Ben Bartu (left) and Kiah Songster (right) fresh off the stage at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis with their American Degrees in hand.
Only one half of one percent of all FFA members will earn their American degree, the highest degree available to FFA members.
Just 142 Nebraska FFA members received their American degree last weekend in Indianapolis and two are members of the EMF FFA. In fact, they are two of the founding members of the chapter which began its combined charter in 2018.
Kiah Songster and Ben Bartu applied for the American Degree last spring and were notified late this summer that they would be receiving the award on stage in Indianapolis at the FFA National Convention.
To earn the award they had to be out of high school at least one year and have received their state degree. They must also be pursing an agricultural college education and had to earn $10,000 profit from their Supervised Agricultural Experience project and invested at least $7500 in their project.
In addition to the project, there was an extensive application which required them to have at least 50 hours of community service. Their advisor, Amy Kohtz, emphasized the importance of good records, “Both of them have done a really good job throughout the years keeping their records up to date so it was an easy process of finishing out the year and submitting the application.”
Songster, who is pursuing an ag business major and communications minor degree at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri, continued showing cattle after high school and logged all of those hours and the profit from selling her show cattle to earn her American degree.
Bartu, who is pursuing a diesel technology degree at SCC in Milford, logged his time and profit from his work at Horizontal Boring and Tunneling in Exeter.
Applying for the degree wasn’t exactly on Bartu’s radar but after Kohtz mentioned he might be eligible to apply he decided to go ahead and try for it. Songster knew it would be a great addition to her resume and show “how hard working and passionate about agriculture” she is.
Both recipients gave a nod to the bonus education they received in FFA. Bartu stated, “I have learned a lot of stuff about agriculture that I didn’t know. As an officer in FFA in high school I learned a lot about organization, planning events, being involved and what it takes to run an organization.”
Songster added, “Being a part of FFA has made me a better public speaker, a better leader and made me be able to solve problems.”
Both encouraged other students to stick with FFA and take the leap to apply for their American degree. “It shows how hard working you are and the drive you have for what you are passionate about,” said Songster.
Kohtz noted that the degree and FFA help secure the future success of students, “by showing future employers that just because high school is over doesn't mean that they don't stop working towards goals. Work ethic is something that is hard to have students want to do and by continuing to take pride in their SAE projects and to continue beyond school shows not only work ethic but dedication to the organization.”
And just like Songster said, she learned many life skills in the program. Kohtz emphasized that even students who aren’t going to pursue a degree in agriculture can benefit from participating in FFA, “Specifically we have Career Development Events. These events align to different careers from welding, agronomy, ag business, sales, marketing to vet science. Even if a student does not want to major in an agricultural career, the skills they learn by participating in these events and in Ag Ed classes gives them transferrable career readiness skills.”
Songster and Bartu travelled with their family members to Indianapolis and met up with the EMF FFA group who were able to all watch them receive their degrees on stage at the convention.