U.S. Army veteran and School of International Affairs student Matt Ceccato was named a 2013 Presidential Management Fellow. Photo taken at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Pa.
If Matt Ceccato has to name one quality that powered him through his journey from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a Presidential Management Fellowship, it would be the determination he learned as a Paratrooper in the U.S. Army. On his second deployment to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, he was wounded in combat by a gunshot through both legs that left him unable to walk.
“I remember sitting at Walter Reed in a wheelchair thinking I'm not going to let this beat me,” he said, recounting the journey that has brought him to Penn State School of International Affairs and set him on his way to Washington, D.C. Years of physical therapy enabled him to transition from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches and then to walking without any help at all.
“The military taught me more than jumping out of planes. I learned determination. I learned to focus and set my priorities,” he said. Ceccato decided to set his priorities on college, earning a BA from California State University—Sacramento in 2011 and then a master's degree from the Penn State School of International Affairs.
"I can't think if anyone who deserves to be a PMF more than Matt. Not just because of his service to his country as a combat veteran, but also because he is a superb student and researcher and a great person. I'm very happy that all those qualities have recognized by his receiving such an honor,” said Amb. Dennis Jett
(Ret.), a professor in the School of International Affairs who employed Ceccato as a research assistant for more than a year.
The Presidential Management Fellowship Program allows outstanding students to work in the federal government for two years. More than 12,000 people applied this year, according to PMF, and 663 fellowships were awarded. Ceccato is one of three Penn State students selected this year.
A focus on national security
Ceccato customized his SIA study to focus on U.S. national security policy. Last summer he was a junior fellow at the George C. Marshall Center
in Germany, where he researched various terrorism and security topics around Europe and Africa and helped prepare course modules for the PTSS Daily. Even in Europe, he felt a clear Penn State connection. “I would be walking down the street in Germany in my Penn State hat and somebody would yell WE ARE from across the street.”
A graduate internship at the U.S. Army War College Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute allowed him to get involved in developing a policy proposal on the policing for the Office of the Provost Marshal General (OPMG). Ceccato then briefed the policy proposal at the Pentagon. “To go from the sands of Iraq in 2005 to briefing the Pentagon on something seven years later was the high point of my military career,” he said.
Having learned about his selection to the Presidential Management Fellowship Program, Ceccato wishes to pursue a career either in national security or in veterans' affairs. He is energetic about being a mentor to people considering careers in the military and about assisting veterans in the transition back to civilian life.
A sense of adventure
Matt Ceccato grew up in California as one of five siblings; he and two of his sisters are triplets. “I was always the one saying 'let me ride my bike down this hill the fastest,” he said, explaining why being a Paratrooper was a natural fit for his thrill-seeking personality. His father and grandfather served in the military, and Ceccato clicked with a recruiter who had been a paratrooper and understood his love of adventure. As a Paratrooper, Ceccato earned the Parachutist Badge, Drivers Badge, Combat Action Badge, Army Commendation Medal (three times), Army Achievement Medal (twice), among other honors.
Although he is not jumping out of planes anymore, Ceccato pursues adventures by travel. Matt and his wife, Meagan, visited 30 countries together since they married in 2011. Another highlight of this period of post-military life is traveling around the United States to celebrate the weddings of members of his old platoon. “We are brothers. We will always be there for each other.”