Meet the Fellows

McKearn fellows receive opportunities to explore research, artistry, leadership, and civic, social and global engagement in their respective fields of study. Read more about these outstanding students and learn what inspires them to strive for excellence.


Todd is a mechanical engineering major who is considering a minor in applied mathematics. He is passionate about understanding how objects and mechanisms work so that one day he can modify and/or improve them. He works in the engineering department's Maker Space, where he uses 3D printers and a laser cutter to build parts for students and faculty. He is also conducting a research project with Matthew McCoy to determine the most efficient and effective use of fasteners in PLA 3D printed parts, or to create a new method of combining printed parts. Next year, he will be the president of the NIU Mars Rover Team, a member of the Lambda Sigma honor society and a volunteer at the Communiversity Gardens. Outside of school, he loves to explore the outdoors, go on adventures and visit new places. After graduating from NIU, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering or enter the industry, hopefully with a career in additive manufacturing.

Todd Durham

Matthew is pursuing a double major in mechanical engineering and saxophone performance/jazz studies. He is also considering a minor in applied mathematics. He is passionate about impacting the world positively through research and development in the engineering field. He also has a passion for jazz performance, and NIU has provided him the opportunity to follow both of his interests to their fullest extent. He currently works in the NIU Maker Space, where he uses multiple types of additive and subtractive manufacturing technologies, such as SLS, FDM and laser-cutting methods, to create parts for students and faculty. He is in the process of completing research with Todd Durham on the structural integrity of FDM builds when specific and measurable forces are applied. Matthew is invested in finding ways to recycle and reuse the plastic waste created from these processes, as no proper disposal solutions are currently available to the public. He is also heavily involved with the NIU Supermileage Club, Mars Rover Club and Jazz Ensemble. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, he plans to pursue a graduate degree in mechanical engineering and continue to follow his passion for music.

Matthew McCoy

Cassandra is double majoring in psychology and rehabilitation and disability services with a minor in Spanish. She plans to pursue a doctorate in occupational therapy, particularly in a pediatric setting. She chose this path because she wants to work with people in a way that would have a positive impact on their lives. Cassandra is passionate about helping others and is a strong advocate for mental health. At NIU, Cassandra joined the Student Association Senate to advocate for students and to make an impact on campus. This impact includes funding student organizations, supporting cultural resource centers, taking a stance for mental health awareness and representing students at the local, state and federal levels. During her sophomore year, she will be a research assistant in the psychology department, a University Honors fellow, a Student Association senator and the president of Active Minds, a mental health awareness club. Outside of school, she is a swim instructor and lifeguard at a park district. Some of her hobbies include playing the tuba and flute, reading, spending time outdoors and working with children. As a McKearn fellow, she would like to use her connections and leadership experience to strengthen the ties between different communities at NIU.

Cassandra Kamp

Alexandra is pursuing a nursing major. She sees nursing as the perfect combination of her two passions, humanitarian service and the sciences. She is a University Honors fellow and a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority, an organization focused on personal growth, friendship, service and loyalty. Alexandra has Irish danced for over 10 years and continues to be present in the Irish dance world by teaching lessons. She hopes to keep dance as a part of her life throughout college and beyond. She enjoys working with children and hopes to impact the lives of as many children as possible, both through Irish dance and her future work in the medical field. Alexandra is interested in traveling to impoverished countries in order to supply medical aid to those in need during her time as a McKearn fellow. After graduating, she hopes to work as a pediatric oncology nurse and to become either a nurse practitioner or a pediatric oncologist.

Alexandra Karnuth

Kylie is a biochemistry major who plans to pursue a minor in Spanish. She is a Presidential Scholar and is involved in the Chemistry Club and Research Rookies. In the Research Rookies program, she studied novel protein-ligand interactions and their resulting binding affinities. She plans to continue exploring this research throughout her time at NIU. Outside of school, she works at an animal shelter and is passionate about animal care and health. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Kylie plans to attend veterinary school and establish herself as a small animal veterinarian.

Kylie Zawisza


Dayne is a physics major pursuing a minor in computer science. Highly motivated by his love for science and fascination with fundamental physics, he aims to integrate his degrees to advance detector technology in the high-energy sector. His research in the Research Rookies program is already contributing to quality control of small, silicon-based photodetectors in the Muon-to-electron (Mu2e) Cosmic Ray Veto project at Fermilab. After acquiring his bachelor’s degree, he plans to seek his Ph.D. in physics. During his time at NIU, he plans on keeping close ties with Fermilab by taking advantage of research opportunities and internships. Supplementing his career goals, Dayne has fostered a healthy love of music, as seen by his proficiency in the alto saxophone and membership in the Kappa Nu chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary band fraternity based on service to the community.

Dayne Coveyou

Leena is an industrial and systems engineering major who is also taking classes in the pre-medicine track. She is passionate about creating solutions to everyday problems, most specifically in the health field. A Presidential Scholar, she is involved in the Society of Women Engineers, the NIU Rover Team and Research Rookies. In the Research Rookies program, she worked on creating bioboron compounds using guanine and adenine to be used in boron neutron capture therapy, a promising form of cancer therapy. Outside of school, she loves to travel and visit new places. She looks forward to studying abroad. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree from NIU, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in patent law, but medical school is also an option.

Leena Ghrayeb

Victoria is pursuing a nursing degree and considering minors in psychology and chemistry. She plans to work as a surgical nurse and may further her education to become a nurse practitioner or physician. Victoria is passionate about helping individuals through the healing process and giving back to the community. She is a volunteer at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois. She aspires to work for a program similar to Doctors Without Borders and conduct research on curing diseases and improving everyday quality of life. In addition to her career interests, Victoria has several hobbies, including language, music and reading. She is teaching herself to read, write and speak Spanish, building on four years of study in high school. Victoria plays the piano, a skill she has been developing for about 13 years. She hopes to expand her musical ability by learning to play the saxophone and cello.

Victoria Kwaben

Aspen is a geology major who is pursuing a minor in chemistry. She is passionate about environmental conservation and providing evidence of global changes. While in the Research Rookies program, she studied the evidence of biogeochemical weathering on subglacial Antarctic sediments. In addition to research, Aspen also competes nationally for the NIU Equestrian Team, teaches yoga at Recreation and Wellness and instructs science camps at the Morton Arboretum. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in geology. Aspen’s professional goal is employment with the National Park Service. She would like to use her education from NIU and the McKearn fellowship to educate the public on conservation of the environment.

Aspen Wheeler


Emily is a biochemistry major who plans on pursuing a minor in math. She is passionate about researching stem cells, viruses, bacteria and genetics and is excited to research these topics as a McKearn fellow. She is fascinated with other cultures and is teaching herself to speak, read and write Polish. Emily is also a member of NIU’s club tennis team. After she receives her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Emily plans on obtaining her Ph.D. in biological sciences. She aspires to work with organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Doctors Without Borders. Emily would like to take what she learns, both at NIU and through the McKearn fellowship, and give back by curing diseases and helping individuals with disabilities.

Emily Fiala

Nicole is an engineering major who is passionate about decreasing the detrimental effects experienced by astronauts. As a biomedical engineer, she wants to design a device to counteract bone and muscle degradation in zero gravity conditions. In the Research Rookies program, she conducted a literature review on proton computed tomography. She is excited to continue to conduct research during the McKearn Fellows Program. The recipient of a Presidential Scholarship, she is involved with the NIU Robotics Club, Engineers Without Borders, the Society of Women Engineers and the Huskie Marching Band. In addition to her love of math and science, she is passionate about music and plays several instruments. She spends her free time volunteering at TAILS Humane Society. After earning her bachelor's degree in engineering, she plans to attend graduate school at NIU. Nicole's ultimate goal is to better the human condition.

Nicole Hoffmann

Zohra is a biochemistry major who plans on pursuing a minor in history. A Presidential Scholar, Zohra is involved in a number of organizations, such as the NIU Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity and NIU Chemistry Club. In the Research Rookies program, she worked on a protein-related project aimed at improving patients' lives. She worked to minimize enzyme inhibitors' harmful side effects by designing IspF enzyme inhibitors using molecular docking software. She has also expressed a great passion for giving back to her community. In an endeavor to make a difference in society, she started the Purple Crayon Project, an organization that donates school and art supplies to children living in domestic violence shelters. After she obtains her bachelor’s degree at NIU, she plans to develop drugs that minimize harmful side effects, taking a holistic approach to medicine that allows patients to enjoy fulfilling lives while receiving treatment.

Zohra Sattar

Sarah is a geology major who plans to pursue minors in environmental science and Spanish. She is passionate about creating solutions for our society's problems, especially where humans' interests conflict with those of the environment. A Presidential Scholar, she is currently in the Research Rookies program, where she is studying the movement of gas in landfills. She also hopes to study abroad in South America to improve her communication skills in Spanish and gain a broader understanding of the global community. She has obtained a third degree black belt in Taekwondo and was a member of the Civil Air Patrol. At NIU, she has furthered her love of martial arts by joining the Jiu-Jitsu club and her love of music by joining the Wind Symphony. After she completes her bachelor’s degree at NIU, she plans on going to graduate school to obtain a master's degree in geology.

Sarah Shapley

Peyton is a biological sciences major who is extremely passionate about wildlife management, land-use change and climate change. In the Research Rookies program, he conducted research related to the restoration of a tallgrass prairie at Nachusa Grasslands. His research focused on the differences between invertebrate communities inside and outside of bison wallows. He plans on expanding his research as a McKearn fellow. He is also a Presidential Scholar who is involved in multiple organizations on campus, including the Pre-Professional Association, Lambda Sigma honor society and Best Buddies. Peyton also has a passion for giving back to his community and is involved in coaching a Special Olympics soccer team through the Kishwaukee Special Recreation Association. After he receives his bachelor’s degree at NIU, he plans to continue his education as a graduate student in a biology-related discipline.

Peyton Whiston


Jessica earned both university and biological sciences departmental honors. She served as research assistant to Linda Yasui, Ph.D., of the biology department and conducted research dedicated to improving the radiation treatment of human brain cancer. Jessica has presented her research at numerous conferences, including NIU Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day, Phi Sigma Biology Research Conference and the Louis Stokes Midwest Center for Excellence Annual Conference. She has performed research in the Research Rookies program and as a McKearn fellow and was awarded an Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry and Research grant to study cancer stem cells. Due to her interest in helping acclimate students to the process of undergraduate research, she has also served as a peer mentor to students with little experience with research. Jessica plans to study autophagy in graduate school, earn a Ph.D. and become a professor. She served as a Pre-Professional Association officer and is a proud member of her sorority, Alpha Phi. She enjoys spending time with friends.

Jessica Cox

Katie majored in biological sciences and plans to enroll in optometry school. On campus, she was involved in her sorority, Alpha Phi, as the vice president of programming and education, and as a Northern Lights Ambassador for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She has served on two boards during her college career, the Honors Committee and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Board. She has also been heavily involved in research as a research assistant to Elizabeth Gaillard, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She has worked on projects involving research on age-related macular degeneration. During the past few summers, she has gone on two study abroad experiences, Discovering Montreal and Exploring Ireland’s Health Care. Her goal of attending optometry school came from her personal experience with vision therapy and an eye condition she has had since she was very young. Her main objective is to help people, whether in her community or across the globe. She wants to improve the level of optometric care provided to the population.

Katie Denius

Wataru was born in Japan, where he lived until he was 15. After graduating from junior high school, he moved to New Zealand to learn English. A year later, he transferred to a high school in the U.S. and discovered a passion for physics in a senior-level physics class. He notes, “My physics teacher showed me the fascinating elements of physics through interesting demonstrations and unique explanations. It was eye-opening to see how physics is at work in daily life, such as why the sky is blue and how airplanes fly." He has attended and presented at various conferences, including the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and the American Association of Physics Teachers Summer Meeting. He also participated in a hands-on collaborative research project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The project focused on understanding the performance of physics students based on the teaching approaches of their educators. He plans to attend graduate school and wishes to not only prepare himself to become a better physics teacher, but also to spread effective teaching methods through research and professional development.

Wataru Hashimoto

Maggie has had a variety of experiences in her time at NIU. In addition to academic work during her freshman year, she studied international justice in The Hague, produced a rodent model for Alzheimer's disease and compared the responses of women groups to genocide in Argentina, Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia. In her sophomore year, Maggie worked as a tutor and student worker for the Study Abroad office. Under the guidance of Jennifer Milliken and Michelle Lilly, Ph.D., she also conducted research on why women stay with partners who sexually assault them. She spent her sophomore summer studying the Indonesian language in Jogjakarta. She initiated a research project that compares and contrasts Indonesian and American views and treatments of mental illness. She also collaborated on a project with another student to analyze the motivations of perpetrators of genocide. In addition to her academic pursuits, she also hopes to explore a writing career. She eventually hopes to graduate medical school with an emphasis in psychiatry and open her own practice.

Margaret (Maggie) Miller

Jack is interested in social justice and domestic and global initiatives that seek to make the world a better place. He spent the spring 2016 semester studying in Madrid, Spain, where he achieved fluency in Spanish and learned about Spanish culture. He was also able to travel to other countries in Europe in order to gain a more global perspective. This led him to want to work internationally in order to continue learning about the diversity of the world. In addition to enjoying reading on a variety of topics, Jack is a movement enthusiast who loves training unconventionally and learning new ways to use his body. He is interested in combining his interest in politics and world affairs with his interest in physical health in order to promote global health. In particular, he is interested in what he calls “movement literacy.” He wishes to teach people how to move well and maintain their bodies because he believes this to be a fundamental part of human flourishing. At the end of the day, Jack wants to leave the world a better place than he found it and help initiate positive change.

John (Jack) Sauter

Jayson has his sights set on making a positive impact in the world through engineering. During his time at NIU, he has worked toward his goals through his involvement in NIU Robotics, undergraduate research and an internship experience. The projects he has worked on at NIU include digital design with FPGAs and modeling and simulating a pumped-heat electricity storage system. During the summer of 2016, he participated in the prestigious Lee Teng Fellowship sponsored by Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory and the Illinois Accelerator Institute. This fellowship allowed Jayson to gain hands-on experience through an internship at Argonne National Laboratory following an intensive course on the fundamentals of particle accelerators and the technology behind them. Eventually, Jayson hopes to use these experiences to explore the use of robotics in space exploration research. He believes that robots will be the first step toward safely exploring unknown territories.

Jayson Shiau

Andrew is originally from Zion, Illinois, but was raised in Elmhurst, Illinois. The third of four children, he enjoys traveling, playing sports, collecting vinyl records and writing poetry. His love of adventure and the international community grew as a result of having a long line of travelers in the family, as well as from his participation in a student exchange program in Semarang, Indonesia. His experience in Indonesia gave him a strong desire to continue studying Bahasa Indonesia at NIU and stay connected with the Southeast Asian region. He returned to Indonesia to participate in an intensive language program and further his cultural understanding. He aspires to work for an agency of the federal government or in international business. According to Andrew, the most important challenge for his generation is becoming a global citizen: "Being able to understand and empathize with other cultures is an invaluable skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life—in both your professional and personal lives.”

Andrew Waite

The youngest child of two Taiwanese immigrants, Christine was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her friends and read, play and listen to music. She was a Presidential Scholar and served on the executive board of the Honors Student Association and as the speaker of the NIU Student Association Senate. She also worked for the admissions office as a Northern Ambassador and performed as part of the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra as a violinist. During her time at NIU, Christine was the recipient of the 2016 Richard J. Doherty and Jon F. Erickson Chicago Law Internship Scholarship, where she served as a law clerk extern for Judge James E. Snyder at the Cook County Circuit Court. This internship solidified her decision to become a contract lawyer. She has also served as an honors peer mentor for incoming honors students and a UNIV 101 peer instructor. She has served and competed on the executive board of the NIU Forensics Team. With the support of the McKearn Fellows Program, she conducted research into fraud within the nonprofit sector under the direction of Chih-Chen Lee, Ph.D., of the Department of Accountancy. She was also able to study abroad in Europe through the International Business Seminars program and through the support of the McKearn Fellows Program, traveling to London, Paris, Geneva, Heidelberg and Amsterdam. She hopes to attend graduate school to obtain her Master of Accounting Science degree and CPA certificate before attending law school. Once she obtains her MAS, CPA and J.D. degrees, she hopes to become a contract lawyer.

Christine Wang

Tripp is the elder of two children. He loves to read whenever he gets a chance and takes advantage of every programming opportunity presented to him. He can often be found participating in hackathons or global game design competitions. At the age of 11, he taught himself to program and applied his skills in the real world by joining his high school’s robotics team. He continued to offer leadership to the team as a volunteer mentor and was a member of NIU’s robotics team. He also served as director of technology for the Student Association and provided tutoring in computer science and mathematics.

Theodore Weiner


Ken majored in pre-physical therapy as a University Honors student. He was born in Minnesota but grew up in Joliet, Illinois, with his mother and two siblings. He was motivated to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health studies due to his interest in how the body functions and heals itself, especially after sustaining injuries. He was a physical therapy patient himself after having suffered an injury playing sports and undergoing a knee operation. He feels that the most important facet of his studies, both in class and through co-curricular activities, has been a focus on disability, particularly attitudes and stereotypes surrounding individuals with disabilities. His McKearn fellow project focused on the attitudes that collegiate-level faculty hold about disabilities to determine if there is a correlation between the attitudes of faculty members and opportunities for students with disabilities to gain accommodations.

Ken Barnett

As a University Honors student, Shekinah majored in industrial systems engineering with an applied math minor. The oldest of six siblings, she enjoys long runs, lighting design, ice cream and food from Noodles and Company. She always thought she would end up in the arts, perhaps designing coins at the U.S. Mint or concert sets as a lighting technician, but she developed a strong interest in math and science. During her final year of high school, she was dually enrolled at Kishwaukee College taking engineering classes, where she discovered a love of STEM fields. She chose to major in industrial engineering due to her fascination with improving efficiency in complex systems such as institutions, businesses and hospitals. She enrolled in a five-year program at NIU to receive a bachelor's degree in engineering and a J.D. degree. With this unique combination of technical and legal knowledge, she plans to become a patent attorney and hopes to work for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. Her summer project involved designing a robot and a simulation program to study the gait of a walking mechanism.

Shekinah Bergmann

Zachary majored in biological sciences as a University Honors student. He also plans to attend medical school. He chose biology as a major due to his fascination with the complexity of life. He notes, “I want to find out as much as I can about the process of life. I believe biology is one of the best majors to prepare me for medical school. To be honest, I love all science (biology, chemistry and physics) because I think it is incredible how far the human race has come, to be able to understand the fundamental forces of nature and harness them to produce technology such as electricity, medicines and surgical procedures.” He has been most influenced by the study of genetics because it is the biological blueprint for all of life as we know it. His project, which studied potential treatment options for hepatocellular carcinoma, was part of a long-standing series of experiments and advances on campus, as well as a great start to his medical studies and eventual transition into a career in medicine.

Zachary Howard

As a University Honors student, Rachel double-majored in business administration and theater studies. She grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and lived in Sycamore, Illinois. Rachel discovered her passion for theater at an early age through school plays and drama classes. Her aptitude for business and innovation also came early, when she experimented with business ideas as a youth, even organizing and running her own summer-time businesses. It was when she reached high school that these two fields combined. As vice president of her school's thespian troupe, she both performed and organized the group’s finances through events and fundraisers. When it came time to choose a major, it was a no-brainer. Rachel hopes to eventually run her own theater company, which was the inspiration for her McKearn fellow project. It called for her to investigate both the financial and artistic operational models of theater companies.

Rachel Lapidus

As a University Honors student and University Honors fellow, Lexie majored in nursing. Originally from Stillman Valley, Illinois, she was inspired to pursue nursing after participating in a year-long CNA program co-sponsored by her high school and Rockford Memorial Hospital. She was drawn to nursing because she wishes to provide comfort and assistance to a wide variety of patients. She also finds the quick pace and necessary critical thinking to be a positive challenge. Her ultimate career goal is to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist. She believes that the most important facet of her studies has been the hands-on experience provided through NIU's nursing simulation lab. She notes, “I think it's important to be exposed to patient care as early as possible, in order to maximize the student's level of comfort when they actually begin taking care of patients.” Her McKearn fellow project centered on a topic developed through her minor, deafness rehabilitation. She surveyed NIU nursing students to gauge their disposition toward disabled persons and geriatric persons using the implicit association test, a worldwide learning tool developed by Harvard.

Lexie Williams


Lauren majored in psychology and minored in family and child studies. Her extracurricular activities at NIU included Research Rookies, the Undergraduate Research Assistantship program, Alternative Spring Break and the University Honors Program. When she was not on campus, she enjoyed exercising, cooking, baking, spending time at the pool, hanging out with her family and cheering for Chicago sports teams.

Lauren Boddy

Jeff majored in marketing. Originally from Tinley Park, Illinois, he is a die-hard Cubs fan and enjoys the outdoors and physical activity. He was excited to take part in the McKearn Fellows Program because it enabled him to design his own research program.

Jeffery Kamholtz

Juliana studied media studies and public administration and service. She is interested in working in the film or television industry. At NIU, she worked on two films, including one for her McKearn fellow project. Her hobbies include reading, thrift shopping and napping.

Juliana Leprich

Ashley majored in international relations with a double minor in history and community leadership and civic engagement. Outside of class, she was involved with both the university and political science honors programs. She also served as treasurer of a service organization called NGAGE and participated in Model United Nations.

Ashley Palin

Patrick is interested in how art, communication and experience coalesce. He majored in illustration and expresses narrative through a wide variety of visual media. He also loves learning and being in tune academically with the world around him. He learned from the McKearn program that these two passions are not mutually exclusive and that his journey will build stronger connections between the artist and scholar sides of his personality.

Patrick Price

Kathryn received an associate's degree from Waubonsee Community College, where she originally studied electrical engineering. While there, a professor and good friend helped her discover an interest in psychology. At NIU, she majored in cognitive psychology and minored in math. She had two great mentors who supported her interest in research.

Kathryn Rapp

Linnea majored in accountancy. She is an artistic person at heart, and some of her interests include music, photography and graphic design. Aside from her artistic interests, her biggest passion is video gaming. She strives to help people see how beautiful and intellectually stimulating video games can be. She hopes to one day work in accounting for a video game company.

Linnea Scherer

Sarah majored in biological sciences and discovered a passion for research at NIU. Through programs such as Research Rookies, Northern Lights Ambassadors, the Pre-Veterinary Medicine Association and the McKearn Fellows Program, she conducted research in equine gait analysis, primate facial expressions, the brain and Alzheimer’s disease.

Sarah Stuebing

Brittany majored in speech pathology. She chose a career in speech pathology due to her interest in how the brain works. Not only does she like to expand her knowledge of the brain, she also likes to read novels. One of her favorite books is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Brittany Warner

Melissa majored in illustration and minored in biological sciences. After graduation she attended the University of Illinois at Chicago to obtain a master’s degree in medical visualization. She was glad to have had many new experiences and connections available to her through the McKearn Fellows Program.

Melissa Woodall

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