Ag Research Spotlight: Neil Knobloch
“We have an existing pipeline of students that know they want to work in the field of agriculture, but that's not going to be enough to meet the demand of these emerging fields. We need to reach out to those audiences that haven't traditionally been in the pipeline." - Neil Knobloch
The Ag Research Spotlight shines each month on an individual whose work reflects our commitment to the six strategic themes that guide Agricultural Research at Purdue. Our spotlight for May 2014 underscores the
theme, “Facilitating informed decision making to improve economic and social well-being.”
Neil Knobloch admits that while growing up on a hog farm in northwest Iowa, he was more interested in FFA and 4-H than classroom activities. When his high school agriculture teacher asked about his plans after graduation, Knobloch answered, “Anything but four more years of school.” But knowing his affinity for both agriculture and people, the teacher urged his student to try just one year at Iowa State University. One became four and more; Knobloch earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Agricultural & Extension Education and followed in his mentor’s footsteps by teaching agricultural science and business in his home state. Knobloch used his own preferred style of “learning by doing” to engage his students and win district and national awards. And instead of his academic career ending with a high school diploma, he earned a Ph.D. in Human & Community Resource Development from The Ohio State University. He taught at Ohio State and the University of Illinois before joining the Purdue faculty in 2007.
“I do research on how to engage students to learn science in the context of agriculture,” Knobloch explains. His objectives are not only to improve science literacy through informal life science education, but also to motivate Indiana youth to pursue careers in the life sciences—environmental, plant, animal, food, and nutritional sciences. He collaborates with youth educators, outreach coordinators and professors to implement learner-centered teaching strategies and study the effectiveness of experiential learning programs in educators, outreach coordinators and professors to implement learner-centered teaching strategies and study the effectiveness of experiential learning programs in nonformal educational contexts. Grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture fund his research.
FROM PRE-KINDERGARTEN TO HIGH SCHOOL
Among the College of Agriculture’s strategic goals is to “expand the pool of students interested in, and prepared for, careers in food, agricultural, life, and natural resource sciences.” Knobloch chairs the PK-12 Council, which includes representatives from every department and unit in the college. The council promotes faculty, staff and student interaction with PK-12 teachers, students and parents by creating opportunities for networking and sharing resources.
LEVELS OF COLLABORATION
Collaboration on three levels makes Purdue Agriculture a perfect home for his research interests, Knobloch says. His departmental colleagues bring expertise in all the different areas that his research involves: “That’s unique,” he says. “In the college, there is a collaborative spirit to integrate education with scientific research projects. And university-wide, I represent the College of Agriculture in efforts toward integrated STEM education, working with colleges across campus to train teachers to engage students.”
COACHING AT HOME
Knobloch’s learn-by-doing approach extends to his three children; much of his free time is spent coaching their interest in purebred Berkshire pigs. He also enjoys singing and directing choirs.