Over the next two weeks, we'll introduce you to some of the most distinguished members of the Class of 2016. First up: 2012 Jamaica High grad Ryan Schonert, 22, the winner of Illinois Wesleyan University's Professor David Bailey Prize in Chemistry, honoring outstanding achievement in his major.
Five things to know about the Fairmount native, courtesy staff writer Tracy Crane:
1 He has a great answer for the "What did you do over summer break?" question.
Answer: Create space dust.
As one of a handful of students at IWU chosen as a prestigious Eckley Scholar, Schonert spent the last two summers replicating dust in space and then figuring out how to get it into a form that can be inserted into a spectrometer for studying. (Real space dust is unobservable with conventional telescopes and almost impossible to collect).
"It was probably the first time where I had to do chemistry for a purpose, much more independent than in my classes where professors know what's supposed to happen," Schonert said. "I like science in general. It's all fun to me."
2 One of the biggest influences on his career path: A forensic sciences magazine he randomly picked up waiting outside a professor's office. Schonert headed to college thinking pre-med. But he discovered that was "boring" and changed his major to chemistry, not knowing exactly what he'd do until reading about forensic science.
A career in the FBI interests him, but he's keeping an open mind as he enters grad school this fall at Penn State.
3 He plays lead guitar in the college ministry.
If he hadn't chosen chemistry, the two-time N-G all-area special mention football player probably would have majored in music.
"I love playing instruments," said Schonert, who plays several — saxophone, drums, acoustic guitar, bass — but insists he can't sing a lick.
4 A student internship this spring at the Illinois State Police's Forensic Science lab in Morton further cemented his career path. During the three-days-a-week internship, he helped collect DNA, inventory the firearm vault and organize fingerprint files to be sent to the FBI.
He even got to observe an autopsy. "I don't know that I'd want to watch another one," he said.
5 A "different kind of summer" awaits him.
First up on May 21: competing against younger brother Jared and friends, for the fifth time, in Tough Mudder Chicago, a 10- to 12-mile mud and obstacle course.
After that, he plans to spend his first summer in three years back home in Fairmount, working for his parents, Larry and Jill Schonert, at TSM Services, a Catlin agricultural company.