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WIU Grad to Intern With U.S. Geological Survey

June 6, 2005

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MACOMB, IL - - Neil ShannonÂ’s education did not start at Western Illinois University, but the opportunities he had and his accomplishments as a student at Western have put him on a fast track to his desired profession.

Shannon, a May graduate with a major in geology and a minor in zoology, is among 19 university students or recent graduates who have been selected interns with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). He will work with project chief Suzanne Femmer, a hydrologist/biologist in the hydrologic investigations section of the USGS Missouri Water Science Center in Rolla, for the June 27 through mid-August internship.

According to its website (, “The USGS employs the best and the brightest experts who bring a range of earth and life science disciplines to bear on problems. By integrating our diverse scientific expertise, the USGS is able to understand complex natural science phenomena and provide scientific products that lead to solutions.”

ShannonÂ’s summer mentor Femmer is a 24-year veteran of the USGS whose latest projects include assessing the Missouri River as part of the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment-Great River Ecosystems (EMAP-GRE) program.

“I can’t wait to start the internship,” Shannon said. “I like the idea of field work. This is a great opportunity for me to work with the USGS, which is where I’d like to permanently work if possible.”

Intern selection begins with nomination by a university professor based on the studentÂ’s work in a field camp setting. Associate geology professor Leslie Melim nominated Shannon, who participated in WesternÂ’s six-week field camp in the Black Hill of South Dakota, where students learn basic field techniques, measurements and descriptions, and geologic mapping. Shannon also conducted an undergraduate research program with Melim the past two years, studying possible signs of life in the pools of the Carlsbad Cavern National Park, NM.

Scientists have assumed that cave minerals were abiological, meaning that no organisms helped form them; however, Melim contends this assumption with her findings of fossilized “pool meringue” in the caves. The unique shape of the meringue and its presence below the waterline of the pools suggests that it is actually a fossil microbial community, she said.

“Neil was a big help with this research. I am confident he will be a great addition to the USGS team,” Melim added.

Following this summerÂ’s internship, Shannon will begin a two-year masterÂ’s degree program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, working as a geology graduate assistant.

“I have the entire geology department to thank for these professional opportunities, especially Dr. Melim, Dr. (Fred) Caspall and Dr. (Kyle) Mayborn,” Shannon said. “I got to know everyone well; all the professors were helpful. The geology department of Western Illinois University is what I will miss the most after graduation.”

Shannon, who has lived in many states because of his fatherÂ’s job as an air traffic controller, transferred to Western in 2003 from Black Hawk College in Moline (IL). He attended Geneseo (IL) High School in 1998-99 before his family moved to Moline. NeilÂ’s parents, Thomas and Gina Shannon, currently live in Benicia, CA.

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