Teenager goes behind the scenes at Shedd for fellowship

Monday, September 03, 2007

A local teenager got the chance of a lifetime to go behind the scenes at the Shedd Aquarium this summer. It's a good lesson for other young aspiring marine biologists who might want to do the same.

Walking through the Shedd for Matt Basile is sort of like strolling through a second home.

At only 18, Matt has already worked at Shedd, one of the nation's premier aquariums, for more than three years.

It all started with the Shedd's High School Marine Biology Program, which Basile said he "stumbled upon" while looking at the aquarium's website. It was a perfect opportunity for a kid who's been rescuing and collecting little creatures since kindergarten. Basile said he even "rescued an alligator one time."

But his chance of a lifetime came this summer with the Steve Irwin Fellowship. The Shedd was looking for the first recipient of the Fellowship in honor of the late "Crocodile Hunter". Out of 120 who applied, Matt, who had just graduated from a local high school, was chosen.

"We asked him to write an essay - why Steve Irwin, why the zoo - and Matt just rose to the top," said Shedd spokesman Roger Germann.

For two weeks, Matt got the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes, helping to care for the Shedd's various residents.

He also spent two weeks in Australia working alongside the staff at Sydney's Taronga Zoo and Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo. The trips were paid for through the fellowship.

"It's a great way to not only honor Steve but carry on the tradition," said Germann. "We're just excited to offer this opportunity."

As for Matt, this has been an experience that could open a whole lot of doors for his future career in marine biology.

"Having done this, there are so many different areas I can pursue and hopefully be successful at," said Matt.

Matt has wrapped up his fellowship studies at the Shedd for the summer. He's starting his freshman year at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, majoring in marine biology.

For kids who are interested in doing something like Matt did, you'll want to get involved with the Shedd's educational program during the high school years or maybe even earlier. More information can be found at the Shedd's website.

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