you already know what you want to do.
Ren: Yeah. So you kind of came in, and you were able to take this, because like19:00you said, I think a lot of freshman come in and they want to go to medical -- this is my story, I want to go to medical school. Got to be a biology major and got to get your science credits, and you kind of took the complete opposite. And that's what I always tell people I talk to today, like take that first year just to kind of take a smattering or mix of classes to really find out what you're interested in.
Matt: It's harder for them now though.
Ren: Yeah, it is.
Matt: Like I think it's tougher on kids now. Because it's gotten so rigid and sostructured if you don't take those classes you can't be pre-med or you set yourself back a year.
Matt: And thankfully I didn't have an engineering or medical sort of proficiencyor interest, so I was able to do that and take that Liberal Arts approach to a collegiate environment. And then the truth is too being at technical school the Liberal Arts school was small. So we kind of all knew each other and we were all in classes together and it was a nice little tiny community. There was only a couple hundred of us.
Matt: But part of the reason why I come back now is I feel like there's a lot of20:00pressure and stress on kids these days to declare a major. The kids I talk to now they are sophomores and juniors, the stuff they are talking about are things I didn't learn about until I was like literally in the workforce. You know it's a very serious trade now. And so one of the things I try to bring to it is that you can be, to your point, you can do the smattering of classes and you can sort of be not listless per se, but you can...
Ren: Find out what you're interesting in.
Matt: Yeah, find out what you're interested in and take it easy on yourself alittle bit. Once you get out of here you're going to be working for the next 45 years, like slow down a little bit.
Ren: I tell my wife, my 10-year-old is wanting to go and see Chapel Hill becausehe loves Tar Heels basketball. I was like let's hold off on that. [Laughs] I don't know if we're going to be paying out of state tuition.
Matt: I'll buy you the t-shirts and stuff. Let's just not...
Ren: Let's not. And I tell my wife, my wife is a math teacher, so he wants to bea math teacher or a math professor because he loves math, and I'm like let's just wait and kind of see before we kind of have any of those discussions. I try 21:00to tell him let's take a bunch of classes and let's see what interests you.
I'm sure there had to be a lot of notable professors or mentors that you had inyour time here. Do any kind of stick out that you remember the most?
Matt: Yeah, two in particular. One on the writing side was Lucinda Roy. She'sjust awesome, and you know she's one of those professors that saw something in me and took the time to ask about it and tried to bring it out of me. She was very involved with sort of, you know, and the funny thing is I bet she does it with a ton. She may not even remember me, but she really really pulled some stuff out of me and really pressured me to -- not pressured, pushed me to work on my creative writing, and my career now to this day I write constantly. I am a professional writer, and she's really the one that sort of unlocked that. She could speak to me, she saw that I was a little bit of a goofball and I've always 22:00been a bit of a class clown, but she was able to sort of help me channel that and allow me to write it, so she was amazing.
And then on the history side there was a professor named Roger Ecurch who taughtColonial American History. I don't remember what the class was actually called, but we had this really really cool assignment where he gave us a year and a town that had a newspaper from way back in the day. So I think I was like Columbia, South Carolina in 1670 or 1720, who knows, and you had to go find all the newspaper on microfiche - I'm dating myself with these references, but in the library, and I read a year's worth of newspapers from that town. And then I had to event a persona and give a yearlong journal of my life living in 1720 in Columbia, South Carolina, which I thought was such a unique way to get us to learn about life. But it also harnessed the writing side of me. He was just a cool teacher. He was a good speaker and he was interested in what we were 23:00saying. I was in there with a couple of other buddies of mine and we were kind of goofballs and he had fun with us. He would let us learn in our way. I just always appreciated the way he taught that class, and it's one of the classes I remember most. I was probably a junior or so when I took it and I still remember the books I read. Like one of the books we had to read was Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fisher, and I think it's literally the only textbook I was ever assigned in my entire life that I read cover to cover, because he made it interested and he made it valuable to us in a way.
Ren: Right. So VTT is housed in the Center for Rhetoric in Society in theEnglish Department and I see Lucinda Roy a lot, just walking the halls. And we work a lot with history because this is a oral history interview, so we're kind of on that corner of the campus, Major Williams and Shanks, so a lot of kind of relationship...
Matt: Next time you see Professor Roy tell her I said thank you.
Ren: I certainly will. We did a featured faculty section and that's where Nikki24:00Giovanni kind of came in, and we were reaching out to her, but I believe she was on a book tour. She just came out with a new book I believe, so we're going to try to circle back around maybe in the spring and get some of these folks.
Matt: A cool lady.
Ren: Yeah. We hear her name a lot obviously. What are some of your favoritememories or experiences from your time here?
Matt: Oh man. The University became so engrained in my DNA. I think the firstbig Thursday night football game I was a freshman and we all walked across to the stadium, and it was a much different process back then because everybody got a ticket.
Matt: That was huge. I remember the first big Thursday night game, just like itwas electric on campus and it was the coolest. Freshman year was a blur, but I just remember even like those Friday nights jumping on the BT and going onto random apartments out on Patrick Henry to find a party. You know what I mean? And you would roll like 40 deep and it didn't matter because there were ten 25:00other gangs running 40 deep.
Ren: All guys.
Matt: All guys just looking for a keg. Actually one of my favorite memories, andit's funny because it came full circle and it goes back to the professor question, Abby Koller was my freshman math, and I kid you not, I think the class was called Freshman Math a Liberal Arts Approach or something like that. Math is a Science, a Liberal Arts Approach. It was a math class for dudes like me, and I was in there with my buddy Spencer and we were just taking the math elective. It was what it was, and Abby Koller was teaching the class and it was really early in freshman year, and the class was sort of finishing up the lesson a little bit early. And so she said, "All right guys, we've got like ten minutes left. What do you guys what to talk about? What do you guys want to learn?" And I of course raised my hand and she was like, "Mr. Arden?" and I'm like, "Why don't we just leave early?" Because I'm an 18-year-old idiot. And she stops and looks at me in 26:00front of this massive class of you know, whatever it was, 80 or 90 people, and she goes, "Mr. Arden you are paying to be here. You don't have to stay. I'm going to teach until the class is up, but you can leave any time you want, you're an adult now." I was three inches tall for the first time in my life.
Matt: And the funny thing is Abby Koller had a son named Paul Koller, and PaulKoller became my big brother in my fraternity, so there's a whole [00:26:27] there too, but I didn't know it at the time obviously. But that, yeah, that one sticks out.
Ren: I had her as well.
Matt: Oh really?
Ren: Yeah. Math 2015 was my last math I had to take, because I was a [biology]undergrad and man I just skated through barely because I was just awful at math. That's not my thing either. So were there any difficult memories or experiences that you can kind of remember, any struggles?
Matt: Yeah. You know, none of the struggles are ever sexy, right. Nobody everwants to talk about those things, and that's actually why I come back and mentor 27:00now. It's like I think the ugly stuff is actually what makes us to a degree. I always tell the Mentoring Board it's easy to celebrate the A+ students, but someone has got to help the C+ student. Some of the ugly stuff was that early on a couple of friends that we made here on campus were kicked out of school for marijuana, which was scary because you had like your little core of friends and now they're disappearing, and you're like well wait a minute, there's like ramifications of being an adult. Like that was the first real kick in the pants of like oh, this isn't high school where they are going to pull us aside and give us detention and be like, "Hey, wise up kid." Like you're out.
Ren: You're done, yeah.
Matt: You're done. Also I struggled academically the first year. The freedomwasn't...I loved it, but it wasn't my best friend and I wasn't a great student and I wasn't a disciplined student. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I left here freshman year with a 1.9 average, and I think I only had 19 credits. So move the 28:00decimal and the entire package was 19.
Matt: That was tough to go home and like tell my dad, "I might be an idiot. LikeI don't know what I'm doing." You really set yourself back. You leave freshman year at 1.9 you're not graduating with honors ever, unless you stay for 20 years, but there's no way to absorb that 1.9. So things like that were tough because I realized that Virginia Tech was the most amazing place I was going to be, at least up until that point of my life and I didn't want it go away. And yet my own behavior was causing it to be at risk, and so that sort of was a long summer home where you are like I can't have all the fun that Virginia has to offer without putting in the work. And it sounds like a silly lesson because now at 41 I'm like yeah, of course you're supposed to work jackass, but you know, you don't know those things when you're 18 necessarily. Some do and some don't, and I was one that did not.
Ren: Yeah, the same. [Chuckles] I want to ask you, during your time here there29:00was really an interesting change in the history of the University and you're talking about the first Thursday night football game and some things really started us with the arrival of Michael Vick and things. And you are also involved with a website that I think anyone who has ever listened to this interview has visited and that's Hokiesports.com. What's that story?
Matt: So there's a little bit of a lineage there and time sort of makeseverything a little bit more funny. There's a little hyperbole thrown in probably, but fundamentally when I was here I wasn't a great academic student, but I did was dedicate myself to the things that I knew that I liked. So by my junior year I was Associate Sports Editor of the CT and Sports Director of WUVT and [VTB] at the same time. So within EMCVT I had three positions. I was on that hall in Squires most of my life at Virginia Tech.
Matt: And so the academic side was just like look, just get by. Get B's and C's,30:00get your degree, and this is going to be the thing that teaches you what you need to know. And I think his name was Matt Miller, he was a professor and he ran EMCVT for a while, and he was really influential in keeping us engaged and learning AP style writing guide and all that stuff. In the process of Virginia Tech and Michael Vick coming here and putting sports on the map and it becoming a bigger more important place, I had a little radio show on WUVT that I had taken over. There was this sort of this legacy program that all the sports directors got to run when they were there. I can't remember what it was called, but whatever it was, it was like Sports Block or whatever. It was a Sunday afternoon show on WUVT. And we had put up a huge stink about the new ticket policy, because once Virginia Tech football really took off it wasn't like years prior where you would walk up and show your student ID and you would go into the game. Like now there was a ticket process and you may not get a ticket to the game, but it was still part of the tuition you paid. So I started calling BS on like if I pay for it I better get it.
Matt: I started a little bit of a campaign against the University31:00intermittently. I would write stuff in the CT about it or whatever, and through that I got to meet Associate Athletic Director at the time Dave Chambers, and Dave Chambers took an interest in me. I don't know if he saw something in me. Thankfully he did I guess, but he sort of like allowed me to come by and visit with him and he sort of helped me, explained why the ticket policy was the way it was. And I said, "What does it matter? It's not fair." So they formed a little committee of students to give feedback, and I was on that committee, and so it was nice to be seen that way.
And then I kept in touch with Dave Chambers when I graduated, and I wasn't surehow to do what I wanted to do, and I was sending out resume tapes and trying to figure it out. It's tough to try to become a sportscaster because frankly, just being completely honest, it was hard for a 22-year-old blond-haired blue-eyed white kid to find a job as a sportscaster in a lot of markets. Like there were a 32:00thousand guys just like me looking for the exact same job, because the Sports Center had blown up for the ten years prior, and everybody wanted to be Dan Patrick. And the truth is we weren't representative of the population either, so it was important to find people of color and women, and so there were a million dudes like me trying to find the five jobs that were available for guys with no experience. So it was a tough row to hoe and I think I applied for like 70 jobs. I was waiting it out over the summer working at a law firm in DC just at the front desk. A buddy of my dad knew a guy they were looking for a receptionist, so I took the job.
And Dave Chambers got in touch with me in August of that summer, and said, "Hey,we're going to do something a little experimental down here. We're going to try to bring back all the licensings and rights from these companies that do our websites and we're just going to do it ourselves. And we need someone who can write, produce and edit, and maybe even sportscast a little bit and film and stuff like that. Would you want to come down and talk to me about it?" So I drove down for the first football game and met with Dave and he offered me the job. And so I was the first producer and sportscaster at HokieSports.com in 99. 33:00It was me, you know I worked for Peg Morse, and it was me and Damion Salles, and Damion is still here running HokieSports.com.
So I came down and I worked for the University for a year, and I learned how toshoot. We would shoot little features and put them up and we would shoot all the games and we would shoot wrestling and basketball and do little sideline reports. We just sort of made it up as we went along, and we would stream some stuff like wrestling and things like that. The first football game I got to film and be on the sidelines for for HokieSports.com was the BCA Classic, the Georgia Tech game with the lightning bolt that struck Corso's car.
Ren: Yep, I was there as a child.
Matt: Yeah, that's awesome. And I still have it on my desktop today, I wasfilming out over the stadium to get a shot of the clouds and I caught a lightning bolt. And it was like as a young videographer I was like, "This is amazing!" And I went back and pulled the exact frame out where the lightning bolt is striking, but that was my first sort of... And then I ended that 34:00football season with covering the '99 National Championship in New Orleans, so it was a really cool thing.
Ren: Yeah. I just remember being a small child and hiding in the bathroom beforethat game.
Matt: I bet. That was a nasty storm.
Ren: It was awful, because my brother was here at the time and he lived onChristine Court and we were there at the game. I didn't go to New Orleans, but he was there and the crushing defeat by Florida State.
Matt: Oh man, but for three-quarters it was exciting.
Ren: Yeah, exactly.
Matt: It was.
Ren: So I want to get to some more Tech stuff, but I do want to say you are aSenior Vice President now, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director at Screenvision. You work at 40 Foot Solutions Creative Brand Studio. So can you tell me a little bit about your position and kind of what things you are into? I know you've got a few awards. 35:00
Matt: Probably the reason why I'm tired and I was actually at our awardsceremony last night in New York. Yeah, when I left Virginia Tech I ended up at CNN's Sports Illustrated in Atlanta and that started me off in the sports world. I had my own TV show on TBS and was always in sports and television for the bulk of my career. And then I spent 11 years in Atlanta with TBS and TNT and Turner Sports, and that's where I met my wife. She was at TBS and TNT also. And then she got her master's at UGA and got a job offer in New York six weeks later, and I quit my job and moved to New York and figured I would figure it out. I had always done like branded content and a lot of integration work with the sales team at Turner Sports when we were figuring things out. At Turner Sports I was part of the first in-house agency called CSSU, which is Creative Services Sports Unit and I was employee #1 as a very young producer.
The guy who runs it to this day is this guy Craig Berry, who is kind of like a36:00creative mentor to me. He just changed my focus on my career and I became a writer, producer, director more so. When I quit my job and moved to New York I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I was interested more on the agency side than the television side, and I wasn't sure how to make that work. So I got a job at a film company doing sports integrations and work with ESPN, and a connection said, "Hey, the Screenvision Media is cinema advertising, but they are looking to do more and they want to chat." And it started this very long process. It literally took four months for us to go through the interview process to figure out do you want to really start making creative, because they had never done creative as a media company.
Finally, we all agreed that we wanted to try it, so what I did was I came in andbuilt a creative brand studio called 40 Foot Solutions, which is very different than an agency. A brand studio is really connected to one brand and develops content and branded content and unique content as sort of one-offs on behalf of brands based on media purchases. And then we go away and work on something else. 37:00It's not like an agency of record where you have client and it's all you do is work on their creative.
Because I come from building a little agency model within a network I kind ofknew what it was. I didn't know if I knew how to build it or not and I'm still not sure I do, but they put trust in me and we sort of knuckled under. So 40 Foot Solutions is the, for lack of a better phrase, the creative agency that lives within Screenvision Media, the media company. And so day to day I oversee all creative programming for the country's second largest cinema advertising network.
Ren: Wow. Before movies start the ads that's coming from...?
Matt: Yeah. So we are the pre-roll before movies, and what's interesting to meis that it's a really, the reason why I wanted to try it was it's one of the last places that you can have a completely dedicated audience that can't change the channel, can't hit skip ad and isn't interested in leaving, right.
Matt: You paid 15-bucks for a movie ticket. You're in this comfy chair. It's38:00dark. You're eating popcorn. You are daring the screen to light up. You know, it's a great place to run ads, so brands do run ads there. But, we also run the risk of it not becoming that effective of a program if we just continue to make it only ads.
Matt: So I work on the programming, everything from interaction with theaudience in trivia and gaming to developing unique branded content, original stories. We shoot short-form documentaries for brands. We develop original branded content. We do studio integrations. So we try to infuse a little more entertainment and a little bit more narrative into that program.
Ren: Are you responsible for the 3D ride on the rollercoaster?
Matt: I am not.
Ren: Oh my God.
Matt: I am actually in the process of rethinking one of those things for a hugetheater chain because that's been around for so long.
Ren: Yeah, I can't watch it. I just turn my head.
Matt: Yeah, most people get a little motion sickness.
Ren: Yeah, a little motion sick.
Matt: But I rethink some of those things too.
Ren: I think is it [AMC]?
Matt: It's Regal.
Ren: That's it, yeah. There you go.
Matt: Regal is the other guy, so I don't have to mess with that one.39:00
Ren: I guess during your time at Turner Sports you won some Emmys, right?
Ren: It was kind of interesting searching the database and looking at whatspecific programs you had won these awards for. That's pretty awesome. So where do you keep your Emmys?
Matt: This is going to sound trite. For a long time they were just kept in thecloset, but my wife and I just had a kid and we moved to a bigger apartment and so we've got a little more space now, so they are...
Ren: Dusted off?
Matt: They are dusted off. They are sitting on a credenza under the TV. This isthe first time I've ever run a wall-mounted TV, so there's room to put things on the table instead of a TV stand. So they now sit under the TV in our apartment.
Ren: So when people come over are you ever like...?
Matt: No, it's funny, and I had written down when I was 18 years old that Iwanted to win an Emmy by the time I turned 30. I had a whole list of things I wanted to do before I was 30, but winning an Emmy was on there and I was able to do at 30, which was kind of a cool thing. But it's a very personal pursuit, and 40:00so what's funny is you think as a young person you think that's what I want. I want that thing. I'm going to solder it to the hood of my car, or turn it into a chain. And then when you win it you realize a couple of things, that it's a team effort and I never won anything on my own, right. And so while I get a statue, it's really...
Ren: The work of so many people.
Matt: Yeah, the work of so many people, and yeah, I was part of teams that didamazing work, or I was able to lead some amazing work, but yeah, I never did it alone, so it becomes less selfish the more you really understand what it means. And it's very humbling too, and so you just don't want to be that guy who is like, "Look what I did." Like I have them out now because everyone is like, "You should put them out. Like it's pretty cool."
Ren: Yeah, I would. I would be wearing them around my neck.
Matt: Yeah, but it's a fine line between being the guy that always brings it upand never bringing it up. But it's a huge honor and it's a very personal thing. 41:00
Ren: Well that's awesome. Congratulations.
Matt: Thank you.
Ren: That's very cool.
Matt: Thank you.
Ren: I never met an Emmy Award winner, so you're the first. [Chuckles] I want toask you why you're here on campus. You're a part of Pamplin College of Business Marketing Department, Marketing Industry Mentoring Board, right?
Ren: MIMB is the acronym. It's almost like Men in Black.
Matt: It is.
Ren: How did that position come available? And also I want to ask you kind of alarger question, is mentorship and how that was when you were here and then how do you mentor students as part of this Board now?
Matt: I'm going to try to make this story brief because it's a little bit of along story, so I'll make it brief. But the truth is it came out kind of an ugly angry place in a weird way. So, I didn't think that there is much, the University didn't offer much in the form of mentorship when I was here. Maybe they did, but it wasn't well publicized. I'm not sure that they did it honestly, and nobody was chasing me down to see how I was doing.
And at 18 you need, you know when you're a 17, 18, 19-year-old kid and you're42:00struggling you may not go seek that help, even if you knew it was available, right. So I felt like there needed to be more outreach. And then so the school never really paid attention to me when I was here. They liked me paying obviously every quarter. And then when I graduated there was no job placement. Nobody helped me there, aside from Dave Chambers who reached out, but that wasn't an official Virginia Tech capacity. That was a dude who thought this guy deserves a break, we're going to give him a job. So thankfully people like that were around, but the University in an official capacity never really had any outreach.
And then for ten or 15 years I never heard from the University unless it wasgetting a magazine in the mail. When I moved to New York and maybe some things like the Emmy was sort of, did a Google search of me, you know it pops up on the page obviously, I don't know what the algorithm is, but all of a sudden I started getting phone calls from people wanting money. And I sort of thought you know what, you guys didn't care about me when I was there. You didn't care about me the last 15 years, now all of a sudden I'm on your radar? Don't only call me 43:00when you want a check, and that really rubbed me the wrong way. Because I thought I'm still paying off the $34,000 I owed you for being there, and you're asking for more money on top of it? Like I'm still paying off the first 34-grand.
So, you know, that became an issue and I voiced my opinion. And so at the timethe school said, "Wow, you're actually not the first person to say that. We would love to chat with you more." And I'm sure that's just to keep the conversation going because I'm sure I hit some sort of benchmark financially where they were like 'this guy should give us some cash.' And I don't know why, but all of a sudden they're asking for checks. So I started this prolonged conversation with them about why should I give back to you when you've never given back to me? I earned my degree. I paid for it. It's not like you gave it to me, so where are we in this [even] exchange? You want me to be a part of the school then let me be a part of the school. Let's start talking really about that, because not everything is a financial give-back. I don't remember who 44:00introduced who to who, but basically someone in the University said, "This dude is not happy. We would like to harness him somehow." And they introduced me to Donna Wertalik who is over at Pamplin and is in Marketing over there and teaches Marketing. She runs the Board and she said, "I would love to chat with you." And through a series of conversations with Donna she said, "I think I might want to clear a Board position for you." Because I do believe in giving back. Like that's a big part of it, and I do mentor a lot of kids.
But what made me mad was when I was in Atlanta I used to go back, I was invitedto be a judge at the University of Virginia, the Student Film Festival, and I thought UVA is reaching out to me, but Virginia Tech is not. Like what's wrong here? So that's sort of that process. So I've been involved with them for a couple of years now and I mentor a number of students along with everybody else on the Board. And then we are able to do some fun things too, because now I'm sort of back in the mix. So like this past April I came down here and we were doing a piece of brand new content in cinema for Citizen watches and they wanted to be featured in sort of an ad campaign, a piece of content really around 45:00college graduation and I was troubleshooting how we could do that.
So what we did was we brought a really pretty famous actor and producer namedGreg Grunberg, who has been in a million films and TV shows. He's a buddy of mine and we make content together sometimes. So Citizen watches and Greg came down and spend a day teaching creative students at Virginia Tech giving them advice, looking through their work, preparing them for graduation. And then two of them were given by Greg through Citizen graduation gifts of like beautiful $500 watches. So we shot a whole piece of content here and I was able to put Virginia Tech up on cinema screens over the entire country. So were beginning to get back into a flow again. But the thing that really attracted me to this Board was the mentoring aspect. Again, the A+ students are amazing, we should celebrate them, but they don't need as much help as C+ students sometimes. And so we've got to find a way to talk to the C student, because the C student can either become a B student or dipped to becoming a D student, and then who is going to him?
Ren: Yeah, definitely.46:00
Matt: So that's sort of been the way I've chosen to give back.
Ren: Yeah. I joke with my wife all the time because I'm limping across thefinish line to finish my PhD.
Matt: Hey man, you're still doing it. That's pretty cool.
Ren: I have bachelor's and master's from Tech and I'm limping across to finishthis doctorate, and I was like you know, it was like do I really need this? Can I give back and in what ways? And I really like what you are saying about giving back more than just a check or just money, that you are really giving these kids advice that maybe you didn't have when you were here that you wish you had, because I always here what, eight years after you left and I was mentored to a sense, but not exactly in the way that I think we probably need to now. And especially in this industry I'm sure that has to be a big part of it.
Matt: A huge part of it. The whole thing about the Hokie Nation it can't just beabout people that get together and tailgate before football games, and support 47:00the basketball team when they are doing well. The Hokie Notion has to be a lot more robust. When I saw my wife go through the University of Georgia in the master's program, UGA's network is amazing, and they keep in touch with each other and they try to help each other, and they get each other jobs. You know your network is everything once you're out in the real world. I don't think we're giving kids access to the Hokie Nation as well as we should, so one of the big things is like I just helped a kid this week hopefully land a job, but it's through this mentorship program. It's not even about when they're in school. It's a huge part of it to help them get through school, but it's literally after school too. You know we can create a Hokie Nation that is a network that's not as powerful as LinkedIn, but we should have a LinkedIn like Hokie Nation where when people are interested in certain fields everyone on the Hokie Campus should be like, "Oh man, man, I know a guy who knows a guy," or whatever. But the Hokie network isn't as strong I think outside of sports as we need it to be. 48:00
Ren: Right. I agree. That's kind of what we're trying to do with these storiesis build these collection of stories and kind of tie that to where people can kind of connect in a way with other classmates, and also kind of link across generations mentorship. I mean you're obviously the example of someone who is giving back in a mentoring way. So we're wrapping up here because I know you've got other events to attend to. These are kind of broad questions, but if someone kind of simply says the words Virginia Tech what's the first thing you think of?
Matt: Ooh, that's a tough one. I mean for me it's just love. I don't love anyplace like I love Virginia Tech.
Ren: That's a good answer. I'll take it. If you had any advice to give either tothe administration or to people, current students, what advice would you give them? 49:00
Matt: Well, to the students, which I have been doing through this MentoringBoard, is I've been telling everyone just take a step back and have a deep breath. I'm noticing a lot of kids when they graduate they are like, "I better find a job," and I keep telling them, "Yeah, it's important for you to find a job. But it's also okay if you work for Starbucks for six months while you figure it out."
Matt: You know if you graduate when you're 22 and you hope to retire when you're65, what is that 43 years, right? You have 43 years. You can have ten careers in there, so you don't have to figure it out today. Like take a deep breath. You will get there. And for the administration I would say that maybe this is changing and maybe it's not, but I would say that the students, I understand the University has to run a business, right. It has to turn a profit. It has to be viable, but students are not a commodity. They are human beings and they need a little love and attention. Not all of them do. Some of them are going to come in here and do gangbusters, and that's awesome, but they are human beings and 50:00students, and so I would love the administration to see the Hokie Nation not as people who buy football tickets and buy silver Hokie passes, but also as individuals who walk out into the world as representatives of the University. We need everyone leaving this University to represent the University in the same way. Which is we can't let the stragglers be left behind.
Ren: Right. What would you like people to know about you that maybe they don't?
Matt: Geez, what do they not know after this? What do they need to know about methat they don't know?
Ren: Yes. What would you like to be known for? Maybe that's a better way to put it.
Matt: You know what, I think like the mentoring thing is interesting. My wifeand I when we were in Atlanta started a non-profit called Shoot Film Not Guns. And so it's funny, like people, you are doing your research and you're doing the right thing, but that's the first thing people always want to talk to me about, is like what was it like being on TV, or what was in like winning an Emmy? All those things. And those are really cool things, right, but that's just my job, right.
The mentoring thing and the giving back thing that's the thing that I think51:00probably is something I would rather be known for. You know, that to me is why we're all here.
Ren: I wanted to ask you about that, but since you brought it up the Shoot FilmNot Guns, what was the origins of that and what were you doing there?
Matt: My wife and I we bought a house in Atlanta in a developing neighborhoodand it was, you know, Atlanta suffers from a little bit of a crime problem and there's a lot of sort of... There are issues going on in Atlanta that are much deeper than this conversation and much more complicated than my stupid brain can figure out. But one day one of our neighbors got shot in the chest and a 16 or 17-year-old kid almost killed him over his weedwhacker. I was working, I was an elected sort of local official within the neighborhood I lived in that represented the community. Atlanta still runs on the NPU, the Neighborhood 52:00Planning Unit Program and I was President of the Kirkwood Enclave, which is about 5,000 homes. We reported into City Council, and I was at a meeting with public safety and City Council with these guys and I said, "Does anyone..." I get it, because everyone had the pitchforks out, let's find the kid. Let's put him in prison for the rest of his life. I'm like, "Yeah, he almost killed a guy, absolutely. But is anyone curious why a 16-year-old wants a weedwhacker? Because I don't know one 16-year-old kid that wants to do yardwork voluntarily. Something else is happening here."
It's a very long story, but through a long series of conversations and a littleresearch and working with the police department and looking at some FBI crime data, we recognized that there were kids coming up now that had a really high interest in multi-media tools and production tools. And some gangs were using, were buying those things and using them as carrots to earn points to use and learn the tools, right. So you could get so much time on studio equipment, 53:00right, but you had to do your bidding.
And they were looking at youth offenders because if you are under 18 in Georgiamost of the time short of attempted murder or murder you're going home to mom and dad that night. So, these kids were lost in the system, and so it turned out that some of these kids would have a real deep interest in multi-media tools. And so I sort of did the math and said, "Well if that's really what they want why don't we just give it to them? Like there's enough companies in Atlanta that have multi-media tools and people who knowhow to use them. Let's start a mentorship program." And basically, we didn't raise any money, which is complicated for a lot of people, which I don't understand why, like who cares about the money, but we basically bartered corporate volunteer hours and use of tools to create mentors. And we taught them how to write, produce, direct, edit, shoot, and we taught them how to build stories. We taught them how to make short films, and so that was sort of the impetus for Shoot Film Not Guns. 54:00
Ren: Wow. That's really neat. I wasn't sure of the whole backstory.
Matt: It's complicated. It's hard to build a 51C3 and the world doesn't needanother non-profit. And we did a successful summer campaign and then we moved to New York. You know we're not sure what we're going to do with it. Again, the world probably doesn't need another non-profit, and we're probably more in the curriculum business than we are in the non-profit business, but we're not interested in making money. So we're in this weird little place where we have a decent idea but it's hard to enact.
Ren: Last couple of questions and I'll let you go. What does Virginia Tech meanto you?
Matt: Oh man, it means so much. It's a source of pride. It's a place where Ilearned how to become a human being. It's where I learned how to live on my own. It's where I made some of my best friends. There's a source of pride just walking around in a sweatshirt with that VT logo on it. Let's put it this way, when I met my then girlfriend and now wife who went to Emory University, 55:00literally the first really fun road trip we took was I took her to a Virginia Tech football game. And then she turned to me in the halftime and she was like, "I get it." You know what I mean? It is not about the sports team per se, but the whole thing. You know what I mean? Virginia Tech it's a portion of brain and my heart and my body. You know there is no Matt Arden without Virginia Tech.
Ren: Awesome. Thank you so much for sitting down with us and taking the time. Iknow they have you running around probably a lot today.
Matt: No worries.
Ren: Is there anything else that you would like to say or anything you thought Iwould ask that I didn't? Just kind of an open floor if you want to say anything.
Matt: No man, go Hokies.
Ren: All right. Matt Arden, thank you so much man.
Matt: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Ren: Thank you.