A new study led by researchers in the Texas A&M University School of Public Health explores the potential adverse…
Graduating senior Mati Rigsby’s college career includes serving as an A&M System student regent, an Aggie ACHIEVEMate and domestic violence shelter monitor
Matilin (Mati) Rigsby ’23 has packed in more experiences than a typical college student. The Texas A&M University School of Public Health student will graduate in May with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. During her four years at Texas A&M, she’s also held a part-time or full-time job, served on the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, and been a buddy to an Aggie ACHIEVEstudent.
Looking back, Rigsby is thankful for the foundation that these experiences have provided. “Attending Texas A&M gave me the Aggie Network. That might be a cliché answer, but it’s so true,” she said. “The network is not about the quantity of relationships you’re building, but the quality of relationships that you’re developing. The type of people you meet at Texas A&M are high-quality life-long friends. They’re people who are going to have your back and are going to be there when you need them.”
Moving forward, Rigsby looks forward to getting experience in the field before pursuing a career in public health law. Eventually, she hopes to have the opportunity to influence public health policy, which could mean being an advocate,working as a policymaker or running for public office.
“If I find a way to make an impact, I’m going to go pursue it; that’s the bottom line,” the Aggie said.
The native of Gainesville, Texas, found the transition to Texas A&M to be challenging. “Freshman year was really difficult for me to adjust to all the traditions—and then COVID hit midway through my freshman year. I felt pretty detached for the second half of freshman year and all of sophomore year.”
However, a silver lining soon emerged when she was appointed the student regent to The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents in June 2021. “Juxtapose being completely removed and completely online for a year-and-a-half to now being amongst university presidents and CEOs within the entire Texas A&M System,” she said. “That co
mpletely changed the trajectory of my life. I came into my junior year not really feeling that I knew much about the university and then suddenly drinking from a firehose and knowing everything about it.”
Rigsby found that her public health studies and internships with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in Washington, D.C. as well as the Global Cold Chain Alliance were useful in policy conversations with the Board of Regents and A&M System leaders during the pandemic. She also regularly met student groups and university leadership and travelled to other A&M System universities and agencies.
This experience taught her about how decisions are made by top leaders. “The biggest lesson I learned was how to sit and listen,” Rigsby said. “When you’re in those rooms and you really observe the other regents, they’re not necessarily telling everyone what to do,” she said. “The reason that they’re in those seats is that they’re listening to what everyone has to say and then making it something better. I learned how to not necessarily advocate by speaking all the time, but to advocate by listening and then combining interests with other people.”
She also was able to use her public health knowledge in her role as student regent at the tail end of COVID restrictions. “It was nice to be able to educate regents and students at other universities about actions that already had been taken, in terms of the vaccine dissemination and monoclonal antibodies,” she said. “I was able to use my public health knowledge as well as the communication skills that you learn in that curriculum to interact with people who don’t necessarily know everything about the medical field or the public health field.”
Another pivotal moment in Rigsby’s college experience came during Howdy Week when she saw a student handing out fliers advertising Aggie ACHIEVEMates. “I realized that the organization was for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Rigsby said. “I thought, ‘Who else on campus feels like they don’t fit in? Probably everyone in this organization.’”
Rigsby applied because she felt these students were looking for their home and group of friends but were unsure of where to start. She was selected and hasn’t regretted the decision. “I met one of the happiest groups of students you’d ever meet,” she said, noting that these Aggies have disabilities ranging from autism to cerebral palsy to Down syndrome. “It’s all about friendship and being supportive of these students who are here at Texas A&M.”
Through the Aggie ACHIEVEMate program, Rigsby was paired with CourtneyOsburn, and over the years, they’ve worked out and cooked together. “That’s my buddy and she’s graduating this year. I’m so sad that we’re about to part ways,” Rigsby said. “Courtney is a fourth-generation Aggie. I thought I was coming in to be her support system, but I was so wrong. She became my support system because she’s the one who taught me about A&M and all the traditions, and really made me feel a part of the Aggie family. She was my introduction into what that Aggie Spirit is all about.”
Rigsby so enjoyed her time with the Aggie ACHIEVE students that she leveraged the relationships she made as a student regent to create an ACHIEVE Ring specially designed by these students. (Because these students are part of a certificate program, they are not eligible to receive the traditional Aggie Ring.)
“The very first cohort of students who came in 2019 are graduating this year, so they are getting their own ring,” she said. “I’m just over the moon and am so thankful that everyone has been so supportive.”
Expanding her network
In May, Rigsby will graduate with both her bachelor’s degree in public health and master’s degree in public health and epidemiology, thanks to the School of Public Health’s 3+2 program. She decided to go this route due to affordability. “I knew for a fact that I wanted to obtain my master’s and I saw an opportunity to shave off a semester or so,” she explained. “Because I knew what I want to do, I might as well go ahead and fast track and get it done.”
Over the past four years, her parents have taken a hands-off approach to her college education—and because Rigsby is working to pay for her own education, she proudly and confidently makes her own decisions. She started working full-time at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when she returned home to help her family.
When Rigsby returned to campus in the fall, she applied to work as a part-time shelter monitor for Twin City Mission’s Phoebe’s Home. “I was working night shifts about 20 hours a week and did that up to February 2022, when I was promoted to program specialist,” she said. “That’s when I started working full-time again and I was hiring, training and managing the entire staff of the shelter.”
In the summer of 2022, Rigsby was recruited by the School of Public Health Dean Shawn Gibbs to work at the school. She’s worked with Instructional Associate Professor Angela Clendenin on a variety of projects, including planning Disaster Day, the largest student-led disaster simulation in the country, and helped write grant proposals to secure funds for vulnerable communities. For example, she assisted with a successful grant proposal to fund a tribal summit among the United, South and Eastern Tribes of the United States so they could host their first preparedness summit on emergency management best practices. She also is a co-author on four chapters of “Rural Healthy People 2030,” which is modeled on the Centers for Disease Control’s “Healthy People 2030.”
While enjoying this big-picture work, Rigsby’s heart remains firmly engaged with individuals who are facing challenges. She continues to work as an occasionalshelter monitor at Phoebe’s Home, which personalizes the importance of public health. “The School of Public Health really looks at disasters from a community and policy perspective whereas Phoebe’s Home is looking at your individual and interpersonal disasters,” Rigsby said. “You learn crisis intervention in multiple different levels; it really does remind me of the cultural competency and communication skills that you need to have when you’re in the field.”
Rigsby believes her time working at the shelter has given her a more realistic perspective of the impact of crises. “Phoebe’s Home has taught me that there is no picture of someone in crisis; there is no label, no gender, no race that can be associated with someone who needs help,” she said. “When I look at people now, I see them very differently because I give empathy to everyone that I meet because I have no idea what they’re going through. It’s just a good reminder that you can’t assume what anybody’s place is in life, and you have no idea of what they’re going through when they go home.”
Media contact: Dee Dee Grays, firstname.lastname@example.org, 979.436.0611