FFA: Growing future leaders (and not just on the farm)
Today’s modern agricultural industry demands students enter the field with the technical knowledge learned through strong career and technical ag education, leadership skills, and hands-on learning. It’s a lot to ask, but FFA is helping to pave the way for student success.
“There are so many solid career opportunities within agriculture that fit the needs of everyone,” said Zach Hamilton, state president of the Iowa FFA Association. “You are guaranteed to find a place within agriculture, and a successful career at that, no matter what your background is.”
Are you interested in computer programming? Hamilton says that companies such as John Deere need people who can find new ways to integrate technology to improve on agricultural practices, including data-based decision making and high-tech machinery design and development.
What if you are more of a people person? Companies need people who can communicate, build awareness of the agriculture field, and develop brand messaging that resonates. Prefer science and lab work? There are plenty of research opportunities within agriculture.
This isn’t your grandparents’ FFA. In fact, Future Farmers of America officially rebranded itself in 1988 as the National FFA Organization to recognize the many different occupations and fields that agriculture touches to feed, fuel and clothe the world. The successes of FFA chapters across the state, and the impact they have on the nearly 15,000 Iowa student members, are being celebrated this week as part of National FFA Week, Feb. 17-24.
FFA is one of several career and technical student organizations (CTSOs) that provide students the opportunity to learn, grow, and gain leadership experience in a particular career cluster or group of jobs and industries that are related by skills or products. More than just clubs or extracurricular activities, CTSOs are integral to high-performing career and technical education (CTE) programs. Student organizations such as FFA enhance classroom learning through authentic real-world experiences and provide opportunities for students to network with their peers and business professionals.
Hamilton points out that FFA programs, or chapters, are run by at least one agriculture teacher and a student officer team, along with support from the surrounding community. With 235 local FFA chapters throughout Iowa, they are established in both rural and urban areas. In fact, there are many strong urban programs such as those at Des Moines’ Central Campus, Waukee, Linn-Mar and Southeast Polk, to name a few.
“The best way to describe FFA is through our mission statement,” Hamilton said. “FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.”
This mission recognizes that a successful agricultural program incorporates classroom instruction, FFA involvement, and project-based learning through a supervised agricultural experience (SAE). This required component of FFA participation helps students to explore different careers and occupations, learn expected workplace behavior, develop specific industry skills, and apply academic and occupational skills in the workplace or a simulated workplace environment.
The SAE experience is one of the reasons students say they enjoy being involved in FFA.
“Students recognize that FFA provides a way for them to gain the skills they need,” Hamilton said. “They are more confident in their abilities and they have desirable soft skills, such as the ability to communicate well and work in teams. Students enjoy networking with their peers and business professionals and getting hands-on learning opportunities in their own areas of interest as a part of their SAE.”
The future of FFA can be seen through the accomplishments of student members like Jaxon Mullinnix of Lone Tree, and Kellie Einch of Paullina.
Jaxon, who had no agriculture experience prior to his FFA involvement, became interested as a way to participate in more science-related projects. Last year, he organized a World Hunger Day event in his community where close to 300 students packaged over 30,000 meals to feed families across the globe. As part of the experience, Jaxon also provided education on food insecurity and how agriculturalists are working to solve the issue.
Kellie Einch, a 2014 graduate of South O’Brien Community School, was recently awarded the prestigious FFA American Star Award in Agriculture Placement at the 2017 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. She is the first Iowan in 19 years to be selected for this award, which recognizes members who demonstrate outstanding agriculture skills and competencies through completion of an SAE.
Kellie completed her SAE working as a general mechanic and service technician for a local business. She also took classes in diesel mechanics through Northwest Iowa Community College during her junior and senior years of high school. Her career and technical education opportunities and FFA experience helped her find her passion. She went on to earn a commercial driver’s license as well as associate and bachelor’s degrees related to the field. She currently works as a full-time service technician and service writer for Icon Ag and Turf.
“FFA provides students the opportunity to be leaders within the industry even after their time in the blue corduroy is complete,” said Hamilton, referring to what students wear when representing FFA. “Our theme this year is ‘I Can. We Will.’ I believe that demonstrates the present and future of our organization. We recognize that alone we can work to change the world for the better through agriculture; but together we will.”
More information about the different CTSOs in Iowa, including FFA, is available under the Career and Technical Education webpage on the Iowa Department of Education’s website.
About Iowa FFA Association
The Iowa FFA Association is a youth organization of over 14,800 student members as part of 235 local FFA chapters across Iowa. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The Iowa FFA Association was organized by delegates from 23 schools at Iowa State College on May 17, 1929, and is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The Iowa Department of Education provides leadership and helps set direction for FFA as a service to local agricultural education programs. For more, visit the Iowa FFA Association online at IowaFFA.com, on Facebook, and Twitter.