University News

Kerr Named Western Illinois' Lincoln Laureate

November 10, 2005

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MACOMB, IL - - James “Matt” Kerr (Macomb, IL), a Western Illinois University senior with a double major in physics and mathematics, was selected as the University's recipient of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois Student Laureate Award.

Each of Western's four academic colleges nominated a student for the prestigious Lincoln Academy of Illinois Student Laureate Award, which is presented annually to an outstanding senior from each of Illinois' four-year degree-granting institutions. Student Laureates are honored for overall academic excellence and extracurricular activities.

As Western's Lincoln Laureate selection, Kerr attended an Oct. 22 awards ceremony at the Hall of Representatives in the Old State Capitol in Springfield, where he received a certificate of achievement and a check for $150 in recognition of his outstanding achievement.

The road to academic achievement has included many turns for the 33-year-old father of two, whose wife Sheri is also a senior at Western. Born in New York, Kerr’s family moved to Macomb more than 30 years ago. Higher education right out of high school did not suit him so he “spent the next few years working at local restaurants…and I found myself at 24 living paycheck to paycheck without any real future.”

Kerr joined the military, graduated first in his class at the Naval Hospital Corps School and served as a Hospital Corpsman from June 1997 to June 2002. He earned numerous honors during his tour, including the Navy Achievement Award, Tri-Service Achievement Award, Free Marine Force Ribbon, Sea Service Deployment and National Defense Service Medal.

He entered Western in Fall 2002 intending to pursue a career in medicine.

“I found myself in the pre-med program at Western. You are required to take a yearlong physics course designed for students preparing for a career in medicine; it was this course that would forever change my life,” Kerr said.

“I found out something about myself that year. I love solving problems. I could spend hours on my homework, and the amazing thing was that I enjoyed it,” he added. “So, after my first year back at Western I switched to a physics majors. And I have not looked back.”

Kerr has been conducting research, for which he has received funding from the College of Arts and Sciences, with physics Professor Mark Boley in the areas of Raman spectroscopy on carbon nanotubes and the effects of quenching medium and cooling rate on rate on torque sensitivity. He has been an presenter at the Illinois section of American Association of Physics Teachers Student Research Symposium and WesternÂ’s Undergraduate Research Day 2005. Kerr also is a member of the Society of Physics Students and serves as a physics tutor and lab assistant.

“My experience at Western couldn’t have been better,” Kerr said. “My wife and I will both graduate this May, and we will have done it with both of us balancing school, jobs and our family. I have learned many valuable lessons on what it takes to succeed and gained an excellent foundation for my continued education in graduate school.”

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