By Madi Kregel, OCJ field reporter
Hannah Sykes is one of the .5% of FFA members who receive the highest honor they can possibly achieve — the American FFA Degree. It’s been over 40 years since her chapter at Adena High School has had an American Degree recipient. And as of this week, 23 men have earned their American Degree for the chapter, and one woman.
Sykes grew up on her family’s beef farm in Ross County, where she raised and showed market steers and breeding heifers for her SAE project. She had an internship that coincided with her project as well her work at Select Sires, where she was a lab intern. Sykes said the most challenging part of her SAE project was the amount of work and effort that she put into it.
“I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours out at the barn just to get to where I am at this point,” she said. “Breaking the calves to lead and preparing the cattle to be shown at the fair is one of the hardest aspects.”
Each FFA member choosing to pursue the State and American FFA degrees must log all records connected to their SAE project into FFA’s Agricultural Experience Tracker (AET) database. The AET is also used to collect records while applying for State and National Proficiency awards. According to the AET website, there are over 1 million skills journaled, and over 4 million experiential learning hours logged. Keeping track of every record and transferring the information to AET is by no means easy or enjoyable, but Sykes said her chapter advisor, Josh Bluck, helped her through the process.
“AET was probably the hardest part of my project,” Sykes said.“I knew where my numbers came from and all of the numbers I needed to get there like my feed prices and taking my profit and subtracting my feed prices I knew all of that, but Mr. Bluck helped me record it the way it’s supposed to be.”
Sykes also had the advantage of a second opinion when needed from her uncle, Mike Sykes, one of the McClain FFA advisors.
“There were times when I was sitting at home working on my SAE and I called him up and asked for help. He helped me a lot with this and got me where I needed to be with it,” Sykes said.
When comparing the process toward the American Degree and the State Degree, she said she was set up for success, thanks to Ohio FFA.
“I thought that it was harder to get my State Degree because Ohio sets you up so well to get your American Degree that it’s easier than getting your State Degree,” she said.
She said getting the American Degree is just showing you raised more money and generated a profit.
In addition to Sykes trailblazing in her chapter this year, she and two other Adena FFA members reset the bar high for their chapter by being the first members to receive their State FFA Degree in over 30 years. She said no one knows why it had taken so long for the chapter to have two of the highest degrees possible in the FFA organization. Sykes is hoping her experience inspires others in the Adena FFA Chapter to pursue their State and American Degrees as well.
“I don’t know if people didn’t want to get theirs because it had been so long since someone had and they didn’t want to be the guinea pig,” she said. “Maybe I set the bar now and some other kids will want to get theirs too.”
Unfortunately with a virtual National Convention this year, there are some added experiences that Sykes and the many other American Degree recipients will not get to experience. Rather than accepting their degree on stage in front of the thousands of FFA members from around the country, American Degree recipients like Sykes received a form in the mail to fill out and return to the National FFA Organization with a picture. That picture and information was displayed for hundreds of thousands to see virtually during the American Degree ceremonies on Wednesday of the National Convention.
“I’ve always dreamt of receiving the American FFA Degree, ever since I was young. I knew I had the ability to work hard to get there, and I’m just thankful that I’m here now,” Sykes said.
Her picture was put on display at her chapter’s high school along with the 23 previous men that received their American FFA Degree. Sykes, now a student at Wilmington College majoring in animal sciences, hopes her experience paves the way for better days through better ways for other young women in agriculture and her FFA Chapter (much like the FFA Creed).
“I believe women have the ability to do anything they put their minds to. We’re smart and we’re perfectly capable,” Sykes said. “Agriculture is all about ensuring things are better for those yet to come. You have the ability to get there. Believe you can work hard and you can get there too.”