Tami Kaschke ’98, ’11, grew up believing her business future would be alongside her family at the John Deere dealership in North Platte, Nebraska, which they owned and operated for 36 years. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in management from the College of Business and acquired the foundational tools to succeed in business. However, when Kaschke ultimately dove into the business world, she found a new passion which took her halfway around the world working as a research assistant studying sharks at the Dyer Island Conservation Trust in South Africa.
“I happened to see an article showing the top ten cool ways to volunteer, and one of them included working with great white sharks,” said Kaschke. “I’ve always been a diver and been fascinated by sharks. It seemed like a great opportunity to explore and I fell in love with it.”
Kaschke quickly began applying many of the same skills she learned at the College of Business to her burgeoning career with sharks. From analyzing data sets to developing research papers to teaching visitors about sharks, her ability to tackle assignments made an impression and led to her job as a research assistant.
“Dr. Fred Luthans, professor emeritus and one of the most renowned Nebraska Business management professors, always stressed the importance of getting published. Now he laughs because he didn’t realize my publications would be in functional ecology. I learned most of the processes when developing papers at the College of Business,” she said.
She focuses her studies on shark population and movement, which requires her to be on the go.
“Much of the time, I’m tagging and tracking on research boats, and following signals to see where the shark goes. There’s not a lot known about shark populations so we do estimates based on data we collect. We’ve found sharks travel over 10,000 miles a year and have evidence of their movement as far away as South Africa to Australia and back.”
She gets to experience the thrill of sharks over and over again through the eyes of visitors from around the world who come to learn more about sharks from the cage diving operation she also helps to facilitate. Although there is some natural fear associated with sharks, her love for the animals transcends their reputation.
“Majestic is the word I use for great white sharks,” said Kaschke. “The casual ease with which they cruise through water is one thing, but with a flick of the tail they can turn around and change direction. Once you experience a shark up close in their natural habitat, whether you are afraid or enamored with them, you develop a new appreciation. Every day I’m learning something new, and sometimes it’s something no one else knows about these animals. It’s a special experience.”
Kaschke believes all business students need to follow their own passion, whether it takes them to their family business or somewhere completely unexpected.
“Tractors to sharks is not a natural transition but you can make it. Explore your passion and don’t underestimate how hard work can get you there. There’s so few places where you go to work and know you’re going to learn something new every day. To me that’s a pretty special place.”