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Family makes gift to NMSU on eight-year mark of car accident

Matt Olson loves to make others laugh. In his free time, he reads about New Mexico history and wars, and when he’s not inside a book, he enjoys meeting new people. It sounds like an average life – one as the father of two children, who are both students at New Mexico State University, and husband to his wife Patty. But, eight years ago, Matt and his family lived a different life.

Two people sitting in a room being supervised by three others through a one-way mirror.
Matt Olson, left, and Brianna Moreno, right, work through a speech therapy session in the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center at NMSU. Under supervision by fellow graduate students and licensed professionals, Moreno is helping Olson, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury, relearn how to talk and hold casual conversations. Olson and his wife Patty will start a new scholarship endowment on NMSU's #GivingTuesday in support of graduate students studying in the Department of Communication Disorders. (NMSU photo by Angel Mendez)
Four people standing together smiling.
The Olson family celebrates Matt's birthday (far right), including his son Ryan (far left), daughter Molly and wife Patty. (Courtesy photo)

A head-on collision in 2010 injured all four members of Matt’s family. Matt, who endured the brunt of the impact on his side of their vehicle, almost lost his life. He recovered but now lives with a traumatic brain injury that makes it hard for him to communicate and ended his career as partner of a Las Cruces insurance agency.

Eight years later, Matt still requires regular speech therapy where he learns how to talk slower, enunciate and hold his attention in casual conversations. It’s this therapy that Patty says Matt almost lost four years ago. That’s when they learned about NMSU’s Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center.

“There are limited services in Las Cruces for individualized adult speech therapy,” Patty said. “We had been going to a local clinic that believed Matt was at his peak and discontinued his services. So, we decided to try NMSU, and many of our friends are impressed by the improvement.”

For the last four years, Matt has met with NMSU graduate students twice a week. Every semester, he sees a new student speech therapist, who is supervised by an NMSU clinic educator that is licensed in the state as a speech-language pathologist. This community outreach program, which is part of NMSU’s Department of Communication Disorders, has been supporting the community for more than 50 years.

“We recruit and admit about 20 graduate students to the program every year,” said Alfred Valdez, interim department head. “Each of these students complete 400 clinical hours of practicum, supervised by licensed and nationally certified speech-language pathologists. Graduate students receive training so they may provide therapy in a variety of specialties, including traumatic brain injury, like what Matt is dealing with, as well as autism, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, child developmental delay, speech disorder and others.”

Matt is one of few adult clients at the Speech and Hearing Center, and Patty says that has made Matt’s experience with the graduate students unique.

“Every one of them challenge Matt,” Patty said. “These amazing students are always looking for new ways to motivate him and excite him during his sessions. Sometimes, he will come out exhausted, and other times, he can’t wait to tell me all that he learned.”

It’s this change in Matt, despite the medical odds, that inspired Patty and her family to give back. This year’s #GivingTuesday for NMSU is the exact date – eight years later – when the Olson family’s lives changed forever. But this year, the Olson family will change this date into one that’s good by establishing a new scholarship endowment on #GivingTuesday, Nov. 27, to support NMSU graduate students who serve patients like Matt.

“All of our students would benefit from scholarships,” Valdez said. “Early on, students work with two to three clients per week and spend countless hours preparing for each therapy session. In addition, students enroll in 12 graduate credits hours of coursework per semester. Imagine working a job to support yourself while keeping up with such a rigorous graduate program. Through this scholarship, the Olsons are not just supporting students but also the thousands of lives each of those students will touch and change once they graduate from NMSU and work in the community.”

Patty urges everyone who’s been impacted in some way by NMSU to make a gift on #GivingTuesday.

“Whether it’s to the Matt’s Journey Endowed Scholarship or to another charitable fund at NMSU, please join us to give back on #GivingTuesday in honor of Matt and in honor of these students at NMSU. They have been such a blessing to us,” Patty said.

NMSU’s #GivingTuesday is on Nov. 27, and a giving headquarters will be set up from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at NMSU Corbett Center’s Aggie Lounge. Many matching money challenges are available for gifts made online (starting at midnight) or at the giving headquarters, as well as matching for first-time donors. All three of these matches have a $500 cap per household and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Learn more at https://support.nmsu.edu/GT.