Environmental Internship Leads to a Career

by Carol Lee

A student internship eradicating an invasive vine in southwest Ohio led to an environmental science career for Matthew Silveira '09.

As a Cedarville student, Matthew Silveira had a lot going for him — he was a varsity cross country athlete, a married student, and father to a baby girl born during his senior year. Pursuing a biology degree wasn't easy while he also held a job to support his young family and stayed involved in his church.

"I struggled in many of my classes," he said. "I did not have the strong foundation in science and math that other students had. Despite my academic shortcomings, I kept reminding myself to persevere. I knew God was setting in motion His plan for my life."

Today, Matthew enjoys his career as an environmental assistant with CEMEX, Inc., a global building materials company that produces, distributes, and sells cement, ready-mix concrete, aggregates, and related building materials in more than 50 countries.

What made the difference? "Dr. Silvius took a chance on me," Matthew said.

In the mid 2000s, Dr. John Silvius, senior professor of biology, was involved in an environmental consulting project to eradicate kudzu, an invasive vine in the legume family, from land owned by the CEMEX plant in Fairborn, Ohio. CEMEX — an industry leader in land stewardship — was attempting to stop the vine in an effort to protect and enhance the natural biodiversity of the property.

Kudzu can grow up to a foot a day with vines that can extend up to 100 feet. Originally found in China, kudzu was brought to the United States by the United States Department of Agriculture to plant on hillsides to prevent soil erosion. Although it has some positive uses, its rapid growth can overwhelm and destroy plant life in its path, including mature trees.

In 2007, Dr. Silvius created a student internship opportunity and brought Matthew on board to help identify and recommend an ecologically friendly solution. In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CEMEX successfully treated the kudzu with an herbicide that targets only plants in the legume family while leaving other plants intact.

"Assisting Dr. Silvius with the kudzu project positively impacted my life in so many ways," Matthew said. "It provided numerous hours of faculty mentoring as well as the opportunity to develop academically. I met a lot of great people, and I gained confidence knowing my work was making a real difference in southwest Ohio."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities in environmental science are expected to increase by 28 percent by 2018, with the strongest job growth in the private sector. Students who gain hands-on experience outside the classroom have a distinct advantage.

"Undergraduate research experiences have proven so valuable to our students," said Dr. Silvius. "They enhance students' resumes and provide direction as they define more specifically how they want to use their education."

Matthew's internship not only brought to life the science he was learning in the classroom, but it also honed writing, reporting, and presentation skills he could apply in any professional field.

Each year, Portland Cement Association and Cement Americas magazine honor individual cement facilities throughout North America that exemplify the spirit of continuous environmental improvement. These plants exceed government regulations and local laws to ensure their processes contribute to making their communities better places to live and work. Matthew's application for CEMEX in Fairborn won the 2010 Land Stewardship Award and was runner-up for the 2010 Community Outreach Award.

CEMEX recognized Matthew's talents by offering him a job as a contractor specializing in environmental stewardship projects at the Fairborn plant. In 2010, he chose to continue his career as an environmental assistant with CEMEX in Louisville, Kentucky. He assists with the monitoring and reporting effort for all environmental issues that impact operations, such as air emissions, water quality, waste management, land restoration, and biodiversity.

Matthew is helping to ensure that CEMEX fulfills its stewardship goals not only for the land and wildlife on company property, but also for the neighbors who live near the plant. He is involved in community outreach and education at the plant, building positive community relations though writing informational brochures, engaging public concerns, participating in local partnerships, and organizing community outreach events.

Matthew feels blessed to work in a career that preserves the testimony of God and His Creation. "When I was fourteen, God used nature to work on my heart," he said. "As I looked around and saw the beauty and complexity of the natural world, I said, 'There’s got to be a God.' I could see His hand all around."

Matthew has come a long way from his days as a struggling student, and he gives God all the glory for guiding each step. Even now, Matthew senses that the work he is doing is teaching and preparing him for future opportunities.

"I want to encourage students who are struggling with their academic performance to realize that God has a plan, and He can move any mountain. Never be afraid to ask Him for a miracle in your life."