As a high school student, Ross Dahlke was waking up each weekend morning well before dawn to carry out his cheese-selling strategy.
He left his home in Westfield, Wisconsin before 4 a.m. to get cheese from a specialty producer in the Fox River Valley to sell at farmers’ markets in the greater Milwaukee area.
His entrepreneurial efforts paid off. Awareness of the brand rose in a key metropolitan market. Sales grew. While still in high school, he earned the title of chief marketing strategist. And he learned how to tell the story of the product; he learned how to sell.
As he studies journalism and political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and enters a world of political policy, the skills Ross honed selling cheese are helping.
…trying to get the greatest number of people to a better place.
“Part of my strategy was to bring the highest quality cheese to the greatest number of people,” Ross says. “That’s not so different from public policy, where you are trying to get the greatest number of people to a better place.”
Ross says he comes from a family that isn’t active politically, but he was inspired to take more interest in politics because of his brothers’ international adoptions. As he grew up, he watched his community take sides and divide on state issues, and he started to seek student council offices.
A major recognition for his skill at debate, policy, and communication came when he was one of two students in Wisconsin to be selected to attend the U.S. Senate Youth Program’s Washington Week. The distinction carried a $5,000 scholarship and the chance to meet President Barack Obama and members of the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation.
At the same time, Dahlke, who describes himself as centrist, was working with the Marquette County Board as a youth member and serving Marquette County Corporation Counsel and the Marquette County Clerk’s Office. Local officials, some in their 80s, consistently praised the 17-year-old’s work ethic and commitment to the community.
As Marquette County Clerk Gary Sorensen put it: “It’s a comfort that people like him are coming up.” And that’s a vote of confidence for Dahlke and his UW–Madison education.