As a high school FFA student, participating in the National FFA Convention & Expo was an exhilarating experience. Hearing the loud music, watching the light show, and feeling the energy of over 65,000 attendees that filled Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis provided a memory that holds a lasting impact on a young leader.
It is invigorating to witness students achieving their goals of winning Agricultural Proficiency Awards or devout members receiving their FFA American Degrees. Contestants in Career Development Events had the opportunity to showcase their talent in front of thousands of peers. For members who wanted a break from the general sessions in the stadium, they had the option to interact with hundreds of companies and colleges. Students were given a vast opportunity to explore personal interests in an interactive environment between winning prizes and learning more about professional and academic opportunities.
Now, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, large events, including the National FFA Convention, have had no option but to move to a virtual format to continue their tradition. Streamed on social media, members had access to the general sessions. They could also participate in chat rooms to speak with the national officers and had the chance to connect with other members across the country.
The Nashua Plainfield FFA Chapter was among the many groups that participated in the alternative convention. Kylie Dietz, a senior and the president of her FFA chapter, expressed her thoughts on attending the virtual conference.
“I like it better than not having it at all. It is more fun in person. I am glad we still get to have it, but it is very different,” she said. “I liked meeting new people and watching contests with people who are good at what they are doing.”
Click here to get caught up on all the convention had to offer.
Jaycie Bilharz, the Vice-President for the Nashua Plainfield FFA Chapter, misses the bonding experience she received from traveling to Indianapolis. The past years’ in-person convention allowed her to interact with her team and with other students across the country.
“Being in the room with thousands of people where everyone is wearing the same thing and celebrating something everyone loves is amazing,” she said.
Though they didn’t receive that same interaction this year, the FFA members still made the best of the situation by creating a small convention of their own.
In lieu of attending the conference in person, the FFA chapter hosted a small watch party for junior high and high school members to participate in the final general sessions on Thursday night. They also attended the FFA Blue Room, where they were presented with examples of where agriculture technology and innovation meet. They decided to take advantage of this opportunity due to not having time for the experience when attending past conventions sessions.
To keep their national convention as engaging as possible, the Beckman Catholic FFA Chapter took a captivating approach. Their FFA advisor, Dawn Mausser, rented out the local social center for the FFA chapter to decorate the building with different themes each day. They created an experience for students with prizes and goods throughout the day.
“Everyone had an opportunity to participate in one way or another,” said Mausser. “The level of excitement I have seen in the kids the past few days was rejuvenating.”
They had screens showing the live convention sessions. They also took advantage of the connection rooms to engage with other members they may have met if they were in Indianapolis.
“It was still cool to be able to connect with people through the connect rooms,” said Tessa Tauke, a sophomore at Beckman Catholic.
Dawn said it was exciting to engage more than the 12 students she is usually limited to when attending the conference in the previous years. Students who are typically busy with harvest this time of the year and cannot miss a week from helping out at the farm generally do not make it to the convention. This year her chapter had eight national agriscience qualifiers and seven American Degree recipients.
Jasmine Hager, a junior that was among the agriscience finalists, was thrilled with the experience they still had despite not receiving recognition in front of thousands of members.
“It gave us the opportunity to connect with people nationwide as well as people in our chapter,” she said.
Mausser and her students worked hard to make their convention as cool as possible to showcase their leadership and have fun while doing it.
The students and advisors from both schools shared similar thoughts, hoping that FFA conferences and conventions can return in person next year. In order to give members the best experience possible amidst the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers with the National FFA Organization worked hard to their tradition of inspiring young and future leaders. Between the national organization and the creativity from individual chapters. FFA members were still presented with opportunities to share their love for FFA and the achievements they receive within the organization.
Dawson Schmitt is a student at Iowa State University studying Agricultural Communications. He operates a blog called The Heartland Report.
Become an ag insider with AGDAILY!
We deliver quality over quantity. Sign up here!