Former Jerry Nelson Award Recipient reflects on its impact
By HQ Communications Staff
When the email popped into his inbox asking if he’d be willing to vet Jerry Nelson Award candidates, it gave Matthew Pavlovich Nebraska ’01 a lot to reflect on.
Flash back 20 years, he was one of the Phi Kappa Psi brothers applying for the scholarship, which was named for the Phi Psi Foundation Trustee behind the Chapter Scholarship Fund program. For Pavlovich, applying was a pivotal moment that changed the trajectory of his life.
In high school, Pavlovich had been competitive in sports and wrestling. After he started at Creighton University he realized, “College can be pretty lonely. You study, wake up, study, sleep, study, maybe party a bit, study.”
He decided joining a fraternity might be a way to build friendships and get that sense of camaraderie and community back. “It was a fairly new house at Creighton,” Pavlovich said. “I could see how it was growing and where there was some room for improvement where I could help out.” That inkling got him more involved, and he eventually became house manager.
At the same time, he was looking at career options. Between his freshman and sophomore year, he was considering transferring to Iowa on a wrestling scholarship.
“I had a friend who was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and I wasn’t bad either,” Pavlovich said. “I decided, all chips in — I’m going to transfer.”
That’s when his chapter president, Peter Hession ‘99, reached out about the Jerry Nelson Award. “He basically said he’d heard I might transfer — don’t do that. Here’s a scholarship that could help defray the cost of staying. So, I applied and somehow, miraculously, I got it.”
By staying at Creighton, Pavlovich says he was constantly rubbing elbows with people who were “really motivated and super intelligent,” studying to be doctors, dentists, pharmacists and in other pre-professional programs.
“Upperclassmen in the fraternity were good silent mentors,” he said. “When the people you interact with are so driven, you can’t help but think: I should go study.”
So, he began studying to become a dentist and, while he was at it, became his house’s chapter president.
Today, Pavlovich owns PNW Dental in Bend, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two children. And, he accepted that invitation to review the latest Jerry Nelson Award applicants.
After going through them, he said one thing jumped out about his top recommendations: It wasn’t all about the grades. They were well-rounded, involved in philanthropy and in the Fraternity.
“I didn’t really realize this when I was in school — how big a differentiator someone’s whole body of work is beyond grades,” he said. “It’s always pounded in your head: Get good grades, get good grades, get good grades. It hit me that you really need to be well-rounded to be a good applicant for anything and to set yourself apart from your competitors.”
Twenty years ago, when he was mulling his own grades and thinking there’s no way he’d get that scholarship, someone else had seen how his drive to become involved in his chapter and push for improvements made him stand out.
But he got even more out of it than a scholarship.
“I think something we talk to kids about is how going to college, being in athletics or in a fraternity, those are things that teach you grit,” he said. “It’s an unmeasurable marker for success, personally and professionally. In a fraternity, you’re living in a house with guys, and you realize you can’t control what they’re doing — only your own actions. It makes you accepting of world around you. You pick up good life lessons that give you the grit and determination to succeed.”
And the camaraderie he was seeking stayed the course as well.
“Personally and professionally, on whims or in times of hardships, these guys that I lived with back then are the guys that I can still call on today.”
An Indiana University alumna, Leigh Hedger is the associate director of marketing analytics for the Kelley School of Business.