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Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
May 13, 2008
DeKalb, Ill. — Two Northern Illinois University students will be traveling abroad for the coming academic year on fellowships through the highly competitive Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
Matt Konfirst, 31, of West Chicago, a geology student working on his Ph.D., will travel to Germany to work with scientists on climate change research. Shari Meggs, 21, of Skokie, a graduating senior majoring in communication, will work as an English language teaching assistant in Hong Kong.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers fellowships for U.S. graduating college seniors, graduate students and artists to study abroad for one academic year.
“Receiving a Student Fulbright award is very prestigious,” said Deborah Pierce, associate provost of International Programs at NIU.
“It's the culmination of a rigorous application and competition process and represents a significant achievement for both the student and the home institution,” she added. “All of us at NIU can be very proud of these two outstanding students, who will each be spending next year in the life-changing experience of a Fulbright fellowship.”
Both Konfirst and Meggs have participated in past study abroad programs to Austria. Konfirst also has traveled to Utah, Maryland and West Virginia with the NIU Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. Additionally, he spent three months in the Antarctic last fall working on the international Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program, whose lead scientists include NIU faculty members.
Over the past two years, scientists have conducted the drilling project in the Antarctic in order to retrieve long cores of sedimentary rocks that hold clues to the continent's climate history. Studies of the cores may provide scientists with glimpses into the planet's future if predictions of global temperature increases are accurate.
Beginning in mid-September, Konfirst will work with scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. They will be studying fossil diatoms recovered from the ANDRILL core. The diatoms are temperature sensitive, microscopic single-celled algae that once lived in surface or shallow waters and provide information for scientists on past temperatures of the seawater.
“I'm really excited about (the Fulbright fellowship),” said Konfirst, who earned his bachelor's degree in geology from NIU in 2006.
“In addition to working on my doctorate in geology, I'm finishing up a bachelor's degree in German this semester,” Konfirst said. “This is a great way for me to combine both of the things I've been studying during the past few years.”
Konfirst hopes to teach and continue climate research once he receives his Ph.D. He also holds a degree from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and is an accomplished heavy metal guitarist, having put out several CDs (see www.mattkonfirst.com).
Meggs, an honors student at NIU, will begin her 11-month Fulbright fellowship to Hong Kong in early August. She'll work 20 hours a week as a teaching assistant at the Hong Kong Institute of Education and will also tutor students. Her study abroad experience in Austria helped give her the confidence to apply for the Fulbright program.
The Fulbright application process was rigorous, Meggs said. It took three months to complete and included two essays and interviews with NIU faculty who are Fulbright scholars.
“Faculty and staff were very helpful,” Meggs said, adding that she received assistance from professors in music and law, as well as from International Programs' Deborah Pierce and Michael Martin, director of the honors program.
“I think their critiques of my application really pushed me over the edge in terms of helping me to get this Fulbright,” Meggs said.
She speaks three languages, including Spanish and German, but doesn't speak Cantonese, the spoken language in Hong Kong.
“They don't necessarily recommend that you speak the language. That way the students are forced to speak English to you,” Meggs said. “I want to one day work for the United Nations, and I felt that this would be a good opportunity to get international experience as well as pick up a new language.”