By Sierra Demarest

Ian Kuhn might have a bachelor’s in chemistry with a secondary education certification, but he never really planned to be a high school chemistry teacher. In fact, he never really had a plan at all. What he’s always had in abundance is drive.

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Growing up in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Hanover, Kuhn was raised on the idea of not getting burned out on any one thing, but rather enjoying everything there is to life and trying to have a variety of experiences. 

“There’s so much to life, really. So, experience everything because you never know what you’re going to like or really be attracted to, right?” said Kuhn, who, as a college student pursuing a degree in chemistry, worked at the flagship Woodward in Pennsylvania. “Growing up, I always wanted to go to Woodward as a camper. I never dreamt of being a coach or counselor … Let alone being a director of a program there.” 

Kuhn’s job was coordinating Woodward’s ski and snow program, a difficult job in a location that only receives around 32 inches of snow a year. He was given the chance to go to either Woodward’s Tahoe or Copper, Colorado, training facility. Over winter break, he visited Woodward Tahoe to see what it was like.

“I fell in love with it and then ended up getting asked back to come out in the summer program,” he said. So, freshly graduated from college, Kuhn left his home state to embark on a career at Woodward Tahoe. “It was a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

He started off coaching the snowboarding program, a subset of Woodward’s summer camps. Whether in foam pits or on the snow, Kuhn instructed kids from all around the country on bettering their air awareness. Working with kids ages 8 to 18, snowboard lessons were somewhat of a segue into teaching. The path to becoming a chemistry teacher, however, wasn’t exactly part of the plan.

SECONDARY EDUCATION: Ian Kuhn was torn after an opportunity to work at Woodward Tahoe presented itself not long after he graduated from college with a bachelor’s in chemistry and a secondary education certification. He chose the former, but was brought back to chemistry during the pandemic.

“As much as I would love to say that, ‘hey, teaching is a passion and I really want to help the youth,’ Covid hit,” he said. Like many other businesses, Woodward was forced to close its doors during the pandemic. “So yeah, due to Covid I had to use my resources and, fortunately, I had the college degree in my back pocket. I applied, had my job interview here with Truckee, and it all just fell in line.” 

What Kuhn might not quite realize is that he is making a difference in the lives of his students. Though it may not be through some big, grand manner, he is giving students something they don’t always get: personal connection. And with that, a little goes a long way.

Since he started working at Truckee High School, Kuhn has become assistant coach of the school’s snowboarding team, teaching competitive racing to kids who’ve never raced, and helping improve the technique of those who have. This past season, the men’s team claimed first place in the state championships.

Keeping his snowboarding passion ignited, Kuhn maintains his ties with Woodward, practicing there along with the high school’s snowboard team. While he focuses on teaching youth, Kuhn himself is a high-level snowboarder. Last November, Kuhn adopted a wiener dog named Tahoe from the Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe. “Little T”, as he calls her, is no ordinary dog. She also snowboards, just like her human.

“She was just really cold one day,” Kuhn recalled. “[She] stood on my snowboard because it’s soft and warm ’cause it was warming up from the sun. So, she stood on that and I looked at her, she looked at me, I pushed her a little bit, gave her a treat, and the [rest is] history. She’s able to ride now.”

Little T has progressed to the point of standing on her little board and pushing off with one back paw to propel herself down the hill.

A true Tahoe outdoorsman, Kuhn enjoys paddleboarding, camping, and recently learned how to Nordic ski with the help of his girlfriend, who is a teacher in the school district as well. His well-roundedness extends beyond academia and athleticism — he also started Truckee High’s sewing club. First introduced to sewing in seventh grade, his reconnection with the skill was also a product of the pandemic.

“I had a lot of idle time because ski resorts were shut down, so I had to make good use of that time,” said Kuhn, whose sewing skills have grown to include creations like hoodies and sweatpants. “I learned sewing in middle school … It was part of my curriculum, and I was really shocked that it wasn’t a part of curriculum here in Truckee. So, if I could pass on my knowledge of sewing — what little knowledge I had at the time — anything was great.”

During the lunchtime club, Kuhn instructs students on how to create things such as bags and clothing.

“Finding those healthy outlets [in which] you can do something that’s not just mindless and can help you progress is usually kind of super helpful,” said Kuhn, who during Covid began selling hats under the business name Mr. Kuhn’s Caps.

An admitted “stress baker” during his college years, Kuhn, who graduated in 2018, began baking — which involves a lot of chemistry — to let off steam. “I’d get stressed out about a test and I’d use my chemistry right then and there,” he said. “I’d be weighing out the flour because that’s how you get more meticulous with it. It’s edible chemistry.”

But perhaps one of the most notable things about Kuhn is the relationship he has with his students.

“I think it helps that I’m pretty young and relatable in age to most of these students,” said the 29-year-old. “So, I do understand the pop culture ’cause it’s in my everyday life, too … Also, being in a mountain town, I can relate to the mountain students pretty easily … We’re like-minded. We’re trying to be here for the mountains, enjoy the mountains, just enjoy our environment.”

At the same time, Kuhn recognizes that every student is an individual and connecting with them and getting to know them as individuals carries great weight. It’s about more than just saying hello or good morning, he says. It’s about getting to know their interests and what they like to do on the weekends and outside of school.

WEIRD SCIENCE: For Ian Kuhn, a gratifying part of being a “stress baker” is that he gets to indulge in his passion for chemistry, which has in turn helped his baking skills, because both require being meticulous.

As a student of Mr. Kuhn’s, I can attest to the fact that he makes a great effort to learn what students are passionate about. Having a teacher closer to your age than most other teachers is special because he understands our culture and interests because they’re his, too. He gets us. Mr. Kuhn uses that to his advantage to ask us personal questions, and sometimes, that tailored-to-student question with true authenticity behind it can make the difference in your mood for the rest of the day or week. Just knowing that someone is actually interested and wants to listen to your experiences, feelings, concerns, dreams, wins, losses, and so much more, and continue the conversation or offer advice rather than just hearing or giving a generic response, can really touch a student’s life.

“I try to keep it as genuine as I can … I know I’m a small part of your [lives], like, four years is a very small part of your life, in general,” he said. “But who knows if it’s a long-lasting impact? Maybe you will remember for the rest of your life, which could be cool.”

~ Sierra Demarest is a sophomore at Truckee High School. She enjoys skiing and is a junior black belt in karate and a 1st Sergeant in Civil Air Patrol. Writing is one of her outlets in her little free time.  

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