Biology grad working as lab/field technician at Syngenta
Matthew Repke, 33, loves his job as a lab/field technician at the Syngenta Stanton Research Station in Stanton, Minnesota. The research station is co-located on the 412-acre Stanton property with the Syngenta North America Seedcare Institute, which is part of a global seedcare network that features Syngenta facilities in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Matthew is engaged in trialing operations at the research station. His work revolves around corn, a cereal grain native to the Western Hemisphere.
“My job is all corn all the time,” he said, referring to a crop produced on 96 million acres in the U.S. alone. “I never knew there was so much to know about corn. One thing I’ve come to believe is that corn has engineered humans more than we have engineered corn.”
Matthew reported that he carries out a large variety of duties at the station. “In the spring, there are many hours of counting, organizing and laying out,” he said. “A substantial amount of planning and logistics go into getting ready to plant. After the planting, the corn tells us what to do—everything from counting its emergence to pollinating. There are tens to maybe hundreds of thousands of cornstalks that can each get minutes of attention. Every week is a new adventure.”
The road to Syngenta…
Originally from Hastings, Minnesota, Matthew is a 2003 graduate of Hastings Senior High School. He went on to work for eight years at an aluminum recycling plant, taking on a number of different assignments, including quality and furnace operations. The work was challenging—and hot.
“I wore one of those protective suits used in smelting operations,” he recalled. “I got used to the heat, though. When the weather gets super-hot out in the cornfields, I feel like I’m getting my second wind.”
When he decided he was ready to earn a college degree, Matthew enrolled at Inver Hills Community College as a biology major.
“When it came down to pulling the trigger and going back to school, I knew that in a few years the baby boomer generation would retire and leave behind lots of jobs,” he said. “That knowledge gave me the confidence to choose something that would please the 10-year-old version of me. I’ve always had a love for nature.”
Matthew worked full-time while going to Inver, serving as an administrative assistant for the Northern Star Juvenile Diversion program of the Boy Scouts of America. He and his wife, Stephanie, were also raising two daughters. He learned about the career opportunity at Syngenta from Kristin Digiulio, his Inver Hills biology instructor.
“Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this job. I get to connect students like Matthew to careers that will feed the world and save the planet.”
— Kristin Digiulio, Biology Faculty, Inver Hills Community College
“When I met Matthew, I could see how driven he was,” Kristin said. “He took full advantage of every opportunity offered by my fantastic colleagues in Biology. There are so many amazing things going on here, such wide-ranging expertise and passion in the department. Matthew made sure nothing passed him by. He serves as a model for other students about possibilities.”
Kristin related that she is excited about helping students discover the myriad career and service opportunities offered by the agricultural industry.
“Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this job,” she said. “I get to connect students like Matthew to careers that will feed the world and save the planet. It’s great to be at Inver where I can confidently refer students to resources like Emily in the Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning. With connections and support from Syngenta and our other community partners, we get our students where they need to be. Dan Kapaun and Sarah Cady at Syngenta have been so supportive of our students and our efforts. I couldn’t be more pleased that Matthew has found something he enjoys so much.”
Syngenta Stanton gallery
Inver Hills–Syngenta connection
Dan Kapaun is the station manager at the Syngenta Stanton Research Station. Dan oversees all research and development activities at the site. He also serves on the Inver Hills Ag Pathways Advisory Board.
“Finding students like Matthew is really important for our operations at the research station,” Dan said. “We are working with Inver Hills to make sure students are aware of the many career opportunities offered by the agricultural industry.”
Sarah Cady leads sustainability and engagement work in Seeds Development Learning at the Syngenta North America Seeds headquarters in Minnetonka, Minnesota. She also serves as volunteer chair of Syngenta’s Minnetonka Community Grant Program.
“Our local community grant program is run by a committee of employee volunteers who have a passion for giving back to our community,” Sarah said. “Supporting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and agriculture education projects is the perfect opportunity for Syngenta to invest in our future workforce. To feed the world, we need passionate, technically-skilled people who employ diverse and innovative approaches.”
Sarah reported that the community grant program proudly supports the Summer Ag Academy at Inver Hills. “The academy provides a unique, meaningful introduction of career paths to urban and suburban kids who may not otherwise be exposed to modern agriculture,” she said. “Last year, I had the opportunity to visit during the camp, and was impressed by the hands-on opportunities for the kids, as well as the depth of knowledge and passion of the staff.”
More about Syngenta…
Syngenta is a leading agriculture company helping to improve global food security by enabling millions of farmers to make better use of available resources. Through world-class science and innovative crop solutions, our 28,000 people in more than 90 countries are working to transform how crops are grown. We are committed to rescuing land from degradation, enhancing biodiversity and revitalizing rural communities. ¹
Syngenta Branding Brochure
11 things you might not know about corn
- Corn, aka maize, or “sacred mother,” was first cultivated in southern Mexico 10,000 years ago.
- Global corn production surpasses the output of two other workhorse grains, wheat and rice.
- The U.S. grows 45 percent of the planet’s corn.
- An average ear of corn features 800 kernels in 16 rows.
- Corn’s original ancestor is teosinte, a wild grass.
- Ninety-one gallons of water go into producing one pound of corn.
- Average yields of corn have increased 500 percent since 1931.
- Corn kernels can be yellow, green, red, blue or black.
- People have unearthed more than 3,500 different uses for corn and corn products.
- Before World War II, farmers harvested corn by hand.
- A random human once set a world record by eating 33.5 ears of corn in 12 minutes.
More about Matthew…
A few years ago, Matthew built a 10-foot by 20-foot hoop-style greenhouse and started an aquaponics operation, raising tilapia, a type of freshwater food fish from the cichlid family.
“Aquaponics is basically hydroponics with aquaculture,” he said. “The waste from the tilapia I raised fed the vegetables I grew. I had a YouTube channel and everything for it. I’ve since moved to a new house. Nowadays, I can be found tearing up my grass and planting whatever kind of garden strikes my motivation.”
“Syngenta is a place where a lot happens. The people work hard and are very capable. The managers are very empowering.”
— Matthew Repke, 2018 Graduate, Inver Hills Community College
Matthew resides in Apple Valley, Minnesota, with his wife, Stephanie, an HR professional at Thomson Reuters in Eagan, and their two daughters, Taryn, 4, and Ava, 1.
“My two daughters have renewed a fascination with basic nature I haven’t had since I was a kid,” he said. “I interview my four-year-old with my smartphone about whatever bug she’s holding. Last week, she dug up a grub of some sort and a worm. She was making them eat each other (even though she’s aware of their natural respective diets). Most recently, it was a Japanese beetle. She ended up drowning it in a bucket of water, which I think is great since I have a fiery hatred of invasive species.”
Matthew’s long-range occupational plans are centered on the agriculture industry, which provides an amazing diversity of career paths. “Syngenta is a place where a lot happens,” he said. “The people work hard and are very capable. The managers are very empowering.”
Entomology is a career path Matthew finds particularly interesting. When his youngest daughter turns five, he plans on going back to college to earn a B.S. in one of the following fields: entomology, microbiology or agronomy.
In his free time, Matthew enjoys gardening at home. This past summer, he put in four vegetable gardens. He has perennial gardens and a Japanese garden. His landscaping also includes mowed paths and native flowers. He stays in shape by doing DDP Yoga.
“My favorite pastime is growing things,” Matthew said. “Plants and children. Sometimes one grows faster than the other.”
Matt Repke family gallery
Biology Transfer Pathway A.S.
The Biology Transfer Pathway Associate of Science (A.S.) offers you a powerful option: the opportunity to complete an A.S. degree with course credits that directly transfer to designated biology bachelor’s degree programs at one of the seven Minnesota State universities. The curriculum has been specifically designed so that when you complete this pathway degree you will transfer to a Minnesota State university with junior-year status. All courses in the Transfer Pathway A.S. degree directly transfer and apply to designated bachelor’s degree programs in a related field.
Learn more by visiting Biology.
Matthew Repke Q & A
Why did you choose biology as your college major?
The apartments I grew up from age 5–10 had easy access to woodsy and prairie-type areas. I was the kid obsessed with the best method of catching bees. I was positive I had discovered alien life when I saw my first monarch caterpillar. When I came across mosquito larvae in an aquarium I left outside, I thought that I had witnessed a sort of abiogenesis. There would always be empty peanut butter jars with holes in the covers on standby for catching toads. I would put a stick and a leaf in the jar to recreate what the toad was used to.
My mom was also very enabling when it came to pets. I’ve had iguanas, anoles, salamanders, sea monkeys, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats and fish. Lots of fish—there were some expensive lessons learned about the nitrogen cycle.
I’ve always enjoyed classifying as well. I remember when the first Pokémon game came out. I was in 7th grade. I charted all 150 of their stats, evolution and types on an Excel spreadsheet to draw all kinds of conclusions. I loved finding patterns and trying to figure out if any in-game environments or interactions had effects on them. I concluded that they did, and it had been an in-game mechanism that wasn’t in the instruction book or any sort of mainstream knowledge at the time (the Internet was in its infancy). If there was a career (obviously a bit more complex) that involved real animals, microbes or life of any sort, it would be the proverbial dream job for me.
What did you like best about your biology courses at Inver?
Probably the lectures. I could listen all day to someone talk on a topic about which they are knowledgeable and passionate. I listen to college lectures all the time while I drive. The Environmental Science field trips were also great—particularly the muskrat survey.
What would you tell students who are thinking about pursuing biology at the college level?
At Inver Hills, take the 5-credit Microbiology class if you can. Don’t chicken out and do the 4-credit one. The labs are well worth it.
Go on every field trip, even ones you are not required to do. In Environmental Science, we got extra credit for going on more field trips than needed. Once I maxed it out, I still went on all of them. Get engaged and be a leader in your group, especially if you are not comfortable doing so.
The faculty want to help you. Visit them often. Sometimes five minutes of one-on-one time is all you need to make a confusing lecture click into place.
Three words that describe you as a professional in your field:
CURIOUS. ARDENT. PRAGMATIC.
How did your biology courses prepare you for your job at the Syngenta Stanton Research Station?
It wasn’t until pollination season where some of what I learned came in handy. I was able to know what questions to ask to make my work more efficient.
The field trips in my Environmental Science class helped a lot, too. Working with the groups on the muskrat survey project gave me a taste of what I’m doing now, which is leading and coordinating a team in the field.
How did the Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning help you with your job search?
The resume guides they give you makes it easy mode. Scheduling a meeting is worthwhile because there are a lot of things you’ve done in your time at school that are valuable and may have a place on your resume. The website resources are good, too. I think students often don’t realize how easy it is to find the jobs out there when the right tools are given.
Career exploration opportunities at Inver Hills
Emily Johnson, director of career development at Inver Hills, had the opportunity to meet Matthew when he came to her office to have his resume and cover letter reviewed. Matthew had been referred to Emily by his biology instructor, Kristin Digiulio, who was excited about the opportunity her student was pursuing.
“Matthew was motivated to find a way to clearly communicate how his education prepared him for the job,” Emily said. “This task is not always easy, as sometimes our classroom experiences don’t obviously connect with the world of work. A student may think they are writing a history paper, but they are actually exercising their ability to collect information and synthesize it, and then communicate their studies.”
Emily added that Matthew had done some field work in class for a pretty large project. “We were able to explain his role on the project on his job-search documents,” she said. “The paper was quite successful because Matthew took the time to be very intentional about his documents and sought help from his network.”
The Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning
The Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning helps students and alumni achieve their career and educational goals through learning about the world of work along with job and internship preparation. The center helps you achieve your goals through a number of services and resources, but the best way to take advantage of career-building opportunities is through direct exposure and experience. You can start your process by exploring the following options:
- Job shadowing
- Volunteering for experience
- Information interviewing
- Enrolling in a career exploration or field experience course
- Participating in an academic club or professional association
- Networking with peers as well as professionals in the field
Learn more about career exploration options by contacting:
Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning
College Center Second Floor
Q & A continued…
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Improving on a simple task. There can be times when something involves just a few steps repeated over the course of hours to weeks. Every step has its own potential, but the simpler it is, the harder it is to make it better.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Soon there will be 9 billion people on this planet. Most of that population growth will be in developing countries. Developing countries create faster urban sprawl. Urban sprawl makes less land for food and the natural environment. The reward comes with being a part of the solution to that problem, even if it’s 90 °F with no wind in the middle of a field for eight hours and I’m just a guy pollinating inbred corn one by one.
Why should Inver Hills alumni stay engaged with the college?
The Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning for one. The faculty are great, too. I’d wager one could tag along on the biology field trips!
What person has influenced you the most in life?
It’s certainly my wife at this point. We’ve been together for 10 years now and married for about seven. Without her, I’m like that dog running around the neighborhood with a leash nobody is holding; sniffing everything, chasing whatever I please, and pooping in other people’s yards. She acts as the stake in the ground—I learn there are a multitude of things to sniff even in a constrained area, and if I want to chase something, I must put a substantial amount of effort into pulling the stake out to do so. Taking the poop analogy further goes against my better judgment.
Matthew Repke | 21 Answers
- Favorite season: Fall. Everything about it is perfect. The color of the trees, the smell of the crunchy leaves, the ripe apples, hoodie sweatshirt temperatures, Halloween, and the mosquitoes have gone and hunkered down into plotting mode for the next year.
- Favorite natural feature (e.g., waterfalls, oceans, mountains, etc.): A glacier. But not like any sort we see today. About 12,000 years ago, North America was covered by a glacier two miles thick. I like to think about the havoc it caused when it melted; which was quite quick, a span of about 10 years, according to ice core sampling from Greenland. Factoring in a sea level about 400 feet lower than it is now, our ancestors probably got quite a spectacular show!
- Favorite sport or physical activity: Pulling weeds in my garden and landscaping the yard. I’m always making winding paths in my backyard and tearing up the grass in favor of native flowers. It’s my canvas. In the winter I do DDP Yoga. “BAM!”
- Your national bird if you could have one: Probably a bald eagle. It would save on design and production costs to have my own national bird merchandise.
- Place you would most like to visit: Göbekli Tepe. It’s basically a mall-sized megalith built 12,000 years ago that got buried by hand. We do not know who built it, since it’s older than any civilization we know of. Only a tiny portion has been uncovered, and it might stay that way for a long time, as it’s just a few miles north of Syria—not exactly safe for archeologists…or anyone.
- Favorite holiday: Halloween is my favorite because of my two kids. I’ll be convincing them, hopefully, that all the candy with orange wrappers are gross, and that mom and dad will eat them. Stay posted…
- Your national mammal if you could have one: Probably the rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
- Favorite actor or actress: Elijah Wood. He seems down to earth in real life. I’ve liked him since he was a child actor in The Adventures of Huck Finn and The Good Son. His Frodo in The Lord of the Rings is amazing.
- Favorite band or performing artist: There’s an awful lot of music in the world, so that’s difficult to narrow down. I grew up primarily with the music from my video favorite games, so I’m a big fan of Nobou Uematsu (Final Fantasy series) and Jason Hayes (World of Warcraft). As for bands, my favorites rotate between Foo Fighters, Billy Joel, and Disturbed.
- Your personal motto if you had to have one: “Everything you do matters.”
- Coolest thing in the world: DNA. Should be self-evident.
- Scariest thing in the world: You are responsible for everything you say and do, and what you don’t say and don’t do. The amount of time you have wasted away in your life, sapping away at your potential, is unquantifiable.
- Favorite all-time TV show: Dragon Ball Z. Kids (and adults) are taught there is no ceiling to how great you can be; every new height is only a step. Our suffering can be harnessed for good with truth. Those with power from overcoming their own pain and inadequacies will rise over those who have it handed to them. Corrupt and tyrannical individuals can have a symbolic or literal death and be redeemed. Even the so-called weakest matter in the end.
- Favorite all-time movie: The Princess Bride has been my favorite movie for 27 years, if I haven’t aged myself already. Happy Gilmore comes in second, and 300 comes in third.
- One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Have the energy to show up with the best version of myself wherever I go. When all the gears are turning, and your mental calibration is sound, you create your own positive feedback loop.
- Most valuable material possession: My brothers and I grew up with a Super Nintendo. My mom had bought it from a neighbor. It was one of the first ones to come off the line. It has been sitting around in various moving boxes throughout my adult life, collecting dust. I don’t think I could ever throw it away.
- First thing you would buy if you won the $1.5 billion Powerball: I had to look up what the Powerball was to answer this question…I haven’t ever gambled before. I prefer my failures to be constructive. However, to answer the spirit of the question, I would buy land somewhere. I want my own woods and my own prairie to conserve. I want to have huge space to carry out whatever crazy idea is calling me.
- Dream occupation: It’s difficult for me to be specific because I know so little of what’s out there. The general direction I’m steering myself toward is something that involves dealing with large amounts of data within agronomy, entomology or microbiology.
- Person you would most like to meet: There are many, many people I find who have amazing things to say and write—I want to learn from all of them and strive to do so every day. However, the format of meeting someone is a different game. Being sociologically forced to run through the ritual of a handshake, maintain eye contact, pretend to laugh at jokes, and suffer through minutes of pointless small talk seems more like torture than fun. If I want to experience the part of them I value most, I can buy their book, listen to their album, or watch their lectures online. The things most valuable about a person supersede their personhood. The only exceptions to this are ones you have grown up and overcome suffering with, like family. The other day I was telling my mother how at the playground, my 4-year-old seemed more interested in sifting through the gravel than interacting with other children. My first reaction was concern, but then I tried to think of anyone I’ve ever met at the playground who was more interesting to me than gravel. I also waged that my mother had felt the same about meeting people. She concurred.
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: I just can’t see myself wanting to be a master at a skill. Once you reach past above average, you start contending with diminishing returns with the time invested. Imagine all the B+ skills you could stack instead! I would like to learn the piano though. I think I’m the only one in my family who hasn’t learned to play an instrument at some point.
- Humankind’s greatest challenge: Becoming a multi-planet species. Sounds difficult. Let’s do it.
To learn more about Biology at Inver Hills, contact:
Agricultural Sciences Outreach Coordinator
To learn more about the Center for Career Development and Community-Based Learning at Inver Hills, contact:
Director of Career Development
Inver Hills Community College
¹ Courtesy of Syngenta