April 13, 2018
Jeff Mata has been selected for the James R. Meindl Student Leadership Award for his dedication to his academic studies, as well as his commitment to giving back to the University and his community.
Recommended by numerous faculty for this recognition, Jeff’s perseverance in light of tragedy and his desire to help others made him stand out among the CoBA student body. Though an injury caused him to lose his eyesight a decade ago, Jeff graced every class with his positive attitude and became a voice of inspiration among his peers.
Jeff never envisioned earning a business degree, but he will be the first in his family to accept a college diploma. Previously a successful high school wrestler and aspiring boxer, he planned to pursue a career as an athlete. When he suffered a retinal detachment in his left eye, as well as uveitis during training, his plans changed forever. He gradually lost his vision and was completely blind by 2008.
“It was devastating,” he said. “I went into a depression and everything was negative – anything and everything was negative. If there was something positive, I’d find something negative about it."
After a four-year battle with depression and problems with addiction, he turned to rehabilitation and his Christian faith. He found a new passion for judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He even competes against sighted athletes in competitions and earned his third gold medal in October at the Sport Jiu-Jitsu Federation World Championships.
Despite his long journey to complete his degree, Jeff has made every effort to help others. He has been an active participant in the CSUSM Tukwut Leadership Circle since the spring 2017 semester, and currently mentors students as a peer leader in the program. The program, which promotes leadership within CSUSM students, partnered him with the nonprofit Shadow Mountain Mural project. The mural project gave him the opportunity to paint and interact with the Shadow Mountain clients, who have cognitive and mental disabilities. Jeff considered it a valuable experience and even achieved a UNESCO certificate of appreciation for volunteering his time.
Jeff is also a motivational speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where he speaks to youth ranging in ages 11-18 at campuses throughout San Diego County. His goal is to uplift and motivate students from a wide variety of backgrounds to find a higher purpose in their lives. He considers this an exceptional opportunity to share his story with the future leaders of his generation. He has been invited to speak at recovery centers across North County San Diego where he strives to help others by sharing his own story about struggling with addiction. He plans to continue to develop his public-speaking skills and his abilities to make positive change.
Jeff is in the finalist pool for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) summer 2018 internship. The AAPD summer internship chooses 25 individuals who showcase leadership skills to work in Washington, D.C., where they shadow a congressional member, work with a government department, work with a for-profit organization, or work with a nonprofit organization.
Jeff hopes to continue his education after receiving his bachelor’s. A Ph.D. is his ultimate goal. In the meantime, he will continue to stay busy with judo and jiu-jitsu and wants to expand his work as a motivational speaker. He is even looking into writing a book about his journey.
“I just want to continue inspiring and motivating people who may be going through a struggle in their life, who may have lost hope and bring some light into their life,” Jeff said. “It only takes a little bit of light to shine through a whole lot of darkness.”