Student Spotlight: Matthew Byington

Matthew Byington in Iceland

Matthew Byington, a Sustainable Materials and Technology major with minors in Environmental Science, Business Administration and Renewable Energy Assessment, studied Renewable Energy Technology at Reykjavik University in Iceland. Back at NC State, Byington is very involved in the College of Natural Resources. He’s the Engaging Leaders Program Student Coordinator and the CNR Student Council Vice-President. Outside of CNR, he is also Cru Leader. Check out Byington’s hands-on, immersive experience in Iceland, supported by the CNR Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund.

How did this experience impact you?

This experience had a huge impact on me and helped me come to the realization that I would love to have a career in the renewable energy field. As part of the experience, we got to visit multiple renewable energy power plants and see the impact that they had on the surrounding communities. Going into this experience, I had always thought about renewable energy, but was unsure about how I fit in. After immersing myself in it for two weeks, all I saw was opportunities for me to make an impact.

How has this opportunity or experience prepared you for your future career?

Traveling to Iceland was an incredible opportunity to gain and an experience that few others are capable of bragging about. I connected with world leaders, toured world-leading facilities and developed technology alongside professionals. It provided me great insight on how I can work to create world-changing technology.

Why was participating in this experience important to you?

This experience was important to me because it allowed me to get outside my comfort zone. Until Iceland, I had never been in a different time zone, had never been forced to fly by myself, never really had to show up somewhere having no idea who anyone was or what exactly I was doing, and had never had to develop a presentation to present to world leaders. It was a tremendous growing experience that helped me mature both as a person and in my area of study.

What did you enjoy most about your experience?

The most enjoyable part was something called “Super Jeeping.” We rode in these custom built, giant off-roading trucks that are used to get around rough terrain. They had 6-foot-tall tires, reinforced suspension and snorkels allowing it to go in water up to 9 feet deep. So, we went camping in Þingvellir National Park, and the Super Jeeps were the only way to get in. We crossed multiple rivers, uneven terrain and had to dodge grazing sheep on our way to our camping site, which sat between 3 glaciers and 2 volcanos.

What did you find most challenging about your experience?

One of the most challenging things was traveling to a country not knowing anyone. I usually enter situations knowing at least one person, so traveling across the world to meet up with random people for two weeks was frightening. It helped me develop personal relationship skills which will drastically help me back home. Another challenging aspect was Iceland had 22 hours of sunlight when I was there. So, at 3am it was bright and sunny, and that threw me off.

What did you learn about yourself during your experience?

I learned my lack of understanding of international affairs, especially environmental. I knew of obvious issues, or issues that made breaking news everywhere, but had a deficit of other issues. Since the trip, I have really dug in, in hopes of obtaining a better understanding of both the environment and non-American individuals.

Would you recommend this experience to other students?

I would highly recommend this to other students. Complete immersion into the culture of another country is something that just has to be experienced, especially in Iceland.

Any advice to incoming students thinking about your major, field of study or research focus?

My advice to incoming students would be to not be afraid to explore all your options, and if you don’t like them, then find your own options. Renewable Energy is not a focus in Sustainable Materials and Technology, but I was able to apply it to a minor to receive class credit. Since the trip, I have decided that working with renewable energy is something that I would like to do as a career.

What do you enjoy most about being a College of Natural Resources (CNR) student?

Being a CNR student, I most enjoy the abundance of opportunities that are always present. I had never imagined that after my first year of college I would be traveling to Iceland. I have also been fortunate enough to take advantage of the many clubs CNR has as well as connect with individuals within the college.