This isn’t Matthew Shadbolt’s (LPS ‘25) first undergraduate experience, but a lot has changed since the last time he set foot on a college campus.
Matthew graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor’s degree in art history and photography from Kingston University in London. Since then, he’s held positions in graphic design, real estate, news, and more, all of which led him to his current job as the head of product for CNBC. Now, he’s returning to college as a member of Penn’s Class of 2025, seeking a Bachelor of Applied Arts & Sciences degree in either applied psychology or classics.
To say that Matthew's career has been eventful would be an understatement.
After graduating from Kingston University, Matthew assumed several roles in graphic design before becoming the creative director for Music Choice, a cable television network featuring music programming. Though he enjoyed the work, “I really wanted to get back to focusing on what I love: the web," he says.
In 2006, he was hired by the Corcoran Group, a real estate company founded by multimillionaire and Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran. “They were looking to build a new leadership team inside of the brokerage, and they were looking for a digital person to come in and accelerate things for their website. That person ended up being me,” he says. Digital skills were especially valuable considering it was the early days of the internet’s meteoric rise, pre–dating today’s widespread digital literacy.
A seasoned veteran in digital real estate, Matthew then received an offer from The New York Times to serve as the director of real estate products in 2014. “That was a dream job for me. I had always loved The New York Times, and it was really one of those offers that I couldn't say no to," he says. As part of his job, Matthew worked on a team to attract and keep digital subscribers, which led him to be involved with content far beyond real estate, including cooking, parenting, and the newspaper's famed crosswords.
Eventually, he joined CNBC, where he rose through the ranks to head of product. Matthew runs a team of product managers that focus on growing the company's digital presence. "We might have a goal that we want people to watch for CNBC an hour longer," he says. "Every week, my team figures out how to do that and then implements the necessary engineering or design or project changes."
Matthew was happy with his career until the pandemic hit, and he found himself with more time on his hands.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to do three things: I decided to make something, I decided to learn something, and I decided to stop doing something,” he says. Matthew gathered all of the articles he'd published over his 15–year career and made a series of books. He decided to stop eating poorly and ultimately lost 60 pounds. But the hardest part of his quarantine mission was deciding what to learn.
“I always wanted to get back into not just art history, but ancient history. I was looking to get back into the routine of education somehow, but I wasn't really sure how to do it. So I started with some sample courses on Coursera,” he says. Matthew took Professor Peter Struck’s "Greek and Roman Mythology" course at Penn and was hooked.
“It really lit a fire under me," he says. "It was a fantastic course—Dr. Struck really brought it alive. And I caught the bug. I was like, 'I want to do a lot more of this.'" He searched for other Penn courses on Coursera and found several on positive psychology, "which has direct application to the work I do in the newsroom at CNBC."
"That's really what led me to apply to Penn," he says.
But he had some doubts. “I wondered if I was capable of doing this," he says. "I have no idea how any of it works. I don't even know if I can get in. I don't even know what you need to do to get in. Last time I was at college was like 25 years ago."
Fortunately, Matthew got a strong recommendation letter from his boss and was accepted into the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. After his acceptance, Penn Admissions asked him for his transcripts. “I'm like, 'That sounds great. What is a transcript?'” he laughs.
Matthew is now nearing the end of his first semester. He's taken courses in both positive psychology and classics, and he's found plenty of ways to incorporate his coursework into his career.
“Applied positive psychology courses have been highly relevant in terms of understanding how teams thrive, how you think about success, how you think about resilience, how you think about momentum, how you think about relationships, and staying positive in the face of adversity at work,” he says.
Because of his job, Matthew doesn't spend a lot of time on campus—he's only been twice. But he's still found ways to immerse himself in student life.
Matthew is the design chair and a frequent writer for the Penn Moviegoer, a campus film review publication, as well as a member of Penn Democrats. He's even given his time to redesign the websites for both clubs using his decades of experience.
Unlike other Penn undergrads, Matthew isn’t looking to start his career or change it—he's here to just learn. “I have a job that I love already. I'm not really looking for Penn to take me away from Penn," he says.
When asked about his plans after he gets his degree, he responds, “I actually kind of have an appetite to stay at Penn for as long as I possibly can. Whether that means a Master’s, whether that means a doctorate, whether it means life beyond undergrad—I don't know.”