Matt Pierri at Melbourne University (Picture: David Geraghty, Newscorp)
Former Melbourne Press Club Student Journalist of the Year Matt Pierri is headed to Oxford University after winning a Rhodes scholarship.
Pierri, who won the Press Club prize in 2012 for a first-person feature about people with spinal cord injuries who pursue the recovery of the use of their limbs, will study public policy at Oxford.
After an injury during a school football game in 2007 left the then 15-year-old technically quadriplegic, he spent six months in the public hospital system—in intensive care, a spinal ward then a rehabilitation program—and “saw how often there’s a disconnect between the policy and how it will actually play out on the ground for patients”.
That exposure motivated him to want to find ways to make public systems such as the health system “flexible enough” to deal with the varied circumstances of their users, “and at the same time comprehensive”.
Interlinking with his professional goal is Pierri’s social advocacy.
While still undergoing therapies aimed at increasing his physical recovery, the young student’s focus has now shifted to “the broader picture” of the perception and treatment of people with disabilities.
“I think people have incredibly low expectations of people with disabilities. This probably stems from a medical or health perspective, but then flows into a broader social, economic and cultural one. This is particularly dangerous when each of these starts to mutually reinforce the other,” he says.
Pierri, now 25, is making inroads into that prejudice with his own achievements—receiving a first class honours average for his subjects in a bachelor of arts majoring in media and communications and Chinese language, and recently completing a post-graduate law degree at Melbourne University. He has also regained the use of his hands.
Winning the student journalism award led to a brief internship at The Age which provided valuable insight into how the media industry works, Pierri says, and although he decided to “try a few other things” before pursuing a career in writing, he expects his knowledge of media and communications to be a “helpful tool” in his chosen field.
“Studying law and media gives you a good understanding of how advocacy works, and if you’re trying to implement any public policy effectively, I think it’s really important that you’re able to advocate how it works to the public in a clear and insightful manner,” he says.
Pierri is set to leave Australia later this month and is excited about the multidisciplinary approach and international student mix at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government.
“It’s been on the horizon for a while, but it’s always been a little bit abstract. Now it’s started to feel more real. So it’s a very exciting thing. I’m looking forward to a new adventure I guess,” he says.