April 08, 2008

Geology student wins prestigious Udall scholarship

by Tim Crosby

Joe Batir

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A geology student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale who hopes to become an astronaut is one of just 80 students nationwide to receive a prestigious scholarship.

Joe Batir, a junior from Channahon, is the recipient of a Morris K. Udall Foundation scholarship. The foundation selected Batir from a field of more than 500 applications. The scholarship provides $5,000 to Batir, plus an all-expense-paid trip to Arizona to meet the other Udall winners and experts in environmental studies.

Batir is the son of Sonia and Greg Nagel of Channahon.

Batir, a geology major with minors in mathematics and physics, said he plans to pursue master's and doctorate degrees after finishing his undergraduate work at SIUC. The Udall award will help him reach his goals, he said.

"Professionally, I'm still holding onto the dream of being an astronaut, or at least working for NASA," said Batir, who currently is studying in Australia through an SIUC study abroad program. "But my realistic goal is to become a professor while conducting research."

Congress established the foundation in 1992 to honor Udall and his three decades of service to the country. It is aimed at educating young Americans to preserve and protect their national heritage through environmental studies, Native American health and tribal policy and effective public policy conflict resolution techniques.

A Democrat from Arizona, Udall retired in 1991 and died in 1998. The president appoints members of the foundation board with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

"I'm surprised, excited, and slightly in disbelief (about wining the Udall)," Batir said. "My professional goals do not line up perfectly with the Udall, but I'm glad that I was able to show — with the help of my advisers and letter writers — my commitment to the environment and how I am going to be committed even as I move from the University into the workforce."

Laurie A. Bell, assistant director of the University Honors Program at SIUC, said the program identified Batir during his freshman year at SIUC as a student with the potential to win a national scholarship. She said Batir has worked hard to achieve the award.

"Joe is an outstanding student who's done a very good job of putting himself in a position to win a scholarship like the Udall," Bell said. "He's built great experience on his résumé and he's going to have an outstanding career. We're very excited for him and it feels good to see him win after all the work he's put in."

Batir said the University Honors Program has played a key role in his success as a student.

"Being part of the University Honors Program has given me opportunities to meet many renowned people and learn much more than just what can be found in the classroom," he said. "Without them I would not have had any chance at winning a Udall."

Last year, Batir spent the summer at the Mineral Physics Institute at Stony Brook University, New York, studying high-pressure mineral physics apparatus and ways to improve them. He currently is studying at Curtin University of Technology in Australia, taking classes in global geophysics, plant biology, geological field mapping and Australian studies.

"The first three are self explanatory, but the last class is a brief history of Australia and goes in depth about cultural aspects of Australia, including Indigenous Australian interactions with immigrated Australians, cultural myths, and the future of Australia," he explained.

Batir is the second SIUC student in four years to win the prestigious Udall scholarship. Raphi K. Rechitsky, a sociology and philosophy major from Northbrook, won the scholarship in 2004.