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I wouldn't have my career without 4-H!

May 9, 2017
Tonya Schoenfuss with goat

Dr. Tonya Schoenfuss is a 4-H alum from Riverside County in California. She is currently a food science professor at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and loves having 4-H members in the classroom because of their positive attitudes and willingness to get things done.

As a youth, her favorite part of 4-H was competing with her dairy goats and dairy cows at the local county fairs. "Camping at the fairs with family and friends was a wonderful experience. I got very good at dairy goat and dairy cattle showmanship by the time I was a senior [in high school]." Tonya had the opportunity to be president of her local club, the Winchester Harvesters, for two years, and also served as club secretary. "I learned lots of leadership skills and how to interact with people," she said.

All these years after her 4-H days, Tonya still lives out the 4-H Pledge. She is especially committed to using her hands to larger service, by serving for the past nine years on the board of a nonprofit called YouthCARE. Tonya also volunteered with Compatible Technology International, and recently went to Lebanon with USAID to partner with local cheese makers. At the University of Minnesota, she gets many opportunities to serve with outside groups. "I have spoken at the MN Dairy Goat Association meeting about milk quality. I also help with the FFA Milk Career Development Event by making the milk samples."

Tonya attended California Polytechnic State University –San Luis Obispo and majored in Dairy Science with a Dairy Products technology concentration. She earned her master’s degree in Food Science from Virginia Tech and her PhD in Dairy Products from Louisiana State University.

Her official title is an associate professor in the Food Science and Nutrition Department. "I do research on dairy products and ingredients, advise graduate students, and am the faculty advisor for the pilot plant. I wouldn’t have been in this career without 4-H!" In her personal life, she is married to her husband Heiko who is a professor at St. Cloud State University. They enjoy the company of their three rescue dogs in their house. Her family still resides in California.

Dairy science wasn’t Tonya’s first college pursuit. In fact, as a young person, she was sure she’d grow up to be a veterinarian. But, with only one vet school in all of California, she quickly discovered it wasn’t the right path for her. "[Through 4-H,] I found out about dairy product technology and all the cool jobs you can get in the dairy industry. If we had not moved to the county and participated in 4-H, I wouldn’t have followed this path."

Tonya encourages young alumni to get involved in volunteering for the projects they are interested in. She is also an advocate for funding the program. "4-H can have a huge impact on the lives of youth. Lobby for it!"

Dr. Tonya Schoenfuss is proud to be 4-H grown.

Laura Wyatt
Minnesota 4-H Foundation

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