Iman, Koch Agronomic Services (KAS) Chemist, is no stranger
to adversity and overcoming challenges. As just a teenager, he and two of his
siblings made the trek from their home in Ethiopia, to the United States—alone,
uncertain and unable to speak English.
“I had to learn English from a special
school in Georgia that has a department section for foreign students who don't
speak English. They teach you things like, ‘What's your name?’ and ‘Where are
you going?’ Once you start understanding the English language, they put you in
a normal high school at whatever grade level they think appropriate.”
Iman’s resilience and drive to learn not only helped him
overcome these obstacles, but to also attend college and later graduate in 2000
with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Georgia Southern University. Upon
graduation, Iman started as a technician for Georgia-Pacific (GP), which would
later lead him to KAS.
How he came to KAS
After working for GP for 5 years, Iman
joined Koch Industries (Koch) after Koch acquired GP in November 2005. When
asked why he chose to stay with Koch, Iman said the opportunity to contribute
and challenge was unique from the culture he was used to.
“At Koch you are
encouraged to think and challenge if you think something needs to be changed or
improved. That was a big difference.”
With this contribution mindset under Koch’s
guiding principles, Iman said the collaboration among colleagues plays a key
role in the team achieving results.
“I work with some awesome
colleagues that are willing to go the extra mile to help out. That helps a lot
when you're doing experiments, because you’re always talking to them and asking
questions and they might have good suggestions. You can't imagine how big a
help that is. Plus, it makes the whole working environment enjoyable.”
In 2013, Iman transitioned to Koch
Agronomic Services (KAS) and began researching agricultural solutions that can
help growers produce more with less, from long-term products like SUPERU®
premium fertilizer to innovative future technology.
“I used to work with the slurries that go
into SUPERU, but now, more of my time is dedicated to experimenting with a new
product for commercialization.”
Outside of innovating new product ideas,
Iman said he also spends a lot of his time supporting other teams within KAS.
“We also support the sales team like, if
the customer asks the question, ‘Hey, I have this product and if I mix this
product with your product, what should I expect?’ then the sales rep would
reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, can you mix this stuff and see if it is
compatible?’ Then we do that, and you report back with the results. Every day
is a little bit different.”
In any career involving experiments, it’s
common knowledge that failure is a part of the job. It takes a driven
individual to push past the idea of failure and persevere to try and try again.
This is where Iman’s determination and resilience, once again, come into play.
“Many experiments will ‘fail’, but
I don't consider it failure as long as you are moving forward. I mean,
sometimes you have to be realistic—some things just don't work out and you have
to move on. But if something is working out, you have a good experiment and you
are going in a right direction? Yeah, I’ll keep pushing forward.”
Passion for Innovation
Although his career didn’t start in
agriculture, Iman said his passion for the industry and the innovation he works
toward stems from his experience as a child in Ethiopia.
“When I was growing up, we lived in a
tiny village and we had a little farm with cows, goats—basically, you produced
your own food. We were a small-scale farm just to provide food to support our
As many growers will attest, farming
comes with various stressors and uncertainties that are outside their control, weather
being primary. Add in the pressure of needing to feed your family and the
stress becomes unimaginable. Throughout his childhood, Iman witnessed this
“You produced the food, you lived off
that for the year and then you do the same thing for next year, over and over
again. Then you get in trouble if the rain doesn't come. That has always stuck
in my mind.”
Iman said the difference between farming
in Ethiopia and farming in the US is the technology and knowledge available. Now,
as a chemist for KAS, Iman said he is proud to be able to contribute to the
agricultural industry so that food is accessible to everyone.
“With technology and knowledge put
together, one farmer can produce so much more compared to how I grew up.
I'm passionate about the work that I do because I know what it does to contribute
to food production.”
Iman says things are continuously
improving—in the US and other countries like Ethiopia—with the advancement of
technology and more people going to school. He said this is important because as
the population increases, so does the need for food. Innovation and technology
will allow farmers to be more efficient with what is available.
“Everybody has to come together to produce more food so that
there will be enough for everybody and if I contribute just a little bit, I
think that'll be good.”
Outside of Work
Even outside of work, Iman’s drive for learning never stops.
Not only is he currently learning Arabic, he’s working toward a master’s degree
“When the pandemic started, we stayed at home for about 3
months, but my job is to come into the lab and do experiments. When that was
taken away, I had to come up with something else, so I looked into
micronutrients and nutrients in general. I did a lot of research—read a lot of
papers, extension papers, whatever I could find and became really interested. So,
I looked at schools I could attend online and now I’m currently taking classes
from Iowa State for a master’s in agronomy.”
Despite living a life full of learning, Iman said he does
take time to jog, relax and enjoy moments with his four children—especially
when it involves helping them with homework.