Instructor of Agriculture Nick Krueger says the most significant aspect of his teaching is when he illustrates examples of how information gained from the classroom can influence results in the real world.
By Susan Enright.
Nicholas Krueger, an instructor of agriculture at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, received the 2023 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, an award given annually to an outstanding lecturer or instructor. The announcement was made at UH Hilo’s 2023 Awards and Recognition Celebration in May.
Krueger is a UH Hilo alumnus who worked at the university’s farm laboratory while an undergraduate student, mainly on pastures. The dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management, Bruce Mathews, was Krueger’s advisor until he graduated in 2010. The budding scholar then attended University of Florida for his master’s degree. “At Florida we both worked under the same professor, Dr. Lynn Sollenberger, albeit over 20 years apart,” says Mathews. Krueger then went on to receive his doctoral degree from UH Mānoa.
Now back at his alma mater teaching and conducting research since 2019, Krueger’s areas of expertise are in tropical agronomy, tropical soils, and animal husbandry. Among courses on agronomy and soils, he also teaches animal science, fundamentals of livestock nutrition, livestock reproductive physiology, agricultural mechanization, swine production, and ruminant production.
Krueger says the most significant aspect of his teaching is when he illustrates examples of how information gained from the classroom can influence results in the real world.
“It’s easy to get bogged down as a student with having just another assignment, etc.,” he explains in an email, “but showing and reminding students of why we’re learning what we’re learning helps to keep up enthusiasm. It’s really great to show students some management practice happening in the field, and then go over the theoretical side of why that practice works (or doesn’t!).”
Krueger was nominated for the teaching award by graduate student Brian Rule, who graduated with a bachelor of science in agriculture with honors in spring of 2022. Rule is now in UH Hilo’s tropical conservation biology and environmental science master’s program where his interests include studying agronomic effects on energycane cultivars biomass for aviation biofuel. Energycane is a term used for sugarcane cultivars that are high in fiber and generally low in sugar, making them more suitable for biomass. Rule was first exposed to energycane jet fuel research as an undergraduate working with Krueger who is lead organizer of the cane studies at UH Hilo’s farm laboratory, and Krueger is now Rule’s advisor for the UH Hilo graduate program.
“I grew up in a part of the world where college education was not valued, and professors were demonized,” writes Rule in the nomination letter. “When approaching my first days of college, I was terrified of the idea of professors. On the first day of my agronomy class with Dr. Krueger, his welcoming attitude and positive outlook instantly changed my perspective of who and what a professor is.”
Rule goes on to write in the nomination letter that Krueger is consistently prepared for classes and labs with lecture slides and auxiliary teaching materials.
“In the field laboratory for our agronomy class, he took it upon himself to completely furrow an area for the class to grow corn, using only a shovel, since the plow for the tractor was broken,” writes Rule. “This semester-long corn experiment was vital to understanding the concepts of agronomy because it allowed us to see the difference in harvest by varying the inputs. This class sparked my interest in the field of agronomy.”
Rule explains that when filling out the application to attend UH Hilo’s master’s program in tropical conservation biology and environmental science, he did so with the confidence that he gained from Krueger’s teaching and mentoring.
Conducting research with students
Krueger says one of the most exciting aspects of his job is conducting research projects with students.
“It’s a completely different experience for students to be able to physically touch components of a scientific study instead of reading about some layout of experimental units in a scientific journal paper,” Krueger explains. “Active research at the university’s farm laboratory in Pana‘ewa has been great to illustrate experimental design, show the university’s role in agricultural production improvement, and gain research experience for students.”
Some of the research projects that Krueger’s students are involved in are feeding cattle seaweed to see if it reduces methane emissions, feeding pigs a processed invasive weed to help aid with high feed prices, and the cane studies that test different management practices to see results in optimal growth of sugarcane to be used for jet fuel.
Krueger says that in his teaching, he strives to positively impact island agriculture and local communities.
“We have multiple challenges facing plant and animal agriculture both on the island and in the state,” he explains. “I aim to illustrate those challenges to students, and strive to help them think critically of potential solutions. I always remind them that there are a billion great solutions that haven’t been thought of yet.”
“Local agricultural producers are the reason I do what I do,” he adds. “My goal is to aid in any way I can to help both them and the next generation that will be taking the reins.”
Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.