Four students in Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) earned the American FFA Degree at the organization’s recent national convention at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Achieved by less than 1% of all FFA members nationally, the degree recognizes individuals who have gone above and beyond in their leadership, community involvement, and dedication to their chapter and state FFA associations.
The four WSU awardees, Esther Grosz, Austin Kern, Pedro Mendoza-Zamora, and Delaney Shattuck, describe FFA’s important role in their lives:
Esther Grosz joined FFA during her first year of high school after moving to Rochester, Wash., from Alaska. She didn’t know anyone in the group and had no experience in agriculture, but the chance to learn valuable life skills like public speaking and networking piqued her interest.
During a gap year between high school and starting at WSU, Grosz served as an FFA state officer, working with the Washington legislature.
“I learned how to interact with people and develop real, genuine connections,” Grosz said. “Developing those skills while having experiences like talking with legislators in Olympia will help me for years to come.”
Grosz said receiving the American Degree at last month’s convention was a cumulative representation of her various FFA experiences.
“That was my first time on the national stage,” she said. “It was also the last time I got to wear my blue jacket. It was bittersweet, but an amazing experience.”
When your parents and older sister are teachers, following the family tradition makes sense. For Austin Kern, the family legacy influenced his career track as well as his FFA participation.
“It’s not just a family thing, but something I really love and have learned a lot from,” said Kern, an agricultural education major from Moses Lake, Wash.
Kern’s dad teaches ag ed in Moses Lake and, during Austin’s senior year of high school, his older sister became a faculty member there. After graduating, he hopes to join his family as a teacher in his hometown.
Kern’s family background introduced him to FFA, and his sister also earned the American Degree. He said FFA has helped him become the person he is today.
“The biggest thing is the leadership aspect,” Kern said. “It helped me learn how to run things, be organized, and build connections. I learned how to get things done.”
Pedro Mendoza-Zamora started his FFA adventure with a quiz bowl competition in junior high, but it was a trip to the Washington state FFA convention at WSU early in high school that solidified his interest and gave him the motivation to engage more.
“I wanted leadership positions and to be involved in competitions,” said the East Wenatchee, Wash., native. “FFA has given me so much, and receiving the American Degree is the perfect way to close a chapter that has been a huge part of my life.”
Mendoza-Zamora, a wildlife ecology and conservation sciences major, hopes to use his FFA experiences and WSU degree in a career helping protect animals for future generations.
“I learned about sustainability and conservation through FFA,” he said. “I hope to continue learning more about those issues and make a difference in the world through animal conservation.”
Mendoza-Zamora served alongside Grosz in a statewide FFA position last year, traveling around Washington and the country to meet with students, educators, legislators, and others.
“That year allowed me to see the diversity within agriculture in our state, both in commodities and the people who work in the industry,” he said. “I’m proud of my time in FFA and so thankful for all the people who helped and supported me.”
Delaney Shattuck joined FFA in seventh grade and the next year was on a team that finished fifth in a national contest.
“It’s exciting to reflect back and see how far FFA has brought me over the years,” the Tri-Cities, Wash., native said. “I felt like being on stage and receiving that degree was what I’d been looking forward to since seventh grade.”
Shattuck, an agriculture and food security major, got involved in FFA at the suggestion of her mom, an FFA high school advisor. She said the organization has helped her in many ways, but it has especially aided with overcoming shyness.
After graduating, Shattuck hopes to follow in her mom’s footsteps and become an ag education teacher, then earn a master’s degree in agricultural education. “My mom’s family has a potato farm and my dad’s family is a ranching family,” Shattuck said. “I’ve been involved in agriculture my entire life. My time with FFA changed me, and I can’t wait to help future students have similar experiences.”