The National FFA convention is the largest student convention in the country, and more than 60,000 people from across the country gather to compete, earn awards, visit the various booths at the trade show, gather ideas and meet new friends.
Among the honors handed out at the event was one going to Rockie Ernst, the FFA advisor at the Wiggins, Colo., who received his honorary American FFA degree.
“It was an honor as only 52 ag instructors across the nation were recognized from the Teacher Division. It was something I have wanted to achieve, yet I knew it was certainly a competitive award,” he said.
He continued, “I am also humbled in that I know that I would not have been able to achieve it without the support I have had in the 29 years I have taught here at Wiggins. The students, FFA alumni, Advisory Committee and community have been tremendous supporters.”
Ernst had to submit an application and meet certain criteria to be selected.
“I had to submit an application to the state to be recommended, and then ultimately the National FFA Board made the final selection. Recipients were selected on the basis of their contributions in the following seven areas: Classroom and laboratory instruction; students’ experiential learning; the National FFA Organization; building partnerships; agricultural education program marketing; agricultural education program development and evaluation; and professional development of agricultural education teachers,” he explained. “I have always tried to run a quality agriculture education program here in Wiggins. I have also been pretty active at the state and national levels in ag education and the FFA organization.”
Ernst truly loves teaching, he said, and loves FFA.
“Without a doubt the best part of teaching is witnessing firsthand the effect I can or have made on a student’s life, such as watching them grow from a shy freshman into a confident, motivated and mature young adult. I have taught long enough now to have children of former students come back into our ag program. It is gratifying to work with former students and know that you have made a difference in their lives,” he said.
He originally decided to become an ag teacher because of his own experience in FFA.
“I guess the reason I got involved in teaching was because of my experiences in the ag program and the FFA when I was a high school student. The experiences I gained as a state FFA officer helped as well. I love agriculture and helping others. Teaching agriculture education is a natural fit to do both,” Ernst stated.
Teaching agriculture is very time consuming, but Ernst doesn’t mind.
“There is so much variety of things to do. It is far more than just the classroom that many other teachers deal with. We are not only in the classroom, but also in the shop, greenhouse, outdoor field trips, overnight events and contests, on the farm/ranch or worksite with the students. I like the variety and challenges. Most importantly I see a tremendous need in preparing today’s youth to be ready for the real world. It is far more than preparing students for a state mandated test. The ag program develops life skills as well as giving students knowledge in the agriculture industry,” he said.
He has a true passion for the FFA, and what the FFA does for youth.
“I believe it is truly the ultimate youth leadership organization. There are so many opportunities for members to get involved in based on their individual needs and desires. No matter what they get involved in they will grow as an individual,” Ernst explained.
He continued, “Members are challenged to set goals, work to achieve them and can be rewarded for their accomplishments. Many times the experiences they gain will pay off strongly in the future. It not only promotes individual leadership, but teamwork as well. It gives students opportunities to get out in the community and models community service. These are very important for our society and certainly a key ingredient in keeping many communities going and maintaining themselves. Many people don’t want to get involved. The FFA promotes opportunities to get involved. We will continue to provide strong leaders not only for agriculture, but society as well.”
Attending the National FFA convention is a trip that he looks forward to each year.
“I have been back nearly 35 times and I enjoy it every year. I especially enjoy listening to the messages from the speakers and retiring remarks from the national FFA officers. They always have a message that is important to today’s youth. I also enjoy meeting, visiting and sharing ideas with other ag instructors across the nation,” he explained.
He added, “I feel there is so much more to the convention than just the competitions. Therefore, I make sure we get students back every year. The experiences they gain, people they meet are priceless. I always expect members to grow from this opportunity.”
Competitions are a big part of the convention, and this year, Colorado had a student who placed second nationally in a contest.
Ross Stump of the New Raymer FFA chapter competed in the Prepared Public Speaking Contest, which he won at the state level.
“Getting second meant that all of my hours of work were not for nothing. It made me feel that I was a part of convention in a way I couldn’t even imagine before. It reminded me that no matter how far I had come I can always improve. Most importantly I was only able to be there because of the countless hours of work my family, advisor, and community members put in to help me succeed,” he said.
He continued, “The competition itself was incredible. I got to face off against other students from around the country with passions for their topics similar to my own. The finals hall was when it finally occurred to me where I was. This room has 1,000 seats and is only used for the top four students and teams in specific events. I felt like I didn’t deserve the honor of presenting on that stage.”
Stump’s speech was about the media in America.
“I looked into major issues in the past based on misinformation by large media sources and tried to present positive solutions to the problems our media system provides. My main goal was to show that agriculture is damaged when media fails to publish positive facts,” he explained.
Winners of the National FFA Prepared Public Speaking Career Development Event were announced at the seventh session of the National FFA Convention and Expo. The top four individuals received cash awards to recognize their success in the event.
The prepared public speaking CDE is designed to recognize outstanding FFA members for their ability to prepare and present a factual speech on a specific agricultural issue in a well thought out and logical manner in a competitive setting. Members prepare and deliver an eight to 10-minute speech from memory and respond to five minutes of questions. The event is just one way FFA members can develop their ability to communicate in a powerful, organized and professional manner.
“Preparing for this contest was all about knowing every aspect I could about my topic. Facts, figures, and the history of media were almost as important to me as the speech itself. I practiced for months with the help of people who have the experience to help me improve,” Stump said.
The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 557,318 student members as part of 7,498 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The National FFA convention was held Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Louisville, Ky. Attendance rose to 62,998, up from 56,176 attendees last year when the event was held in Indianapolis.
“My favorite part of National Convention is seeing more than 60,000 blue jackets in one place. In the career fair, FFA Mall, and sessions members get to meet people from all around the nation. It’s amazing to see so many people in one place for one purpose,” stated Stump. ❖