Special Veterans Day Spotlight - Kevin Koch

Special Veterans Member Spotlight: Kevin Koch

Thank you Kevin for your service to our country and your ongoing dedication to the science community.

Tell us about yourself (your military career, science education career, and anything else you would like people to know)
I am honored to have been asked to share part of my life story with fellow educators. I have been blessed with many careers, challenges, and life experiences. I teach 8th grade Integrated Science at the James Workman Middle School in Palm Springs Unified. I am a “Jack of all Trades.” I grew up in Detroit. My Father worked at the Ford Rouge tool & Die Plant for 48 years. While at Albion College, I was one of Michigan’s first state-licensed EMTs. My original plan was Medical School. I never thought that I would become a teacher one day. I needed a summer job upon graduation and went to apply for an EMT position in Detroit. It was pulled, so I took the Zookeeper Test. Thus, I ended up at the Detroit Zoological Institute (Detroit Zoo, Belle Isle Zoo, Belle Isle Aquarium) for 18 years. I was a Head Zookeeper. I was not pigeonholed working with one type of animal. I joke: “You name it, I chased it, or it chased me.” I worked with polar bears to penguins, tigers to tarantulas, giraffes to tree kangaroos, elephants to gorillas, lemurs to flamingos… you get the idea. I acquired a MS Degree in Zoology from Wayne State University; did several programs in the Peruvian Amazon – researching Red Uakari monkeys, setting up butterfly farming, etc. Every day was an adventure, learning something new about natural phenomena.

I also joined the Michigan Army National Guard as a Combat Medic, in order to pay for the medical school I never applied to… Twenty Years later, I was a Medical Service Corps Major acting as the Medical Operations Officer for the State Command. I was deployed to Iraq from 2006-2007 in the Surge as part of the command for a new type of medical unit -a Multi-Functional Medical Battalion (MMB). Instead of a small traditional battalion of a certain type, we covered the entire country, from Saddam’s medical care, to neurosurgical teams in the Air Force Theater Hospital - all while doing treatment, evacuation, and logistics. We had over 1,500 soldiers and sailors (Navy Corpsman for the Marines) under our command. I received several Army Commendations, a Meritorious Service Medal, and a Bronze Star. “A dull day is a good day” and yes, I’m full of stories. In 2008, I retired rather than being sent to Afghanistan as a Lieutenant Colonel; I had a new son at home and had been in for twenty-seven years.

I am now blessed by having been a teacher for 15 years. I work at a great school with exceptional students and staff. Our Middle School is large, with well over one thousand students. I was part of WESTED’s CA NGSS Project Prototype and Early Implementers programs. I tell my students that the world is theirs if they would only get off the couch and do things. They will fail; it is OK - learn from it. Repeat the good, not the bad.

What are some similarities between being a science educator and serving in the military?
I joke “Soldier, Zookeeper, Teacher – it is all the same.” Teaching, Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Organizational Skills, Discipline, Technology are all a part of a career in the military and in teaching. I have been blessed, whether working with animals, helping people medically, or firing rockets with a class; I enjoy what I do.

How can a foundation in STEM and NGSS concepts benefit students who are considering a military career?
The word “Science” comes from Latin. It means knowledge. Today, knowledge is increasing exponentially. We face ever greater challenges. Science and Engineering can provide answers. A good foundation in STEM and NGSS is critical, not just to a military career, but to life. Today’s military provides a multitude of opportunities – career training, leadership, physical fitness, patriotism, travel, income – for those from any background. Today’s military is always at the cutting edge of technological advancements.

What is the best thing about being a CASE member?
The collaboration with peers; being exposed to new ideas and making new friends.

What is your favorite branch of science and why?
Life Sciences/Biology-the phenomena! One day at the Detroit Zoo during winter, the Asian Elephants did not want to come in and were doing rumbling. That night on the news, we heard that the Circus was at the State Fair Grounds miles away. There were about twenty elephants there. They had been talking to each other in low frequency below our hearing range!

What is your favorite movie or book and why?
Tough question -so many to choose from.
How about an old one from 1969 (book) / 1971 (movie) – “The Andromeda Strain”
Science Fiction about a deadly pathogen from Space. Captivating and thought provoking.