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Lander FFA sets high standard for themselves

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Lander – The Lander FFA chapter lives up to its motto: Leaders by Choice.
“Our chapter wins a lot of competitions from livestock judging to agronomy,” says FFA Advisor Mike McConnell. “When we compete, we normally place in the top 10 in the country. We’ve done a great job representing Lander and Wyoming.”
Lander FFA was chartered in 1928 and was the third chapter in the state. Agriculture education began at the then-Fremont County Vocational High School in 1912. Today, the Lander FFA chapter has 110 students
“The chapter is about 30 percent farm and ranch kids,” McConnell says. “We have a really diverse group of students from all backgrounds. About 90 percent are also involved in athletics or other extracurricular school activities. They are a really busy and productive bunch of young men and women, which makes them fun to work with.”
Three members will receive the American Degree, the highest FFA award, at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind. this fall. Levi Lozier, Alyssa Lozier and Jared Olden will be awarded the American Degree for their excellent and comprehensive supervised agriculture experience programs. With the 2010 recipients, Lander FFA has had 24 members earn the American Degree.
“There are three parts to ag education here,” McConnell says. “The ag education classes, FFA and the supervised ag education programs, which the students start as freshman. The students have entrepreneurial placements and work in different career areas. To complete their programs, the members have to earn or invest $7,500, or 4,000 hours of experience in their business or job.”
McConnell, who has taught at Lander Valley for 21 years, heavily utilizes the aquaculture and hydroponics lab, computer and dissection lab, livestock barn and machine shop in his curriculum.
“We take a week for instruction,” McConnell explains. “And then the following week the students go into the labs and shop to do what we learned through lecture and textbooks. We have a great facility with a computerized metal cutting machine and the tools to build production ag equipment. The students work to create practical products and gain a lot of experience.
“My FFA students have gone on to be doctors and lawyers, veterinarians and engineers, military officers and ranchers. I have a former student doing humanitarian work in Africa. One of the first tasks she was assigned was to weld together a bunch of stuff, and she was so excited because she knew how to do that.”
Lander FFA members not only travel to competitions around the region for live animal evaluation, they also take time for local service projects and to work with area elementary students.
“Pipe pick-up is one of our ag service days,” explains FFA member Riley Erickson. “We help about a dozen farmers and ranchers around the valley with fall chores, mainly picking up irrigation pipe. It is a great opportunity to see what ranches and farms are like in the fall. We also do Drive-by Raking, where we team up and help people around town with yard care.”
Erickson and her family ranch near Beaver Creek. She shows steers and commercial heifers with FFA, along with extemporaneous and prepared speaking, and livestock judging.
“This year I’m doing my prepared speech on the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to designate the Red Desert as a national monument,” Erickson says. “I have found that I prefer to do extemporaneous speaking over prepared, though. For extemporaneous, there are 10 topics and we are notified of the chosen topic 30 minutes prior to starting to speak.”
This is the fourth year the Lander Valley senior has been involved in FFA.
“When I was a freshman I was pretty shy,” Erickson remembers. “FFA has really broadened my spectrum. I know so many people through FFA that I can now go to any Wyoming town and see friends.
“For college I really want to judge livestock at Colorado State University. No matter what college I go to, though, I for sure want to study ag law and specialize in water rights. There is so much one can do out there, but no matter what, I would like to work with something related to agriculture.”
McConnell works to provide all his students hands-on experience with whatever topic they are studying. That includes livestock nutrition, and applying math to figure out how much protein to feed steers for maximum weight gain, and creating blueprints of livestock barns, chutes and pens while learning about facility maintenance and management. The active learning is what brought Taylor DeClure into FFA as a senior.
“I wasn’t involved too much with FFA my freshman through junior years,” DeClure explains. “Now I work for North Valley Services and Support through the FFA community experience program. I work as a mechanic with the oil field company out of Lander. It’s what my family has been doing for four generations and I plan to work full-time with them after graduation for a couple years before going to college.”
McConnell’s office walls are a testament to the affect FFA has had on his high school students. They are filled with photos of all his students who have graduated over the years, along with the plaques students earned while learning through agriculture.
Melissa Hemken is correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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