Agricultural education and FFA have long been essential parts of our nation’s career and technical education system. It’s only fitting during National CTE Month to celebrate how FFA and agricultural education play a crucial role in defining a student’s path toward new and significant achievements.
One of the best lenses to look through to see this CTE impact is through the students elected by their peers to represent FFA on a national scale. Annually, FFA members across the country gather to select the National FFA Officer Team. These six FFA members reached their level of leadership through academic success and dedicated personal development in their local FFA chapter activities and agricultural education classrooms.
The 2018-19 class of National FFA Officers who serve as the face of an FFA organization with more than 670,000 members is no different.
Here are the five ways they feel FFA and agricultural education has helped shape their paths:
1.) A Launch Pad for any Background
Luke O’Leary, 2018-19 National FFA President, calls California’s central coast home. A member of the San Luis Obispo FFA Chapter, O’Leary calls his formative FFA experience a “launch pad to career success.”
“As a freshman, I walked into the classroom of my agriculture leadership course not knowing what was in store for me,” O’Leary said. “I was encouraged to memorize the FFA Creed by my agriculture advisors, and I was instantly hooked. I loved being able to compete, speak, and represent the agricultural industry. Because of the Creed and other career and leadership development events, like Parliamentary Procedure, I found that any student, with any background, can find their place in FFA and a home in the agriculture department.”
2.) An Expanded Horizon
O’Leary’s teammate Jordan Stowe hails from Alabama and was a student at Auburn University when she was elected to national office. Stowe joined FFA and later attended the National FFA Convention & Expo with her chapter – a moment she said forever changed her outlook and path.
“All my life, I planned to stay in my hometown, follow in my parents’ footsteps and never see all the things the world had to offer,” Stowe said. “But the national convention broadened my perspective of all the things I was capable of. I was able to learn more about attending college and what scholarship opportunities were available for me. Through the influence of FFA and agriculture education, I became a first-generation college student at Auburn University.”
When Stowe returns to Auburn following her service as the National FFA Southern Region Vice President, she’ll resume studying agriscience education.
3.) Applying Learned Principles
Oklahoma’s Ridge Hughbanks is the National FFA Central Region Vice President. He says a third of his life to date has involved FFA and agricultural education. He echoed how various leadership and speaking events developed his confidence, and recognized the importance of events that challenged him personally.
“Livestock judging tested leadership and precision,” Hughbanks said. “This contest taught me not just to have an opinion, but defend it. My show animals and experience-based agricultural projects instilled responsibility, patience, and compassion for an animal completely dependent upon me for its well-being and success.”
4.) Getting Out of the Comfort Zone
It’s no secret that many students dread their first time speaking in front of a group, and it’s a story to which so many FFA members relate. Often, a beginning activity for new FFA members is a recitation of the organization’s Creed. Louisiana’s Layni LeBlanc and Michigan’s Adrian Schunk both noted the influence of that activity on their future FFA participation and the opening of new doors.
“As a shy student that wasn’t confident in what she wanted to do or who she was, I found a home in FFA,” said LeBlanc, the National FFA Secretary. “My first time in the blue jacket I delivered the FFA Creed, and that was my first time public speaking. I was terrified, but looking back I can see that a lot of growth came from being uncomfortable.”
Schunk, the National FFA Eastern Region Vice President, remembers the level of effort that went into preparing for a local Creed-speaking event.
“I still remember the day my agriculture teacher, Mr. Barnum, encouraged me to compete, and I will never forget the hours of practice that followed,” Schunk said. “Day after day, we would meet in the agriculture classroom and work on the basics of public speaking: voice inflection, body language, and most importantly, being comfortable being uncomfortable. This was the first time I intentionally stepped out of my comfort zone to grow and was the introduction to do the same for the rest of my life.”
5.) A Hands-on Experience
Nothing was more valuable to Shea Booster than classroom time spent engaged in hands-on activity. Booster, the National FFA Western Region Vice President from Oregon, found purpose and potential in classroom time that went beyond lectures.
“In my agricultural classrooms, my ag teacher used a variety of teaching methods to engage students,” Booster said. “The hands-on portion of my education helped give relevance and credibility to the material. I wasn’t doing an assignment out of an old textbook, I was using my hands and working with real animals, planting actual plants, and unleashing my creativity.”
To learn more about FFA and to get involved, visit https://www.ffa.org/.
Geoffrey Miller serves as the digital media manager for the National FFA Organization.