Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with American Star Awards for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.
The American Star Awards, including American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience, are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of an SAE. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows students to learn by doing, by either owning or operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Here are the 2017 finalists for American Star in Agricultural Placement:
Devin Debruhl (Indiana)
The family business has always been a part of Devin Debruhl’s life. The Shirley, Ind., resident remembers spending early mornings going to work with his dad. At 10, he started helping around the shop and gradually picked up more responsibilities. By the time he was 16, he began working with his dad and brother on their pole barn crew.
As a result of his dedication, working at his family’s business became his supervised agricultural experience (SAE).
“Now I’ve transitioned into more of a leadership role,” Debruhl says. In 2014, Debruhl’s father sold the truss side of the business and began focusing on building pole barns. From this came Debruhl Pole Barn and Sons Company.
“It was a change to be out of the truss business, but I was excited to target the pole barn business,” Debruhl says. “We diversified and I formed a 50/50 partnership with my dad, Debruhl Truss Plate manufacturing.”
Debruhl’s experience has earned him the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agricultural Placement.
Debruhl credits FFA for much of his success. “I learned a lot in my ag business class in terms of working with customers, and my ag mechanics class helped me in terms of the equipment we use,” he says. Debruhl became crew leader on the job site, and since high school he has been able to take jobs along with his own crew. He leads a team of three to four men and talks with customers to ensure that their needs are met for each project.
Remembering the importance of community and developing relationships are the keys to his success, according to Debruhl. “It’s important for the future of this business for you to start friendly and stay competitive with other people in the business,” Debruhl says.
He continues to invest in the company, with the hope that when his dad retires, he can take the reigns.
Kellie Einck (Iowa)
When Kellie Einck was a youngster, she found horsepower and torque far more interesting than playing dress up. The Paullina, Iowa, resident’s fascination with engine mechanics eventually led her to take agriculture and power in addition to other technical courses while she was in FFA. And the combination helped fuel her desire to become an engineer.
For her supervised agricultural experience (SAE), Einck worked at a small car garage as a general mechanic and service technician in her hometown of Primghar, Iowa. Then she went to diesel tech school at a community college in town. There she enjoyed the hands-on work of mechanical engineering.
Einck’s experience with agriculture was limited while she was growing up, but most everyone in her family drove trucks. “They hauled livestock, so to an extent it was agriculture, but getting in this field has broadened my horizon. There’s crops, animals and custom work on top of it,” she says.
Einck decided to look into a career that focused on mechanics, perhaps mechanical engineering. She began taking classes for a two-year degree in diesel technology Now she works as a general mechanic and service technician for Randy’s Services and ICON Ag and Turf.
Einck says FFA helped her with her communication skills and her ability to promote herself and her work in what is typically a male-dominated field. She mentions that other obstacles she has had to overcome included physical feats based on the size and weight of machinery and other mechanical components.
She says she has gained an immeasurable amount of mechanical knowledge as a result of working on more than 30 different models, all systems of a tractor and engine and serviceable parts of a combine.
“I say if you heart’s in it, go for it,” Einck says. “Each step I took had its own challenges, but each success gave me a giant boost of confidence to go on to the next thing. It takes courage, perseverance and optimism to keep pushing on. ”
Her dedication to the profession has earned her the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agricultural Placement.
Matt Ries (Wisconsin)
When Matt Ries looks around at his family’s farrow-to-finish hog farm, his eyes behold more than just agriculture at work. He sees an opportunity to help feed the growing population of the world.
“I want to help make our farm more efficient and sustainable for our food supply,” Ries says. “To boost efficiency and sustainability, we’re going directly from the farm to the consumer. We’re providing fresh quality pork directly to the consumer.”
His determination and consistent efforts to find ways to help feed the world has earned him the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agricultural Placement.
Growing up on his family’s farrow-to-finish hog farm, the Lomira, Wis., resident has always had a passion for raising and showing quality hogs. Ries remembers when, as a third-grader, he was given his first two hogs to raise and then show at the fair.
As he grew older, Ries was given more responsibility on the farm. Currently he is a full-time assistant manager at Ries Pure Breed Hog Farm. He hopes to eventually become the third-generation owner of the farm and continue the family tradition of raising quality market hogs.
As an FFA member, Ries was encouraged to participate in a supervised agricultural experience (SAE), and working on his farm seemed the perfect fit. Today he helps with the day-to-day chores and management of the operation, and it’s a tradition that he loves.
Ries credits FFA with teaching him the leadership skills to help him succeed. “FFA gives you a lot of opportunities to learn new things,” he says. “I’ve learned how to go outside my comfort zone and work with people.”
Over the long term, Ries sees a bright future for the farm and the possibility of building new facilities there that would make it more efficient. “I’d like to implement precision agriculture for monitoring systems while planting and harvesting, and variable rate application,” Ries says. “I’d also like to see us tiling fields so they can be planted at optimal times.”
Bailey Wilson (Texas)
For Bailey Wilson, agriculture holds a special meaning. And though the Pilot Point, Texas resident fondly recalls life on the farm, he knows all too well the hard and meaningful work to be done if it’s to be a successful operation.
“So many experiences as a young child sparked my interest in agriculture — the most exciting industry I know,” Wilson says.
His enthusiasm for the industry continued throughout his involvement in FFA and his supervised agricultural experience (SAE), tending and training horses at Rutledge Farms and Ranch.
Growing up in a family with strong roots in agriculture, Wilson had a broad and somewhat diverse knowledge of general agricultural practices and learned firsthand the skills necessary in production agriculture. But in addition to his hands-on experience, Wilson is grateful for the agriscience classes and FFA competitions. They provided an outlet for him to further expand his knowledge base of animal science and production agriculture.
Now a student manager at the Meat Lab at Tarleton State University, he helps with the harvest and production of meat products. Thanks to his time spent at the meat lab, he can now identify cuts of meat, and preferred cooking methods so he can also assist customers.
His dedication to his SAEs has earned him the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for the America Star in Agricultural Placement.
Wilson attributes his success in his SAE to his involvement in FFA. “FFA has helped me build a lot of confidence in myself,” Wilson says. “When I first started in FFA I couldn’t talk in front of a lot of people.”
His advice to others is easy to follow: Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to work hard. While success takes a lot of hard work, it’s very rewarding if you put in the time and effort.
Wilson’s enthusiasm for agriculture remains strong, and he plans to pursue a master’s degree in animal science and seek a career in animal nutrition.
Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated by a panel of judges who then interview the finalists during the national convention and expo. Four are named winners and receive cash awards totaling $4,000. All American Star finalists receive a $2,000 cash award. Case IH, Elanco Animal Health and Syngenta sponsor the awards.
Judging will occur in Indianapolis during the 90th National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 25-28, with the winners being announced during an onstage ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 26.