For Dan Kwiatkowski, Past Experiences Shape Him into a Better Student

Posted: April 11, 2023 12:00:00 AM CDT

Most college students do not assist a cow with the birth of her calf, sleep outside in 25-degree weather on weekend army reserve trips, or think about how they want to run the family farm they will inherit. But Dan Kwiatkowski is not your typical student.

Kwiatkowski, an Agribusiness student who graduates this May, brings a variety of previous life experiences with him to UNK. One could argue that these experiences shaped him into a better student and helped him meet the challenges of college.

Farm Experience Develops a Work Ethic and Career Decision 

Kwiatkowski lives and works on his family’s farm. It has 400 acres of row crops and 600 acres of pasture. “Currently it’s just the conventional corn and soybeans,” he says with “a 90-head cow-calf operation for beef production.”Dan speaking with a professor

Besides influencing his degree, the demands and tasks of the farm shaped his work ethic, which transfers to college. Kwiatkowski says, “I take each class seriously because I am at UNK to learn. College comes first, unless there is something more important on the farm, like a cow having trouble birthing a calf.”

He has a lot of plans for the farm. The main one being, “I want to run it more like a business. Focus on profitability and doing the best job we can with what we have.”

Military Experience Teaches Leadership and Provide Opportunities

Talk to Kwiatkowski and you sense the importance of military service within his family. He has served, his brother is serving, and his grandpa and his great uncle both served in WWII. The last earning the Navy Cross posthumously. 

Serving four years in the army from 2014 to 2018, Kwiatkowski was stationed in Hawaii and South Korea. He enrolled at UNK in 2018 and then “I did a deployment after my sophomore year when I volunteered to go to Iraq and Kuwait.” Now back at UNK, he serves in the Army Reserves one weekend a month.

The military taught Kwiatkowski leadership skills, confidence, task management, and helped him to be more outgoing. “Growing up, I was always really shy and reserved. In the military I learned to be more outgoing and gained leadership skills.”

Serving also provided opportunities to try new activities. “I enjoyed hiking in Korea and Hawaii, and trying new things, like cage diving with sharks, sky diving, bungee jumping, learning to ski, as well as volunteer opportunities, like going to an orphanage and playing with the kids.”Dan in Agribusiness Class

Kwiatkowski is also involved at UNK. He plays flag football and basketball through intermural sports and is the secretary of the Agribusiness Club.  

Life Experiences Spark an Interest in Food and Travel Abroad

Kwiatkowski’s interest in cooking started after his parents divorced and he saw how hard his mom was working. “At one point she was working five jobs to take care of us three boys. She was a schoolteacher, bus driver, waitress, placed exchange students, and was a mom.” Wanting to help her out, he started cooking at a young age.

In fact, he enjoyed cooking so much that prior to joining the military, he was a culinary student at Metropolitan Community College. His favorite foods to cook are breakfast foods like pancakes, omelets, and crepes, and Italian foods.

His love for good food and the fact that his mom was an exchange coordinator helped him choose to study abroad. “I think we hosted 13 exchange students when I was growing up.” Some of them were from Italy, and “I really enjoy their cuisine.”

Travel Abroad Presents Opportunities for the Farm’s Future

This past winter break, Kwiatkowski spent 3 weeks in Italy through a study abroad program with UNK where he was able to take a class about food culture in Italy. “We went to local markets in Florence, toured a small pasta factory, took a trip to a Tuscan farm, and visited a winery.”

This trip tied his interest in culinary arts and farming back to his degree and renewed his desire to revamp the family farm. “I’d like to bring back to our farm some of the things I saw there. They farm differently than we do here in the United States.”

The farm-to-table idea he saw in Italy intrigues Kwiatkowski. “I want to go from conventional farming to more organic production. Differentiate a bit and get a better marketing margin for what we produce. Eventually maybe even start a winery. I could also use my culinary arts experience to cook some food at the winery.”

Pulling It All Together for the Future

Kwiatkowski knows his farm plans are ambitious. “It’s going to be a rough transition in the beginning, but if we can get through that and make some better profits, then there’s definitely possibilities for the future.”

This is where his Agribusiness degree benefits him. “I feel like I am getting more of a business degree, and that’s a good thing,” because his goal is to run the farm more as a business.Dan at Agribusiness Roundtable

Being different from the typical student and bringing previous experiences to his college career has worked out well for Kwiatkowski. He sees being older as a benefit, “When you’re a little older you take it a little more seriously.”

He encourages others who are worried about not fitting into the traditional college mold to “take every opportunity as a learning experience. College benefited me and provided direction with my career. I think it can do the same for a lot of people.”

When Kwiatkowski graduates and starts putting his ideas into practice, it will be exciting to see how the farm will change.



By: Theresa Boedeker

Category: Marketing, General, Business and Technology

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