Faced with a harsh diagnosis, this Red Raider is dedicated to leaving the world a better place than he found it.
Matthew Chapman wants to build computers that talk to the human brain.
“As humans we have weaknesses, but with innovation, some of those weaknesses can be overcome,” Chapman said.
He would know, he is attending college with a brain tumor.
“I started having seizures the summer before my junior year of high school,” Chapman said. “After seeing a doctor, they determined I had an infection in my brain and referred me to a specialist.”
Over the next few months, Chapman learned he had a diffusely infiltrating glioma tumor – stage 2 cancer.
“It's still in there,” he said. “But for now, it's benign which means it's not growing or shrinking, it's just stagnant.”
And while that's good news for the time being, the tumor caused Chapman to reassess his career path. Never one for school, he wasn't interested in going the college route. Chapman planned to take after his grandfather and enlist in the U.S. Army after high school. However, his diagnosis made that difficult.
“Strenuous activity can bring on more seizures, so putting myself through basic training wasn't an option,” Chapman said.
Not only would the activity harm Chapman, the Army would likely not have enlisted him due to the risk.
Realizing his former dream was no longer a reality, Chapman fell into a slump.
“I didn't see the point in investing in the future, so I stopped trying at school and was kind of throwing my life away.”
After some time feeling this way, Chapman had a wake-up call.
“One day it really hit me that I have no idea how long I'd be on this planet,” Chapman said. “When that sunk in, I recalibrated. I knew I wanted to help people and leave a legacy.”
So that's what he set out to do.
“I started reexamining other options,” Chapman said. “I have always enjoyed computers and coding and thrived in my information technology (IT) courses in high school.”
Chapman began to wonder if he could take his skills with computers and use them to help solve the problems he was surrounded by. Not just in the hospitals he has visited fighting cancer, but at home, too. Chapman's brother also suffers from seizures.
“I've seen a lot of suffering for someone my age, and many of the problems I've seen, I believe, can be solved. I've seen studies where a computer was used on someone who was completely blind, and it allowed them to see in black and white. Those ideas excite me so much!”
While computer-based machines are already providing prosthetics and vision, Chapman has a bigger dream. He'd like to see if he can build a computer-based solution for paralysis and seizures.
“If we can give people sight, what else can we do?” he asked.
Deciding to study computer engineering, Chapman applied to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and asked to have his first year of college paid for.
“A lot of kids ask to go to Disney World or meet a celebrity. But for me, especially due to my age, I thought it wise to invest in my future.”
“It came as a huge surprise,” Chapman said. “From the time I actually submitted my wish to hearing the news was about a year-and-a-half, so it came as a shock.”
Not only that, but the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering added another scholarship to the funds Chapman was receiving from Make-A-Wish North Texas. The total was $12,000, allowing Chapman to enjoy his first year of college without worrying about student debt.
While Chapman has been physically limited by circumstance, he has not let anything define him mentally.
“You have to adopt a certain mental toughness to push through the hard times in life,” Chapman said. “Sometimes if not for yourself, then for the people around you. Life isn't just about us. It's about leaving something for those we love.”
A few weeks into his first year as a Red Raider, Chapman shared that being on campus has renewed his love for learning.
“Being able to study the things I love has really rekindled that spark for me,” Chapman said. “I like going to class and actually enjoy my homework.”
It's a great sign that he's where he needs to be.
And to others facing obstacles to a collegiate experience, Chapman shared some wisdom he's gleaned from his challenges.
“It's easy to waste time in high school,” Chapman said. “And to waste it on a lot of stuff that honestly doesn't matter in the long run. Focus on yourself and invest in the things you love. Especially when the hard times come, you'll be glad you invested your energy into things that really matter.”