A DeKalb High School alumnus was recently named Northern Illinois University’s 2013 Student Lincoln Laureate, an award given annually to one senior at each four-year university in Illinois for excellence both inside and outside of the classroom. Sarah Stuebing is studying biology, with minors in Spanish and chemistry.
Stuebing is applying to veterinary schools, combining her love of animals with her passion for research after she graduates next May.
“I am looking for a place that offers a dual-degree program where I can work on getting my degree in veterinary medicine as well as getting a Ph.D. at the same time,” Stuebing said. “I am looking at seven different schools right now, so we will see what ends up happening.”
Stuebing spoke with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg in a phone call from Scotland, where she is participating in a semester abroad program.
MidWeek: How and when did you learn that you had been selected as this year’s Lincoln Laureate?
Sarah Stuebing: I found out prior to leaving for Scotland that I had been nominated, and a couple weeks later I got an email saying they wanted to arrange an interview. I did the interview and the following day I was contacted by Dr. Bowers from the honors program saying that I had been selected as NIU’s Lincoln Laureate.
MW: Do you know who nominated you?
SS: I was told my nomination was spearheaded by Dr. Doug Wallace, who is my mentor in my neuroscience class, and he then recruited two other people that I’m aware of, Dr. Lisa Freeman and Dr. Julia Spears.
MW: Did you make it to Springfield for the reception with the governor?
SS: I flew back to Illinois for a week for the reception. I was in Scotland when I found out and once I knew that I had been selected, my parents and the university both said it would work out for me to come back for a total of six days for the reception in Springfield as well as a reception with NIU’s president.
MW: Were you this good a student in high school?
SS: I wasn’t a bad student, but I definitely think I blossomed once I found my spot at NIU. I did graduate in the top 10 in my class in high school and I was involved, but I have definitely become more involved in academics and the community at NIU.
MW: Tell me about your decision to attend NIU, which is essentially your hometown college.
SS: Some people thought it was the easy way. I was deciding between NIU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and it came down to the proximity factor, the fact that I could live at home and save a bunch of money. ...I knew that I was going to be going off to graduate school and I knew I was going to incur a lot of financial debt that way, so I decided that I could get a good education in my own back yard, so why not take advantage of it?
MW: What extracurricular activities were you involved in?
SS: In high school I was involved in Key Club and Spanish Club, and I did a lot of volunteering with my church group in the community. Coming to college I continued with NIU’s Spanish Club, the NIU German Club, I founded the Pre-Veterinary Medicine Association and I have been running that since my sophomore year. I was also president of my church’s college campus ministry group.
MW: Tell me about your studies in Scotland.
SS: I’m studying abroad in Scotland just to study something different, and to learn about the history and culture of another country, and to learn about myself some more. I have always been independent, but I kind of missed out on that aspect of going away to college, so this has been a really good learning and growing opportunity. It has been a lot of fun, and I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by.
MW: Where and when was your other study abroad semester?
SS: I spent a summer studying abroad in Argentina. This is definitely a much more typical study abroad than the Argentina trip. ...My trip to Argentina was first and foremost a time that I wanted to spend gaining experience working with animals. ...I found the only primate rehabilitation center in Argentina, where I worked to rehabilitate black howler monkeys that are often poached and sold in South America, and they had been horribly mistreated. We step in and we rehabilitate these monkeys and teach them how to be monkeys and live in the wild. We rehabilitate them into a forest preserve. I also did a research project which allowed me to apply for two research grants through NIU that helped me pay for the trip. I analyzed and documented the facial expressions in the black howler monkeys.
MW: I understand your accommodations in Argentina were not luxurious.
SS: Not luxurious at all! It was also not at all what I was prepared for. Despite the less-than-ideal living conditions, it was an experience that made my life better and I would love to go back there some day, despite the lack of running water and electricity and heat, and washing my clothes in the river.
MW: What can you tell me about your honors capstone project?
SS: My honors capstone project was something I did through my work in the neuroscience lab here at NIU. My mentor gave me archival video (of rodent research) that he gathered back 10 or 11 years ago and he pretty much said, “Here, Sarah. Analyze this and see what this does.” I looked at how different parts of the prefrontal cortex contribute to spatial orientation.
MW: Do you see yourself working in a lab environment studying data and samples, or as a practicing veterinarian?
SS: I have yet to figure that out. I would really like to do a bit of both. I’m not opposed to spending my day in the lab and using my veterinary skills just to better work on the research. A lot of research is done on different animals, or just certain diseases. Mad cow disease, for instance, which has to do with an animal brain. My neuroscience background along with my veterinary background would give me a really unique perspective of understanding a disease like that.
MW: How long does it take to complete veterinary school?
SS: Veterinary is another four years.
MW: Do you have any advice for high school students?
SS: I would hope they’d consider NIU, and tell them that it’s a lot better than the reputation it has in DeKalb. I know I didn’t take it seriously as an option at first, but I think you’d be surprised at what you can do here.