No Ag Background, No Problem: Animal-loving Colorado FFA student excels in state competition, headed to nationals
October 5, 2015
Before joining the Future Farmers of America organization at Windsor High School, Alexandra Grimes had no agricultural background.
"I owned a cat and fish, so nothing big," Grimes, 17, said with a laugh. "My family hasn't been in the farming business, ever. So, this was kind of just like the first step into the whole agriculture situation."
Now, she is entering her senior year of high school and her fourth year in the program.
"[My parents] have known since I was a baby that I wanted to be a vet, and they think it's great that the high school offers these classes," Grimes said. "They are so proud of me."
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This year, Grimes competed at the State FFA Convention May 27-30 at Adams State University in Alamosa. She won the state competition in both categories she competed in — Veterinary Medicine Proficiency and the Agriscience Fair.
Her state-title winning agriscience fair project looked into the effect of dental-care dog food on overall tooth health in canines.
To study the impact, she created a simulated dog mouth, complete with a water solution with a similar level of acidity to a dog's saliva.
Then, she mashed up different kinds of dog food marketed with dental benefits and put a coyote tooth into the food for 11 days to measure the projected effects of the food's long-term use.
"It did show a decay on some of the teeth," Grimes said. "So, it was really interesting to find out the different effects. It was really crazy to think about."
Some of the teeth showed effects as bad as mass loss, cavities, holes bored completely through the tooth and chunks of the tooth itself dissolving.
"This is huge for the veterinary world," Grimes said. "Oral health effects the whole health of the dog or the cat."
For her title in Veterinary Medicine Proficiency, Grimes had to log hours of both volunteer and paid work at a local veterinary clinic, fill out an application detailing her experience and skills, record journal entries and submit photos and written materials documenting her lessons.
Grimes has worked at the Vets Animal Hospital, LLC in Windsor for more than two years, where she initially started as a volunteer and then was hired as a veterinary tech assistant. She said this work has reinforced her love of veterinary medicine and given her an advantage in her field.
"I've learned that you have to deal with a lot of nasty things and a lot of fun things," Grimes said. "People's emotions are very crazy at the vet clinic, because you see a family who's bringing a new puppy in, and the next minute, you're having to do a euthanasia and you're seeing people cry. You really have to prepare yourself for that kind of stuff."
Leisa Carson, owner of the Vets Animal Hospital, LLC, said that Grimes' duties have expanded as she has learned more, from just observation, to clerical work, to cleaning to and now learning how to draw blood and work in reception.
"It's been fun to watch her grow up," Carson said. "She came in as a little freshman in high school, and watching her now become a senior in high school — it's always fun watching them grow and change, and also watching them pursue their dreams."
This year as part of her FFA studies, Grimes will be taking a pre-college veterinary course.
At the end of the course, she will take a pre-certification test through Texas A&M, and if she passes, she will be pre-certified as a veterinary technician at the age of 18.
"I plan to go to CSU after high school, and I want to do veterinary medicine in all three fields: small animal, large animal and exotic animal. Then once I graduate from CSU as a veterinarian, I plan to go work in zoos or to wildlife to work on a lot of the big animals."
She said she wants to study all three specialties so that she can help the maximum amount of animals throughout her career.
"I want to do all three of the practices because I want to be able to be versatile, and if the exotic world doesn't really work out, then I can actually go into helping with farm animals. And even then, if I have a client who has larger animals and also smaller animals, then I can maybe help to take care of those animals too," Grimes said. "Just being able to do all of them would be great because then I can help more people than just a certain group of people."
For Grimes, participation in FFA has been more than just preparation for her future, but a way to find her niche.
"I was kind of the outcast, I was a weirdo, little kid just running around, always talking about vet stuff when I was little," Grimes said. "I never really had a lot of friends, but when I joined FFA, the agriculture classes, I really got to have a family, it felt like. I can't honestly describe them as other than a family. We're all together so much, and we all really care for each other."
Sheryl Brewer, the Windsor High School FFA treasurer, said participation and shared interests in FFA have helped grow and strengthen her long-time friendship with Grimes.
"We've been friends since we were little," Brewer said. "We've grown together and done different activities and found that FFA was something we both really enjoyed."
However, she admitted that though her experience in FFA has been eye-opening, many of the students in her school and the members of her community don't see the organization as being important.
"A lot of people think we're just these farm kids who are hicks. This year, we actually plan to break that. We're planning to show that not all of us live on a farm, not all of us have cows or have crops," Grimes said. "We really need to balance it out in the community and people need to understand that. They need to understand that we're not just learning what a cow says or what a cow does. We're learning about how to help your cow or how to make clothes, we're learning how to speak in front of the public. We're learning these basic skills down there, even though its not known for that."
Grimes also said the teachers in the Windsor FFA program have been intergral in her success.
"With these teachers, I've seen kids really go far, because they find out what they're interested in and they really get them," Grimes said. "They keep the program going."
Melinda Spaur, the Windsor High School agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor, said that since Grimes started in FFA, she has grown tremendously and been dedicated to all aspects of her veterinary research and education.
"She's grown tremendously through FFA," Spaur said. "We're really proud of her."
In October, Grimes will head to the National FFA Convention & Expo in Louisville, Kent. She will find out if her exhibit or her application is being considered for an award about a month before the competition. The Agriscience Fair is a highly competitive program where only the top 15 projects are considered.
"My hopes are that it does very well. She's worked so hard at it," Spaur said. "She's someone who's just a go getter at everything she does, and at the national level I hope they see that."
Brewer said that the entire chapter is excited for Grimes moving forward.
"She's a hard worker in FFA and shes really dedicated in what she does," Brewer said. "We're pretty excited — it's not very often you have a member go to nationals for two things. It's pretty cool."
Last year, Grimes served as her chapter's historian. This year, she is an executive committee member. She said that since she was very shy growing up, the leadership opportunities she has received through FFA have played important role in her growth.
"I've had a lot of kids come up to me, and they've been asking me questions and I've been able to say, 'Don't be afraid of agriculture. Don't be afraid of doing a speech, it's all really cool. Relax and be yourself,'" Grimes said. "I've been able to help a lot of kids that I never would have done before, I never would have reached out. It's great." ❖