Sharon Thielen creates lasting impact on College of Agriculture

Sharon Thielen, assistant dean of academic programs in the College of Agriculture, will be leaving K-State after 10 years here. (Hallie Lucas | The Collegian)

“Bittersweet” is the word Sharon Thielen, assistant dean of academic programs, used to describe her exit from Kansas State and the College of Agriculture after 10 years of working for the college.

“Although it’s a great opportunity to move on and spend time with my family, I will miss this one,” Thielen said.

Thielen said she has been at K-State for a long time, receiving all three of her degrees from the university. She graduated in 2002 with her bachelor’s degree in agribusiness and received both her master’s and doctorate in curriculum and instruction in 2005 and 2012, respectively.

As Thielen spoke about her time in the College of Agriculture, she used “family” as a theme, whether she was talking about the students, her colleagues or the college’s advances.

“The mix of individuals we have in the agriculture academic programs helps us in relating to a larger group of prospective students,” Thielen said about her academic program family. “For example, Don Boggs was a pre-vet student back in the day.”

Boggs, associate dean of academic programs for the College of Agriculture, said Thielen’s most profound impact on the college has been her ability to effectively communicate the story of agriculture to prospective and current students, thus sponsoring a significant amount of growth within the college.

“By (Thielen’s) coordination, enrollment has increased almost 50 percent,” Boggs said. “We’ve gone from around 2,000 students to 3,000.”

As a first-generation college student, Thielen said she believes she has been able to relate to students who are struggling when they enter college because she was one of them.

“Actually, truth be told, I didn’t want to go to college,” Thielen said.

Thielen’s options were to either stay at home and work at the local truck stop or go to college, she said.

Thielen said her first year at K-State wasn’t great because she didn’t take the opportunity to step out and get involved in any student organizations or take the initiative to make a lot of connections.

However, Thielen attributes getting involved in the College of Agriculture Ambassadors program to turning her experience around and opening the doors for more opportunities, which is how Thielen realized she had a passion for higher education.

Through her career in higher education, Thielen said she believes the job and the students have kept her young. She said the students are always excited about their future, very career and goal driven and hard workers, so it leads the professionals and administrators to have that same enthusiasm for life.

Similar to the way she enjoys helping college students find their passions and success, Thielen said she loves being a mom because she sees her children’s excitement for life and how they are always celebrating something good. She said she also enjoys being their coach and mentor, aiding in their learning.

“I can say I am probably moving into a harder job, taking care of those girls,” Thielen said.

Thielen said her four children are young. She has a six-year-old, Avery; three-year-old, Paige; and 16-month-old twins, Clara and Kassie.

“(My husband and I) farm part time, so being able to spend more time on the farm with them is what I’m looking forward to,” Thielen said.

As Thielen is beginning to walk away from the College of Agriculture, she said she will miss the students.

Like many students, Ellen Blackwell, junior in agricultural education and agriculture ambassador, said she has felt lucky to be exposed to Thielen’s influence. She said Thielen will be missed.

“I think (Thielen) left a very positive impact on us in the College of Agriculture, and we’ll definitely miss working with her,” Blackwell said.

Thielen said it’s hard to think about leaving, but good at the same time, as she will be able to spend more time with her family, as well as work with the Kansas Corn Growers Association, managing its educational outreach and curriculum, K-12 and agriculture education, on the Kansas Corn Commission.

“My fondest memories now, which is why it is hard to leave, are the students who recontacted me because they got the job they wanted or the scholarship they were working for,” Thielen said. “So that’s what I am going to miss, those times when you get a student that walks in really excited because they did it and you were there to see them do that.”

Thielen’s last day at K-State is Friday.