Dr. Zidon: the Man, the Myth, the Legend

One student’s positive experience with beloved agriculture professor

As many agriculture students can recognize, Dr. Mark Zidon is one of the most caring and charismatic professors at UW-Platteville. From his extensive tie collection and well-loved jokes and stories to his “electric pickle” and card tricks, Dr. Zidon has a knack for making each student feel welcome and excited to learn. Even though teaching is a natural talent for Dr. Zidon, he still credits his ability to his students, claiming, “I’ve got such good students, and I care that they’re good students.” He believes that “education is not about teaching. Education is about learning … The focus is not about the teacher, the focus is on the students. It has to be.”
Surprisingly, Dr. Zidon didn’t initially consider teaching when entering college. Dr. Zidon grew up in North Dakota, so when he first attended North Dakota State University, it was for Ag Mechanics. Although he had always entertained the idea of teaching, it wasn’t until he was told about the shortage of agriculture teachers that he decided to make the switch.
After graduating from NDSU, he found a job as a high school agriculture teacher in Turtle Lake, SD, when an opening came up halfway through the school year. After this first experience, Dr. Zidon and his wife, Twila, moved to Fessenden, ND, where they both taught at the local high school – Dr. Zidon as an agriculture teacher, and Mrs. Zidon as a Home Ec teacher. Dr. Zidon taught at Fessenden for seven years, then took a year off to finish his Master of Science degree at NDSU. From there, he moved to Ames, Iowa, where he taught and worked on his Ph.D. for five years.
In 1990, Dr. Zidon graduated with his Ph.D. and began applying for different teaching positions. Meanwhile, at UW-Platteville, Dr. Bob Campbell, the Director of Agriculture Education at the time, was preparing to retire, so UW-Platteville needed a replacement. Through word-of-mouth, Dr. Zidon heard about the open position and applied.
“I didn’t even know what Platteville was (at that time),” Dr. Zidon said.
He explained that he was basically hired to serve a one-year position until another replacement was found. Luckily for UW-Platteville, Dr. Zidon greatly enjoyed the position and has been “stuck here since.” He said that his current position is the perfect fit for him because it is a combination of both Ag Education and Ag Mechanics, so he is able to be involved in two of the disciplines that he enjoys most.
This year marks Dr. Zidon’s 31st year at UW-Platteville, and he still enjoys every second of teaching. Some of his favorite courses to teach are Teaching Methods, where he is able to “teach teachers how to teach” and Equipment, Structures, and Power Systems because it “encompasses all aspects of Ag Mechanics.” Even when outside of the classroom, Dr. Zidon keeps very busy. He currently serves as adviser for both the AgEd Society and the Ag Mech. Club on campus, and he is on the scholarship committee. In the past, Dr. Zidon has been a part of other campus committees as well, such as Graduate Council, Faculty Senate, Budget Commission and University Rank Salary and Tenure Council. He is also currently a part of many professional organizations for agriculture educators and serves as superintendent for FFA World Dairy Expo Events, the National FFA Ag Mech Career Development Events and other FFA Career Development Events on the UW-Platteville campus. As if he isn’t busy enough, Dr. Zidon also enjoys his hobbies at home: dabbling in wood carving, growing and pruning Bonsai trees, painting watercolor paintings and rosemaling, which is a type of Norwegian flower painting.
Looking back on his time as an educator, Dr. Zidon has many fond memories, but working with students is his favorite. Along with his students, he has enjoyed working with the National FFA Ag Mechanics contest for 35 years, even serving as superintendent for the past six years.
Dr. Zidon said, “Taking students down (to Nationals), is a great experience, and introducing them to the ‘National level kind of stuff’ is one of the things I’m most proud of. It’s where students are able to get involved and (I can see) students having success.”
In addition to great memories and experiences, Dr. Zidon has been recognized with many impressive awards throughout his career. Though he has too many to mention, he is most proud of his Underkolfer Teaching Excellence Award, which is an award that recognizes professors for excellence in classroom teaching. He has also been recognized with a Distinguished Service Award for creating a computer program that tabulated student scores at FFA CDE competitions, which was used for roughly 20 years, from 1986 until 2006.
Another thing to mention is Dr. Zidon’s reputation here on our campus. He is widely loved by students and staff members alike. He is very well educated in every subject he teaches and always comes to class positive and ready to help students learn through fun and engaging lessons. He makes the best PowerPoints, which even show engine parts moving, and will always impress me with his talents in Microsoft Excel. Through his teaching, it is obvious that he cares for the individual students and wants to see each and every student succeed. His belief that “substance beats hype, particularly when it comes to teaching” is undeniable in his instruction, as he makes sure students are able to come away from a lesson with important information related to real-world experience.
This 2021-22 school year will be Dr. Zidon’s last year teaching, as he plans on retiring in May 2022. Although the campus will be sad to see him go, hopefully, Dr. Zidon will have the chance to relax and take a well-deserved break.
So Dr. Zidon, thank you for being such an amazing professor, mentor and friend to myself and many other students of UW-Platteville. I will always appreciate your eagerness to teach in every situation and your desire to prepare students for their real-world jobs after graduation. I will certainly miss you once I graduate from UW-Platteville, but I am excited to use the tips and tricks of teaching that I’ve learned from you and implement them in my own classroom sometime soon. You have made learning so much fun, and I have enjoyed every second that I have spent in class with you.
So here’s to one last great year of teaching!