Hometown: Shelocta, PA
Grad school: Penn State
Career: Watershed Management
Matt Genchur started out in high school with an interest in geography. He brought that interest to IUP and the Honors College. Matt's already working on saving the planet—or a good part of it. The wet part.
"When I was in high school, thinking about what universities I might apply to, I heard about the Honors College just starting up, and it really intrigued me. At the time, I was thinking about going into some kind of environmental study and, when I talked to various professors over the summer, I found out that IUP’s Geography Department is one of the best in the state. Between that and the Honors College setting the new standard for IUP, it wasn't a tough choice. I thought it would be a good program, all around. And as it turned out, it really was."
As the first president of the new freshman honor society on campus, Matt became an integral part of setting new standards for IUP. He also discovered, with a jolt, that the Honors College would be integral to Matt Genchur setting new standards for himself.
"It’s a lot of work in the first year and a half, but what you go through is worth what you get out of it. I found out you had to be serious about it. You come here with the intent that 'I want to learn', as opposed to, 'Okay, I’m here, go ahead and feed it to me so I can memorize it and forget it next semester.' That’s not the way the Honors College works."
What Matt Genchur got in those first few semesters in the Honors College was a chance to develop skills in genuine critical thinking.
"I had done that before in spurts, but I think once I got here with the Core curriculum, it affected the way I approached classes—and problems—then and now. You are always taking things a few steps further. Some people come up with one good idea and they stop. I’m looking for multiple ideas. If I don’t have options, if I don’t have the best of what’s out there, then I’m frustrated. I'll give you an analogy. I play Scrabble a lot. And you have that rack of letters in front of you. And I think—I can make a word out of that entire rack and I will sit there, until I get it. And here at the Honors College, you don't settle for second best. You look at what's in front of you and you consider the possibilities."
Matt Genchur recognized the change during what he describes as a fairly "laid-back" graduation from the Honors College and IUP.
"They played a tape at graduation from when we were freshman, and one thing that was kind of a turning point for me was listening to the first presentation from the very first Core question four years back. Our group did a debate. I was one of the people who spoke and I hated public speaking. I thought I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t so much a terrifying thing, but I did not like to get in front a group of people and speak about something that I didn’t feel I knew a lot about. And they said, 'Matt, just get up there, you’re doing this.' That, alone, it was a confidence booster. That, and the fact that I wasn’t thrown off stage or anything. If you aren’t good at speaking to groups, or speaking your mind, at the start, you will be when you’re done. It was phenomenal how I changed from high school, and then again from that first semester."
And where will changes like that take Matt Genchur? And how do they apply in upper-level courses, in research, in graduate school—and in that "real world" Matt means to preserve?
"I think the process of where I would go started during my junior year. I wanted to do an internship, but had no idea where or what. All I knew for sure was that I had a strong environmental interest. And then I go an e-mail from the Honors College director, Dr. Goebel, describing the Department of Energy's ERULF (Energy Research Undergraduate Laboratory Fellowships) program. There are about ten national labs and they take about 650 to 700 students nationwide. I applied and got accepted at both Oakridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado."
Because he wanted practical lab and fieldwork, Matt chose Colorado, where he could do research on a variety of environment projects.
"My supervisor was working on about ten different projects, and she started me out working on air quality—testing options, looking for solutions. She gave me background research, guides to running the equipment, and then, essentially, let me run with it. I'd come back with results, tell her what I'd done, what I might try next, and she'd send me back out. At the end, she had me write some research papers on soil and wetland reclamation. Much of this was teamwork, which is also a valuable experience. On top of all that, this fellowship had me working and researching at a national level, which is also good when it comes to applying to graduate school and for a job. And, to say that I worked at the department of energy for a summer and I was in a high security lab—well, it’s an interesting story to come back and tell your friends. I was under high surveillance."
After studying at a Big Ten graduate school, majoring in GIS (Geographical Information Systems), Matt Genchur sees his long-term dream becoming reality.
"Growing up where I did, living in a rural community, I had a daily interaction with the outdoors, and that made me want to be involved in clean-up efforts. I studied wildlife and fishery sciences and participating in programs at the Center for Watershed Stewardship. I worked with real streams and real people. If you can come out and say that I’ve done this and I used GIS, that boosts you sky high, and you should be able to get a job anywhere... so that’s a big, valuable thing I pulled out of here and the Honors College."