Nearly 900 Salukis will be getting diplomas at SIU on Saturday (2 p.m. at the SIU Arena), and each of them have their own story to tell. Here’s a cross section of the talent, tenacity and ingenuity inherent in this semester’s graduating class.
Overcoming a learning disability, achieving a goal
Xavier Aguirre has always enjoyed “figuring things out.” And with the help of several SIU mentors, Aguirre also relied on his own drive and organizational skills that will enable the first-generation college student to graduate with honors and a degree in Information Systems Technologies (IST)
later this week. A 2017 McNair Scholar who owns a 3.906 GPA, Aguirre also learned on his own to cope with dyslexia.
Aguirre plans to attend graduate school with a goal of becoming a university professor teaching information systems technology. He links the start of his academic progress to Elk Grove High School. Aguirre said that until his junior year there he was mostly a C and D student, but was required to maintain a C average after joining high school’s technical theater crew. He made the B honor roll that year with “minimal” effort and with a little more effort as a senior, he was an A student.
Needing to know how things work, finding your place
Down on the farm, one needs a fair amount of know-how and independence. When something breaks down, help may be far away or non-existent. But growing up on a working farm can be the perfect laboratory for a youngster who is abidingly interested in how machines really work. For Matt Schmidlin, reverse-engineering anything from a set of Legos to a piece of agriculture equipment was the best way to learn.
Schmidlin attended tiny Palestine High School, where he was a top athlete, student and volunteer. His love for math and science, combined with his “how stuff works” curiosity, made majoring in mechanical engineering a logical choice. His high school graduating class had just 23 students, however, and Schmidlin worried whether he could make the adjustment to a larger university setting at SIU. But the university welcomed him as Chancellor’s Scholar, its top scholarship, and Schmidlin soon learned the ropes. He’s been very involved as a student, and has a job working with a renewable fuels company waiting for him after graduation.
Turning a pastime into a career
It all began with a walk in the park, but has lead Gabby Will to become more than she thought she could and will clam her bachelor’s degree in forestry on Saturday. Then she’ll stick around to pursue a graduate degree.
Visiting a friend who was a student at SIU, Will enjoyed a hike in one of the area’s many parks and forests. That’s when the self-described fan of the great outdoors quickly decided she would come to SIU herself. Soon she was meeting with department chairs from various programs, ultimately choosing forestry as her major. And although Will is graduating, she’s not leaving SIU quite yet. She’ll begin work on her master’s degree in forestry in the spring, with the goal of someday working in natural resource management.