MSU's Kevin Kahmark honored with first mentorship award

Man with white goatee in blue checked shirt stands in green field pointing to text on a piece of paper
Kevin Kahmark, research assistant at the Kellogg Biological Station, discusses how researchers are collecting greenhouse gas samples with students in the summer undergraduate research program. Kahmark was honored with the GLBRC's first mentorship award.
Chelsea Mamott/Wisconsin Energy Institute

People are Kahmark’s passion, and mentorship is a key way Kahmark acts on that passion.  

Kahmark, a research assistant at Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station, is the winner of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center’s first mentorship award.

The Mentorship Award honors GLBRC members who prioritize the spirit of mentorship and who strive to promote the success and development of those around them.

According to his nominators, this description typifies Kahmark. 

“Kevin is genuinely the best professional mentor I have ever had,” said Maggie Jones, a former undergraduate research assistant at the station. “He provided room for me to struggle and prove to myself what I am capable of. His genuine concern for my success extended beyond the confines of our research projects as he frequently encouraged me to seize opportunities for growth outside our lab.”

Kahmark studied non-destructive engineering, chemistry, and geology. After years in the pulp and paper industry, he taught eighth graders life skills, earth science, and physics classes and still keeps up with many of his students.

Man in blue checkered shirt standing in field gestures towards equipment in an enclosure as seen from inside the enclosure Kevin Kahmark explains the automated greenhouse gas sampling system and its role in biofuel research to students in undergraduate research programs at UW–Madison and MSU. Chelsea Mamott/GLBRC

In 2008, Kahmark joined KBS, Michigan State's largest off-campus educational complex and a pivot point for field experimental research, where his primary role is developing and maintaining the station’s instrumentation and infrastructure. The station’s automated system designed to track greenhouse gas emissions directly from the fields is a prime example.

Kahmark is also responsible for developing projects with the station's many graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, a key avenue for mentorship.

Every summer, the station chooses a few dozen students from hundreds of applicants as part of its Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which provides hands-on experience to students who may not otherwise have research opportunities. 

“They’re like my family,” Kahmark said about his students. “Most of my REUs will forever be part of my family.”

Kahmark has welcomed mentees into his life, his family, and his home.

His mentorship extends beyond Kellogg as well. Kahmark has mentored three men since middle school, meeting with them individually on a regular basis. All three are now in college or about to graduate. 

“That’s one of my biggest joys,” Kahmark said. “Just helping them build better character, learn how to serve others. That’s just a big part of who I am.” 

Kahmark has had many mentors of his own, including GLBRC co-investigator Phil Robertson, who previously directed the Long-Term Ecological Research program at KBS. 

Kahmark’s very first professional mentor was Van Maltby, the regional manager of the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, the pulp and paper nonprofit Kahmark worked for before becoming a teacher. Maltby died in 2023. 

“He would do anything for me,” said Kahmark. “He just found that it was worth it to help people.”

One of Kahmark’s formative inspirations was a couple he met as a sixth grader in Chicago. They treated him as part of their family.

"From that point on I made the choice that I would always serve people in some capacity," he said. "(Mentorship) takes your thoughts and feelings off of you and puts them toward others. And that’s why we’re on this planet.”

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