40 Under 40 Dairy Profile: Craig Kohn

Editor's note: As we open nominations for the 2015 Vance Publishing Corporation Agribusiness "40 Under 40" Award program, Dairy Herd Management continues its series featuring dairy-related honorees in last year's program. Profiles of the 2014 honorees can be found at edp.dairyherd.com and at 40Under40ag.com.

Craig Kohn's career path changed course when he came to the realization he could do more to meet the needs of students in classrooms than the needs of people waiting in health care center waiting rooms.

Raised on a dairy farm near Bonduel, Wis., Kohn was accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School at age 18 through the Medical Scholars Program.

However, he began to believe he could have a greater impact on human health through better education.

"As a result, I was drawn to teaching, at first because I wanted to enable my students to improve their own medical futures through education," he explained. "However, once I began teaching, I realized that students need much more than just an understanding of how their own biology works. While student teaching, I encountered many brilliant students with a total lack of ability to apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems."

With a newfound purpose, Kohn envisioned a classroom and curriculum that not only taught rigorous science, but also provided students with valuable career preparation and the ability to apply knowledge to solve real-world problems.

Fueled by his own agricultural education experiences, he decided to become an agricultural instructor. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008 with dual degrees in Education and Agricultural Science with licenses to teach biology, environmental science and agricultural education.

Kohn is currently an agricultural education instructor at Waterford Union High School, a dominantly suburban southeastern Wisconsin school district with very few families engaged in production agriculture or other agricultural careers. He's in charge of designing and teaching 13 courses, serving as an advisor for the Waterford FFA Chapter, and managing all internships, offsite job experiences, and career preparatory opportunities. He works closely with many universities, government agencies and professional organizations to design, develop, and distribute curriculum related to agriculture, sustainability, biotechnology and medicine.

"We are currently in the midst of a major institutional change in agricultural education," Kohn said. "While ‘ag ed" originally was created to help create new generations of farmers, today it serves a wide array of diverse students, of whom only a small percentage intend to become production agriculturalists."

Kohn believes one of his most important roles has been to help improve the rigor and relevance of agricultural curriculum by helping write and review state and national educational standards, and by serving on state and national advisory committees. Those standards, he said, will attract students from all backgrounds and intentions.

"In a society where the average person is increasingly disconnected from their food and the environment, it is more important than ever to provide a venue in which all students can become scientifically literate about agriculture and natural resources industries," he explained. "My version of the "21st century classroom" is one where students learn rigorous content through the independent use of technology, and then apply those lessons to real-world problems in teams, under the guidance of professionals who also help develop the character and leadership abilities of their pupils.

Creating this type of educational atmosphere has been both incredibly challenging, as well as extremely rewarding."

"When coupled with a resurgence of society's interest in food and sustainability, these changes to education are likely to have a huge impact on agriculture and natural resources industries," he continued. "I anticipate that American agriculture will soon be exposed to a much broader array of diverse perspectives as students from non-farming backgrounds are increasingly drawn into the industry, and I hope that this influx of ‘new blood" into agriculture will help to make the industry more successful and sustainable from an environmental, economic and social perspective."

Who will provide the solutions we need? Vance Publishing is seeking the most innovative people in agriculture under the age of 40 – from animal and crop production, biotechnology and university researchers to food and nutrition technology, agricultural equipment, agronomy and beyond. Do you know a leader providing solutions to the 2050 challenge? Nomination information is available at http://40under40ag.com/nominate/