Robert L. ‘Smitty’ Smith Assistantship provides opportunities for Kish College STEM students

Recipients of the Kishwaukee College Foundation’s Robert L. “Smitty” Smith Assistantship participated in various science-based learning opportunities during the 2023-2024 school year, including electrofishing with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in Big Rock Creek. Pictured (left to right) are Megan Radtke, assistantship recipient; Navi Ruiz, assistantship recipient; Adam Hughes, Assistant Professor of Biology; Tristan Widloe, IDNR Stream Specialist; and Steve Pescitelli, IDNR Stream Specialist.

Four Kishwaukee College students participated in science-based learning opportunities during the 2023-2024 school year thanks to the Robert L. “Smitty” Smith Assistantship.

The assistantship provides hands-on learning and research opportunities under the supervision of Kish faculty for students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) programs. In 2021, Dr. Dale and Sharon Evans created the assistantship through the Kishwaukee College Foundation with a donation honoring former Kishwaukee College science instructor Robert L. Smith. The Evanses credited instructors like Smith for providing mentorship and educational opportunities during their time at Kish and established the assistantship to provide those opportunities to a new generation of students.

“Overall, this assistantship was educational, enjoyable, and eye-opening to many different STEM fields. I enjoyed the vastly different activities we did, which kept this experience fresh and engaging. I am extremely thankful for the experience, skills, and education I am taking with me after this involvement. I am especially grateful for our wonderful donors who made this experience possible,” said Navi Ruiz, an assistantship participant in Fall 2023.  

During the Fall 2023 semester, Ruiz and Megan Radtke participated in the assistantship under the guidance of Adam Hughes, Assistant Professor of Biology, and Dr. Elena Lineberry, Assistant Professor of Biology. Both Ruiz and Radtke plan to transfer from Kish to study marine sciences.

Ruiz and Radtke experienced a variety of projects during the assistantship, including photosynthesis lab testing, testing equipment on Shabbona Lake, electrofishing with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, grounds cleanup with the Kish Green Team at Starved Rock State Park, exploring Shedd Aquarium, cadaver dissection and organizing Kish’s biology specimen cabinet.

In the Spring 2024 semester, Carly Summers and Catlin Kersten participated in the assistantship under the direction of Tania Nezrick, Professor of Biology, and Dr. Lineberry.

Summers and Kersten contributed to X-ray image revision, developing hands-on lab exercises for anatomy and physiology labs, examining Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District effluent, screening tropical and local soil for antibiotic-producing bacteria, creating a circulatory system model, cadaver dissection, Earth Day event planning, the Argonne National Laboratory’s Bioenergy Research and Education Bridge Program (BRIDGES), frog monitoring in Russell Woods in Genoa and Rotary Park in DeKalb, and more.

The participants expressed gratitude for the support they received and the diverse educational opportunities available through the assistantship.

“I had so much fun. All the different experiences have opened my eyes and made me feel better prepared for my STEM-filled future. Thank you for allowing me to have this amazing experience. I am so excited to begin doing activities like these for a living,” Radtke said.

For more information on the Kishwaukee College Foundation, visit