Elisa Russ didn’t grow up on a farm in Northeast Iowa, but that didn’t stop her from reaching the top of the Iowa FFA association. In fact, it really just took a willingness to learn.
“Despite not growing up on a farm, I still feel like I have a good understanding of agriculture, because of my willingness to learn. I soaked up all I could from my ag classes in high school, am continuing to do so as a student at Iowa State, and am always tuned in to conversations I am able to have with industry leaders and professionals because of the position that I’m in,” said Russ, State President, Iowa FFA Association.
It may surprise some that the top producing corn and soybean state in the nation does not have a current farm-raised FFA president, but Russ is far from the minority. In fact, more than 65 percent of Iowa FFA members do not come from a farm.
“Even with no production background, those students are just as passionate and ready to join the industry as the students that come from a fifth-generation farm,” Russ said.
For Russ, that passion came from her parents — her biggest supporters who are both teachers at New Hampton High School where she graduated. Russ also got the opportunity to see her two older brothers and sister go through FFA and even attended quite a few conventions herself before middle school.
“Having that early exposure definitely helped, but for some reason, I was still hesitant to join as a freshman. Then my parents stepped in and honestly, I didn’t really have much of a choice,” Russ said. “My dad is one of the big reasons I got into agriculture as he’s been an ag teacher for around 30 years. Although it was a tough sell at first, once I saw all the opportunities in the industry, along with the advancements, and more importantly, the people that were in ag, I was hooked.”
Hooked, and with a determination to follow the motto, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” Russ began her path to state FFA presidency.
“The first time I ran, I actually didn’t get elected, and it was a tough decision to decide to run again, but ultimately, FFA has made me into who I am,” Russ said. “I know this sounds cliche, but it’s true. I had many people in this organization impact me while I was in high school, and I wanted to help other members have the same life changing experiences that I had in the blue jacket.”
Her year as state president has been one of great growth and Russ said she has taken a lot from the program that will help carry her through life. One of the biggest – how to tailor one’s leadership style to those they are working with.
“I serve on a team with eight other individuals that are each very unique in their own way. Learning how to best work with each one so that they could be set up for success in the best way possible and learning how to adjust my style has been very beneficial,” Russ said.
Russ has also learned to never underestimate a high school student.
“Our FFA members are so passionate and driven to make a difference and do something amazing, that it is truly inspiring to see what they accomplish,” Russ said. “Whether it’s the straight A student or the one that works two jobs after school, students are truly amazing if we take the time to see it.”
Before Russ gives up her seat in April, she has some advice for the next round of state presidents:
- Pour yourself into your work. Serving at this capacity is unlike anything else, and one truly won’t get everything out of it they should unless they are 100 percent invested in what they are doing.
- Don’t be afraid to do things differently or start a new tradition.
- Realize not everything is going to go perfect and there’s going to be some definite hiccups, but use them as learning experiences!
- Be sure to take care of yourself as well. We can only give to others when we ourselves are full.
- Ultimately, serve selflessly and give it your all, and you won’t’ have any regrets.
Finally, Russ would encourage those students who don’t have a production background to join FFA because there is a place for them.
“Whether they like community service, leadership opportunities, or chances to compete, there’s a place for them in FFA,” Russ said. “And in the process of finding their place, they’ll learn about the industry that feeds, fuels, and clothes a growing world and see that they have the ability to not only be a part of it, but to leave an impact as well.”