Student Spotlight: Robert Zill
Robert Zill has always been interested in the sciences. In fact, it’s rare for him to earn other than top grades in science and math classes.
His love of science has been further developed and enriched at College of DuPage.
“I’ve had some great teachers at COD who have motivated me to be the best I can be,” he said. “They really have helped me to develop as a person.”
In 2015, he spent his summer at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls working on IceCube, the Antarctic-based neutrino cosmology experiment. IceCube is a particle detector telescope located at the South Pole that records interactions of nearly massless subatomic particles called neutrinos. The telescope searches for dark matter that can reveal the physical processes associated with the origins of the highest energy particles.
Zill’s internship went so well that he was selected as a backup candidate to travel to the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica and the South Pole during winter break. Having transferred to Northern Illinois University and just after completing his fall semester finals, Zill was notified that he would be one of two students traveling to Antarctica. He then had two weeks to prepare for the journey that included one week at the McMurdo Research Station on the coast of Antarctica, followed by one week at the South Pole and then a third week back at McMurdo.
“I was at work when I received an email marked ‘Urgent’ to call Dr. Jim Madsen at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls,” Zill said. “When he told me I was going, I was so excited. It didn’t seem real.”
In addition to the work, Zill – who had traveled outside the country only to Canada – enjoyed experiencing another part of the world.
“It was amazing, from the scenery to the 24-hour sunlight,” he said. “I took in the beauty and met the people who live there. I’ll never forget the experience.”
Zill then took the semester off from his studies before returning to NIU, where he received the Leadership Tuition Program Scholarship Award and holds student ambassador positions for the university and its College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. He is majoring in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in sustainable energy, and while he would like to earn both master’s and doctorate degrees, he is open to any opportunities that come along.
“I enjoy learning and discovering new things,” he said. “I think the world does not value research as much as it should, and yet it is the most important aspect of human life right now. I’m really proud to have been selected for Antarctica, and I’m proud of my time at COD. The great thing about COD is the many gems among the faculty, including Dr. Carter, Dr. Kates, Dr. Dave Smith, Jim Africh and Collin Jaeger, who make the experience what it is. Dave is a very caring professor and helped me get my current job at Argonne National Laboratory. I remember once at the end of the day I asked about a problem we did in class, and we ended up talking for over an hour about life. It made me feel a lot better about where I was with my life at that point. Tom Carter takes a full class period to tell students about internships, where to find them, the best ways to apply and their importance for engineering students. Had it not been for his passion toward his students, I never would have found this amazing research opportunity.
“They do this because they care. It’s not a part of the job description, it’s a part of who they are as people and it touches their students in ways they may not even be aware of. I wouldn’t be where I am today without having those people in my life and I could never thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me.”
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