Trailblazer in Volunteer Excellence

January 2024

Nothing about the field of Adult Basic Education (ABE) stands still and Dr. Jo Matson is living proof. As the recipient of the Excellence in Volunteer Engagement award at the recent Literacy Volunteer Management Conference, Dr. Matson, Community Engagement Coordinator for Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota (VSS), has been rocking the world of Adult Basic Education for many years.

Photo from Vietnamese Social Services website, 4 people learning in a classroom.

Her journey in ABE began during her tenure as a College Administrator where she discovered her passion for assisting students—first-generation and new to English. Her involvement as a tutor and teaching assistant with Literacy Minnesota sparked a commitment to volunteerism. "I was hooked," she reflects. Taking all the classes she could on volunteering, she dove into ABE. A master's in adult education and an ABE license later, her dedication to theory and research ultimately led her to earn a Ph.D.

But Dr. Matson isn't just about textbooks and theories. She stays connected to students teaching citizenship and ESL classes for Minneapolis Public Schools. Equally important, she heads up service learning at Vietnamese Social Services. Partnering with Bethel University, students from all majors are jumping in, developing curricula in their areas, and soaking up the rich experience of working with a diverse community. Dr. Matson emphasizes, "You can't just bring in volunteers." It's all about tailoring the experience to match student interests with the needs of the community.

Dr. Jo Matson

Her organization, VSS, has been evolving since its post-Vietnam War days. She noted that the most significant population they currently work with are ethnic groups from throughout Myanmar, but seniors and numerous other immigrant groups are all part of their community.

Why does she love this work? Her unapologetic reply: "This country needs immigrants." Her mission? Help immigrants and refugees not just survive but thrive in this country. Dr. Matson's dedication to ABE and her innovative approaches to community engagement go to the heart of her well-deserved recognition at Literacy Minnesota’s Volunteer Management Conference. Hats off to inspiration!

Learn more about Dr. Matson's organization, Vietnamese Socials Services of Minnesota here: 

Vietnamese Social Services Website