Matthew Nelson Proves It’s Never Too Late to be an Engineer

Matthew Nelson wants other people of color to know it's never to late to become an engineer.

Nelson at the NSBE Leadership Conference (Image: NSBE)

Experiencing life as a “black man without a college degree,” for almost a decade, was enough to make Matthew Nelson finally go back to school to complete his degree in engineering.

Recently elected as the national chair of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Nelson is the oldest national chair in NSBE’s history.

Traditionally, the NSBE chair is an engineering student in their 20s. Nelson is 31 and a unique case as he just received his B.S.E. in industrial and operations engineering (IOE) from the University of Michigan, last year.

Engineer Interrupted

Accepted into the University’s engineering school in 2002, Nelson dropped out, maintaining a below-average GPA.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Nelson. “I considered the military, but I became an open-road trucker.” He did that for a year and then his wife was offered a work opportunity in London.

The couple moved overseas for over a year. Nelson worked as an American collegiate football coach and as a DJ.

However, he always wanted to go back to finish his engineering degree.

Returning to the United States, he enrolled at Lansing Community College, earning a place in the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society in 2011.

That gave him the impetus to complete his engineering degree at the University of Michigan. Nelson feels maturity definitely helped him finish.

Meeting Goals and Sparking Inspiration

Nelson made the dean’s list, earned the College of Engineering Distinguished Leadership Award, and was awarded the first-ever CEDO Legacy Award for his work in engineering diversity.

In addition to being elected the NSBE’s national chair, he has held various positions as part of NSBE. He has helped it raise more than $250,000 in corporate and academic support, and led an effort to raise $3.3 million.

Currently, Nelson is developing a web platform,, to display the lifestyles of engineers, researchers, and scientists. He returns to U-M in the fall for his master’s degree in design science.

He is also committed to encouraging others to realize any discarded dreams of obtaining a degree in the STEM disciplines.

“I want to be an inspiration to others to complete their education,” he says.




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  • Tara G.

    Wow! I love reading this man’s experience. It has been my childhood dream to be a physician, and as I grew older I really wanted to be a Surgeon either General or more specialized like Cosmetic but focused on like burns, etc. I love the medical field! I even worked at a hospital for three years as a patient transporter for PACU (after Surgery), I loved it! I am age 31 going on 32. I feel I am moving further from this dream since I feel it would be too much school and money. And I would like to try a different career but I do love the medical field. But…someone recently said why not you are never too old. I will look into again. And I am in the USAF, similar situation to this man’s experience but I went into the military as a last resort at age 26 going on 27, wanted to improve from where I was. Thank you so much for sharing this story! I am inspired. I enjoy how you begin at a community college as you started over then found more support through opportunities within the community then continued on with successfully receiving your Bachelor’s degree. I do well yet again as continue onto the Master’s degree and with your Web platform. Wonderful!

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