This story is also available on Adobe Spark.
Celebrated Feb. 16 to 23, National FFA Week is a time for FFA members to raise awareness about the role the National FFA Organization plays in the developing future leaders in agriculture and the importance of agricultural education.
Many of the faculty in the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences department of agricultural education and communication once participated in FFA during their days as high school agricultural education students. This week, we decided to reflect back on some of those experiences with our faculty who are still very involved in teaching the future agricultural educators and communicators of our industry – and to see which of our faculty wear their FFA jacket best today.
Bonifay FFA Chapter, 1990-94
Throughout her days in FFA, Becky Raulerson had many involvements. She participated in career development events like land judging, forestry, and parliamentary procedure, while showing steer and hog projects.
Becky was also Florida’s first state winner of the Creed Speaking contest, even before it became a contest at the national level.
During her high school days and after graduation, Becky also served as the District 1 Secretary, District 1 President, and a state FFA officer for Florida.
Career development events (CDEs): FFA members participate in these events to focus on the application of classroom instruction, career preparation and skill development. These competitive events help students develop individual responsibility, teamwork and communication skills while recognizing the value of ethical competition and individual achievement. Today, CDE and LDE (Leadership Development Event) examples include public speaking, floriculture, food science and technology, livestock evaluation, and veterinary science.
There are a total of 26 CDEs and LDEs at the national level.
Independence FFA Chapter, 1967-71
During his high school days, Ed Osborne showed sheep and cattle as part of his supervised agricultural experiences. He also participated in the livestock judging career development event and served as a chapter officer. He later was elected to serve as the state vice president for Virginia FFA.
Because of FFA, Ed said he had new experiences like flying in an airplane and traveling out of state for the first time. The summer after graduating high school, he flew to Colorado State University to attend a weeklong seminar as part of the American Institute of Cooperatives.
“In the tenth grade I decided I wanted to be a high school ag teacher,” he said. “I was in FFA, grew up on a farm, and I loved school. It was the natural thing that all came together.”
Today, Ed is a professor of agricultural education in AEC and previously served as the department chair. Before joining the team at the University of Florida, he was a high school agriculture teacher and later faculty at the University of Illinois.
Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE): These projects or programs involve real-world agricultural activities conducted by students, outside of planned classroom and laboratory time. They provide a method for students to receive practical career skills in a part of agriculture in which they are interested. Projects could range from a student working for an employer of their choice in the agriculture industry, establishing and running their own business, or agriscience research, to name a few.
Washburn FFA, 1988-92
As a high school student in rural Maine, Hannah Carter did not have a formal agricultural education program through her school, but that did not stop her from being part of the Washburn FFA chapter.
“We competed in dairy judging, beef cattle judging and horse judging,” she said. “As one of the eight chapters in the state at that time, we were often looked at as the underdogs. My adviser though, she helped us succeed at all of it.”
Hannah also credits FFA with giving her opportunities to travel out of the state.
“I traveled to National FFA Convention for the first time, which was in Kansas City,” she said. “FFA gave the kids from rural Maine opportunities to travel nationally.”
At the encouragement of her adviser, Hannah ran for state FFA office in Maine, and was elected as vice president – the first female state officer for Maine FFA.
“I had no idea that there were no women before me,” Hannah said. “It was the work of my adviser that really helped open the door there for me.”
Today, Hannah is an associate professor of leadership development in AEC, director of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, and interim director of the UF/IFAS Center for Leadership.
“In addition to growing up as a farm kid – I grew up as a farmer’s daughter – I feel like FFA gave me credibility in production agriculture,” she said. “Well, that, and an immediate network. People understand the common experiences we had in FFA.”
Hannah has been working to build leadership capacity in Florida agriculture, but will soon be returning to her home state of Maine to take on a new role: Dean for Cooperative Extension for the University of Maine.
Leadership: Students in FFA have many opportunities to serve in a formal leadership position. At the chapter level, there are often chapter officers and committee leaders. As students mature through FFA, they also become eligible to serve their state association a state FFA officer. Every state, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands elect their own officers, and in a given year, there could be around 375 state FFA officers elected.
Every year, six FFA members are also elected to serve as national FFA officers. These students first have to secure the candidacy of their state, and then take part in a rigorous interview process before being elected as one of the six individuals to serve the National FFA Organization.
Gaither FFA Chapter, 1985-87
Grady Roberts ended up as an agriculture student and FFA member (and future agricultural educator) completely by accident. Before moving to Florida, Grady’s family lived in Germany. Just before moving back to the states, his brother broke his leg snow skiing. Upon return to school, this time in the Sunshine State, Grady’s brother was taken out of his physical education elective class and placed into an agriculture course instead. Thinking it looked fun and interesting, it wasn’t long before Grady enrolled in his own high school agriculture class.
As an FFA member, Grady took part in supervised agricultural experiences like showing a pig at the state fair and starting a plant nursery with one of his friends.
“As a high school student, working in education was not on my radar… at all.” he said. “When I came to UF as a freshman, I came as an agricultural engineering major. When I reached that typical point as a sophomore or junior and looking at my career, I looked at the jobs my ag teachers we’re doing. That looked like a really cool job.”
Grady went on to become an agriculture teacher. In fact, he even served as one of the FFA advisers (and CDE coach) for Mrs. Debra Barry (pictured next). Today, he is a professor of agricultural education in AEC.
Advisers: FFA advisers play a key role in their students’ development. They often wear the hat of a coach, mentor, accountant, chauffeur, event planner, community leader, friend, salesman or fundraiser. They help their students run chapter meetings, take them to CDEs, perform SAE visits, and continually invest in the growth of their students as people and as agriculturalists.
Durant FFA Chapter, 1993-99
While Deb Barry was an FFA member through middle school and high school, she participated in the poultry judging and citrus judging career development events.
She also placed fifth in the state in the vegetable judging career development event, where Dr. Grady Roberts was her adviser and CDE coach.
For her supervised agricultural experience, Deb had poultry production, swine production and plant production projects.
Throughout high school, Deb was involved in many different organizations, so she did not decide to serve in a leadership role for her chapter until her senior year.
When she got to the University of Florida, Deb got involved in Collegiate FFA, serving as the chapter’s president in 2002!
Today, Deb is a lecturer of agricultural education in our department, based in Plant City, Florida.
“FFA was definitely the catalyst that inspired me to, first of all, come to UF,” she said. “And then, it helped me find my passion in agricultural education. I definitely found my love for ag through FFA.”
Collegiate FFA: FFA does not always end in high school. Some universities have their own collegiate FFA chapters. Gator Collegiate FFA, a student organization in AEC, allows students to continue giving back to their communities and younger FFA members by giving members opportunities to judge CDEs, host service projects, and build community.
Hartsburg-Emden FFA, 1999-2003
As an FFA member, Natalie Coers participated in the agricultural issues and food science career development events at the national level. She also took part in the parliamentary procedure and public speaking events.
In her home state of Illinois, Coers was part of the state FFA band for two years. She later took her flute to the national stage as part of the national FFA band.
Coers recently joined our faculty as a lecturer of agricultural leadership development.
“I’m pretty sure I attended every possible leadership conference as a member,” she said. “Experiences with leadership in FFA were why I chose to pursue a career in leadership development.”
Band/Chorus: Some states have an FFA band and/or chorus that provides music during their state FFA convention. Students that have a passion for music can show their talents through this outlet, or even apply to be a part of the national FFA band or chorus, which performs during the National FFA Convention and Expo.
Pittsfield FFA Chapter, 1988-92
As an FFA member during high school, Brian Myers showed cattle and immersed himself in his supervised agricultural experiences. He also enjoyed attending and participating in the Illinois state FFA convention.
“FFA is where I learned how to lead – myself and groups – to accomplish something,” Myers said. “It taught me what goal setting is and how to learn from the times that ‘don’t go just as planned.'”
Today, Myers uses the leadership skills he learned as the chair of the department of agricultural education and communication.
“FFA helped me understand the impact that an adviser can have on students and the community,” he said.
Agriculture Teachers: The individuals that serve as FFA advisers also serve as class instructors for agriculture students. These teachers are often expected to teach agricultural biotechnology, animal science and services, floral design and marketing, aquaculture, or forestry. Depending on the teacher’s school district and individual agriculture program, there may be other courses offered.