McKearn Fellows

Northern Illinois University


What I really loved about the McKearn Program was that it enabled me to do research for something not only in my field, but about something which I am passionate. The valuable connections I made with alumni will be just as unforgettable as the 9 other McKearn Fellows from my cohort, with whom I plan to remain life-long friends. The opportunities that the McKearn Program provided me with have set me up not only for a successful NIU future, but also a successful career and life. - Jeffrey Kamholz

As I think back to my experiences as a McKearn summer fellow three benefits stick out to me. The first being the opportunity to meet with alumni, I was able to learn about their experiences in their fields of work and gather some advice to help me in my future career. The second benefit was the ability to work on my own independent research project, it was the first time I took on an independent project of this size (especially considering the 8 week time frame). Working on a large independent project helped me practice my time and project management skills as well as work closely with a mentor. The third benefit was simply the friendships that were created with my other McKearn fellows, spending 8 weeks together through fun outings, group dinners, and even stressful points in our research helped build strong relationships that I hope will continue long after college. - Linnea Scherer

The McKearn program allowed me to further my education and my passions through research, and didn't stop there. Instead, it encompassed and developed communication, leadership, and professional and academic skills that furthered my education, career, and future. - Sarah Stubeing

The McKearn Fellowship allowed me to interact with my faculty and allowed me to enrich my knowledge of my field. The McKearn Fellowship also helped further my potential career through connections I have made through out the program with alumni. - Brittany Warner

My experience as a McKearn Fellow was one I will never forget. I had a priceless opportunity to conduct research and combine my love of science and illustration into one project. I got to know a wonderful group of students that I have shared so many memories with, and I am very honored to have been able to share the experience with them. I have learned so much and have been given invaluable advice from all of the NIU Alumni members that I met through the McKearn Fellows Program, and I will be forever grateful for the experience. - Melissa Woodall

2013 McKearn Fellows


In the summer of 2013, 10 of NIU’s best and brightest students participated in a program featuring a variety of experiential learning opportunities. Activities included an etiquette training session and lunch with alumni, a weekend retreat at Lorado Taft and a visit with alumnus and renowned artist Bruce Niemi at his sculpture gallery and garden. The students were brought these opportunities, thanks to alumni John and Cassandra McKearn. Their support enabled NIU to offer the pilot session of the McKearn  Fellows Program, which was developed by the Office of the Vice Provost, the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, and the University Honors Program. The McKearns’ vision was brought to life with the help of Anne Birberick, vice provost; J.D. Bowers, associate vice provost of University Honors; and Julia Spears, associate vice provost of engaged learning.

According to Bowers, “The program was designed with the ends in mind. Start with student learning outcomes that result in the integration of knowledge with practice, innovation and self-awareness, and apply those outcomes to every experience that was provided. The result was 10 students who transcended their own learning capacities in ways that they could not even have imagined prior to their involvement in the program.”

The McKearn fellows participated in activities centered on research and artistry; leadership development; and civic, social and global engagement. They also produced faculty-mentored projects, such as researching the development of sleep behavior in young children, examining how the presence of nongovernmental organizations affect repression in various governmental structures and designing a video game featuring a positive female protagonist.

McKearn fellow Patrick Price says that his project involved producing detailed scientific sketches of wildlife across campus and “showed students how beautiful their campus really is and how much we take for granted.” He adds that he hopes his work inspires alumni and donors and reminds them “what is beautiful about their alma mater.”

Fellow Juliana Leprich’s project involved working as an associate producer on a documentary film being made by Randy Caspersen, assistant professor of media studies.

“I want to go into documentary filmmaking, so this experience has been invaluable,” Leprich says. “We’ve also been able to interact with alumni, and it has been really cool to hear their stories and make those connections. I never thought I’d get an experience like this as an undergraduate.”

President Douglas Baker recognizes the value of the program, noting how the fellows “have spent the summer immersed in research projects that have expanded their understanding of the world, taught them new skills and helped them  establish new and valuable mentoring relationships.

“Those opportunities bring classroom learning to life and prepare our graduates to succeed in their chosen fields,” he adds.

Spears agrees. “These projects can provide unparalleled opportunities for engaged learning experiences that help students with academic and career development or in their preparations for graduate school.”

She goes on to note the program’s lasting impact: “Once the students leave NIU with their bachelor’s degrees, they are the ones who are leading change out in the community.”

In addition to Bowers, Spears and Birberick, the faculty and staff members of the “McKearn Team” include Jason Goode, assistant to the associate vice provost of the University Honors Program; Kimberly Volmer, Women’s Studies Program graduate assistant; and Stephanie Zobac, assistant director of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning. The alumni hosts who volunteered their time and resources to the program include Nancy Baldwin, Howard Blietz, John and Nancy Castle, Kenneth and Ellen Chessick, David Hewson, Anthony Iosco, Jess Jankowski, Robin Kelly, Bruce and Suzi Niemi and Jeffrey Yordon.

In a letter addressing the fellows, the McKearns describe their vision for the program: “When we started to design this fellowship program, we very much wanted to create a more enriched, more varied and more world-balanced educational experience. You already have a great classroom and laboratory environment – we wanted to bring you learning opportunities and experience that will be important as you move forward from NIU.”

From the sound of it, they have done just that.