South Dakota State FFA Officers Virtually Impact Youth & Agriculture

May 19, 2020

The new South Dakota State FFA Officer team was announced Thursday May 14 before a virtual audience. Continuing a nearly century-old tradition in the midst of a pandemic means these soon-to-be high school graduates will need to do things a bit different.

Since 1929 the role of South Dakota State FFA Officers has been very interactive. Traveling the state, they organize two summer leadership camps, meet with agribusiness leaders, legislators and most importantly, members. Even as they balance college classes, State Officers visit all 97 high schools, meeting with FFA members during their agriculture education classes. They put on leadership workshops and attend FFA career and leadership development contests throughout the year. 

And although the on-going COVID-19 pandemic means all interaction with members will be remote…at least for a few more months, newly elected South Dakota State FFA Secretary Hunter Eide says he’s eager to begin serving the organization.

“It obviously it will look a lot different. I'm excited just to be able to do it remotely and virtually get to know a variety of new members and learn what they're passionate about and what they believe in and still develop those connections,” says Hunter Eide.

From Gettysburg the 17-year-old is eager to work with his teammates: President, Samantha Olson of Aberdeen; Vice President, Jackson McFaden of Milbank; Treasurer, Liz DeBoer of Clear Lake; Reporter, Dirby Bawek of Doland and Sentinel, Ryder Mortenson of Winner.

With more than 4,700 members, FFA is one of the state’s largest agriculture youth leadership organizations. All middle school and high school students enrolled in agriculture education classes can be members. Eide and the other State FFA Officers serve as the face of the organization. They are agriculture advocates, peer leaders and in many cases peer mentors.

“FFA members and offices have always just been outgoing and wanting to get to know you and will always take the time, whether it is to help you, inspire you and just believe in you,” Eide says.

That’s the recently retired State FFA President and rodeo athlete from Wall, Shelby Ruland during opening ceremonies of the final session of the virtual 92nd State FFA Convention viewed by hundreds of members across the state on YouTube and the FFA Foundation Facebook page.

“Definitely know my favorite part of getting this position is just simply getting to know people and sharing our passion not only for agriculture but for building amazing leaders throughout our state,” Ruland says.

Moving into summer 2020, all camps have been cancelled, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of time to interact with members remotely. And digital communication is something Linkster’s excel at, explains Dani Herring, Executive Secretary for South Dakota FFA.

“It’s easy for them to reach out remotely and virtually, that’s their second language. That’s how they communicate already. It won’t matter if they’re hosting a chapter visit on zoom, or if they are hosting a chapter visit in person. They’re still going to be able to impact those kids. We will do whatever we can to impact as many students as we can no matter if its virtually or in person,” Herring says.

And if the 92nd virtual state convention is any indication, they are quite capable. Instead of the campus of South Dakota State University, Shelby Ruland and the 2019-2020 State FFA Officer team, volunteers and state staff organized all convention sessions, contests, career fair and workshops to be accessible on Facebook and YouTube. Not an easy task, acknowledged SDSU President Barry Dunn during his convention welcome.

“You have proven your ability to move beyond these obstacles and continue to virtually come together and create a positive opportunity through this event,” Barry Dunn says.

Zoom is also how a nominating committee selected Hunter Eide and his teammates, explains Michelle Nelson, State FFA Advisor.

“We are looking for students that are genuine people,” Nelson says.

To do this, applicants undergo a rigorous, behavior interview process. Selecting six individuals who will work well together is another aspect of the interview process. “We’re not just picking the top six individuals; we’re picking a team that fits well together. It’s just like putting together a puzzle,” Nelson explains.

Throughout the hours of interviews, Michelle utilized Zoom breakout rooms, so candidates could get to know each other while they waited for their one-on-one interviews.

“It felt like you were back at an FFA event. It was really nice to have that connection with people, be able to spend time with them, what they are passionate about and hopefully we can grow as a team and I look forward to that,” says Eide.

It’s a good thing, because Zoom will likely be how the team works together over the next few months to serve members and advocate for agriculture. 

To learn more about South Dakota FFA or to watch State Convention sessions, check out the FFA Foundation Facebook page.