TEACHER. SOLDIER. MENTOR
THE EXPERIENCES OF NDSU’S DR. CHERYL WACHENHEIM
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 12:09
Whether it is teaching economics, fighting in Iraq or developing agriculture in Afghanistan, Dr. Cheryl Joy Wachenheim has done it all.
Wachenheim, a professor of Agribusiness at NDSU with a doctorate in agricultural economics, recently served a military tour with the Minnesota Army National Guard in Afghanistan between October 2011 and September 2012.
Her job was to help Afghan farmers, especially women, develop feasible farming techniques and help them adopt improved technology.
The unusual sight for the women in Afghanistan was that a woman wearing only a headscarf, 50 pounds of body armor and carrying two guns, was talking business to them. Some of these women never got to go out of their houses and hence, were awed by her.
Wachenheim helped these women develop entrepreneur skills and improve dairy farming. One particular woman, Zuhra of Zabul, Afghanistan, was even accepted into Project Artemis and flown in to Arizona.
Project Artemis is a two-week business education workshop in Glendale, Ariz.
With help from Wachenheim, Zuhra was selected to participate in this program and now hopes to improve her business in Afghanistan. Wachenheim has mentored many such women in the agribusiness field.
While serving overseas, Wachenheim was part of the Agriculture Development Team in Afghanistan and helped farmers by distributing hybrid wheat seeds for better yield and other farming resources they would not have access to otherwise. Her team was preparing the farmers to be independent for the time when Americans would not be available off-hand.
She and her team also dealt with pests and diseases that troubled farmers in Afghanistan. They would send pictures of the plant to the US and her colleagues here at NDSU, and the National Guard would help her tackle the issue.
Many students at NDSU also remember her for the time she conducted micro and macroeconomics classes online while being deployed in Iraq in 2008. She taught this course from a computer inside a heavily fortified trailer that was crammed with body armor, supplies and her M-16 rifle.
She not only posted discussion questions and assignments, but also uploaded video lectures using audio video software made available to her. She taught eight courses during the entire tour of her duty. She even pitched in for a satellite dish along with nine other soldiers so they could have Internet access. The soldiers installed this all by themselves.
While in Iraq, Wachenheim was a medical-logistics officer of the 834th Aviation Support Battalion of Task Force 34. She was stationed at “Mortaritaville,” nickname for the largest American military base in Balad, Iraq, just north of Baghdad. This base was in the direct line of fire.
Wachenheim said in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, “I like to interact with students. People in the unit do not like to discuss the idiosyncrasies of the economy. This [teaching] gave me that outlet.”
Wachenheim has an undergraduate degree in Animal Sciences from University of Minnesota and an MBA from Michigan State. She started working for NDSU in 1998, the same year she joined the Minnesota National Guard. Major Wachenheim is currently the commander of 204th Area Medical Support Company, Cottage Grove, Minn.
She has two kids, 9-year-old Ellie and 10-year-old Hunter. Although her first love was animal science, she says, she got interested in the business side of farming during her graduate school years.
According to her, Americans, especially students, can learn a great deal form the Afghan people.
“One must learn to take time to pray or meditate, or whatever is appropriate for your situation. We can also learn that a simple life can be very fulfilling. Education is a great gift [that Americans have] and one must learn as much as they can,” Wachenheim said.
Students who have taken her classes have only praises for her. The famous website among college students, www.ratemyprofessor.com shows that students have given her a rating of 5/5. Some of the comments about her were, “Really great teacher, works in the military!”, “Good teacher who cares a great deal for her students” and “She cares more than any professor I have ever had.”
When asked about her time with NDSU, she says, “The progress at NDSU has been amazing during my 15 years here; our reputation for research and, of course sports, has continued to grow, but it still is like home. Progress came and compassionate, caring teachers, students and staff remain.”