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They Call Him Mister Bearcat — Even His Hair Is Red

What represents UC the most? The Bearcat, arguably. But who represents UC the best? Meet Mr. Bearcat 2006, Matt Mezinskis.

Date: 5/31/2006
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Andrew Higley, photojournalist
UC ingot This year, Sigma Sigma has chosen Matt Mezinskis to be “Mr. Bearcat,” an honor bestowed annually upon a graduating male student who has excelled academically and personally. Each year, Mr. Bearcat is a graduate who has achieved academic success, demonstrated leadership in diverse settings and contributed to the University of Cincinnati with “Bearcat Spirit.” For the fourth year in a row, Mr. Bearcat is a Carl H. Lindner Honors-PLUS scholar. (Previous winners were Justin Shafer, Kyle Neumann and Jay Hummel.)

Matt’s choice of college might seem obvious. Other kids who graduated from St. Xavier High School often come to UC. In fact, UC accepts more kids from St. X than just about any other high school. But many St. X young men want to look beyond the borders of Hamilton County for college. Other kids, that is, who don’t have a parent working for UC.

Matt’s mother, Patricia, is a professor of nursing at Raymond Walters College. His father, Juris, is a UC research assistant professor in psychiatry at the VA Medical Center.

“I really want to thank my parents,” says Matt. “They would have supported me no matter what I did, but it feels good because I know they are proud that I received this award.”

OK, so UC was an obvious destination. But what is not so obvious is the Mezinskis family’s dedication to UC. Matt’s sister, in fact, graduated from UC’s College of Engineering in 1996.

Matt Mezinskis has always been a Bearcat fan.
Matt Mezinskis has always been a Bearcat fan.

“We were always a Bearcat family,” says Matt. “Our love of UC athletics shows.” As a self-described lifetime Bearcat fan, he was impressed when he heard that Mick Cronin was “coming home” to coach UC basketball. As a kid, Matt breathed, ate and slept Bearcat sports. As an undergraduate Bearcat himself, he competed intramurally in track, football and soccer.

“We were football and soccer champs in ’02 and ’03,” Matt says. “I can’t claim I helped the soccer team much — I wasn’t very good. But I have a bunch of track championship shirts!"

Like many athletes, Matt exudes exuberance. That enthusiasm speaks volumes when he talks about his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. Another Beta, John Schulke, was named Mr. Bearcat during Matt’s first year in recognition of John’s leadership in building up the struggling fraternity. Their charter was returned to the chapter when he was president in 2004.

“It was inspirational, building up the fraternity,” says Matt. “We had to do community service. Everyone had to have a 2.5 or better. There had to be 100% involvement from the members in the campus.” Matt proudly points out that their membership has now grown back up to about 45 from a low of seven. And he is now the president.

Besides Beta Theta Pi, Matt is a member of Sigma Sigma and president of Men of Metro. When VP of Metro he organized their annual talent show and was pleased that they were able to donate $1600 to Lighthouse Youth Services. Matt has also been involved in student government and as the treasurer of the University Funding Board. “That taught me a lot about campus life. You’re the ones who decide what activities get funded and what won’t.”

As part of his finance program in the College of Business (with an integral in real estate and international business), he has been lucky enough to do some extensive travelling. After graduation, he will be going abroad this summer. He has relations in his father’s native country, Latvia, whom he is planning to visit. Through his father’s involvement in the American Latvian Association, he will be volunteering at the Latvian Occupation Museum. Matt is trying to learn Latvian, but he will be calling mostly English-speaking potential donors throughout Europe to raise funds for the museum. Matt is unsure of where the future may lead after this summer, but he is open to the idea of sticking around Europe for a little while if the opportunity arises. Matt credits the Lindner Honors-PLUS program for his opportunities.

“It is definitely a great program,” he says. “It is more than just a scholarship.” Through the Honors-PLUS program and seminars, Matt says he has gotten to know community and business leaders and learn about business ethics. He has a lot of appreciation and respect for the Honors-PLUS program and its director, Jeri Ricketts.

“Dr. Ricketts loves and supports each student like her own. She has given me wonderful guidance in my personal and professional life, and I will miss her and the program,” says Matt. “But I also plan on giving back and staying in touch because of the great opportunities they afforded me.”

Ricketts gives his appreciation right back: “Even in the elite company of his Lindner Honors-PLUS class in the College of Business, Matt stands out as an exceptional young man,” she says. “His leadership, scholarship and record of building the UC community are a standard to which every undergraduate should aspire. Even so, Matt is unassuming and down-to-earth, gracious and always willing to step up when needed. UC, and all of us, will miss him greatly — watch out world !”

So how does Matt feel about leaving the rest of UC?

“This university…!” he exclaims, and then trails off his thought with a big smile. “When I came in as a senior in high school for the Cincinnatus scholarship competition, the Great Hall in Tangeman was great, but nothing like it is now. Tangeman was completely blocked off my freshman year.” Matt estimates that he and his classmates of 2006 have lived through more UC construction than anybody.

What would Matt tell those who follow in his footsteps, walking around the newly opened campus? “Don’t be afraid to take some chances in college, you never know what you might be missing,” he says. “When facing organizational or personal issues, the best way to get through them is by compromise—value everyone’s opinion as much as your own, and don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Of course, Matt will also miss his cohorts. “The people who have supported me most in college are my friends, and I thank them as well, as those friends are the people with whom I shared some of the best times in life, and also some of the worst times; in the end, you help each other grow, and you have wonderful college memories as a result.”

Looking back, Matt remembers what it was like to leave his high-school friends behind. Or as they left him behind, more accurately.

“I was interested to see how it would be for me to still be in Cincinnati, with my close friends going to Notre Dame, St. Louis and Harvard,” Matt says. “But UC has given me so much, I can’t imagine a better experience anywhere else.”

So perhaps UC was the obvious destination for a kid named “Mezinskis.”

But through “just” the local college, Matt has seen the world.

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