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Schalmont grad, N.A.S.A. researcher returns to talk to students

Oct. 15, 2015

Kevin ShimkusAlumnus and N.A.S.A.-affiliated researcher Kevin Shimkus returned to Schalmont to talk to students.

Schalmont middle and senior high students were treated to a special guest speaker on Friday when 2004 Schalmont grad Kevin Shimkus returned to talk about his experience as a researcher on a project associated with N.A.S.A.

Shimkus is currently pursuing his doctorate at Texas A&M, where he is specializing in muscle research, particularly how to make muscle grow and how to stop atrophy. This has direct repercussions to not only anyone on a space mission, but also here on Earth where diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, AIDS, and even just old age result in a loss of much-needed muscle mass.

“What will work in space, will work down here, and if we can grow muscle, then we can learn to do the opposite and turn it off,” he said, adding that he expects his research findings will eventually be integrated into cancer treatment research as well.

Shimkus has two cousins currently enrolled at Schalmont Middle School, so he approached the district and offered to speak to students about his experiences post-Schalmont.

“It seemed like a very worth-while experience for our students,” Schalmont Middle School Assistant Principal Scott Ziomek said. “Kevin has done exceptional things in pursuit of his love of science.”

Shimkus confessed to students in the audience that his original goal was to become a pediatrician, but he said, “As I got further along in school, I learned that I really did not enjoy organic chemistry, and that I no longer wanted to be a doctor. So what do you do if you no longer want to be a doctor?”

In his second year at college, he found subjects he loved.

“Anatomy and physiology clicked for me,” he said.

After having a frank discussion with a professor, Shimkus decided to shift his focus to research, specifically muscle research to turn off a the gene that that limits how much muscle you can make.

A self-professed “space nerd,” Shimkus discovered only three colleges offered graduate research in space and muscles, and that was how he ended up at Texas A&M.

“I love what I do,” he told students. “Every day I walk into a problem that I get to solve. It’s a challenge I enjoy.”
This was Shimkus’ first time back at Schalmont since his graduation.

“It’s fun to come back and see how different everything is, yet it’s still essentially the same,” he said.

Before he left, he offered some parting wisdom to the students.

“Schalmont is an awesome school. You’ll be prepared for things in the real world, particularly how to talk to people, which is crucial,” he said. “But the next step is all on you guys.”