Zac Graber received the President’s Prize at a break in the 2018 Ohio State vs Michigan game from former Ohio State President Michael V. Drake.

Embracing “Learning to do” into a future career

By Meredith Oglesby, OCJ FFA reporter

From the skills learned to the support he gained along the way, one alumni member from the Liberty Center FFA chapter has put, “learning to do, doing to learn,” into action.

As an FFA member, Zac Graber, a 2015 Liberty Center High School graduate, participated in public speaking, served as the Liberty Center FFA President and received his State FFA Degree. These experiences allowed Graber to grow, learn and question the impact he can make in his community and world.

            Graber, who graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in marketing and agribusiness and applied economics, was recognized in 2019 as a President’s Prize recipient, an opportunity former President Michael V. Drake developed to recognize graduating seniors who are committed to social change and their capacity to create bold ideas and make an impact on their global community.

            Graber conducted undergraduate research, which gave him a basis to apply for the President’s Prize where he developed the project rECOvery Organics. He wanted to draw attention to the issue of food waste and security and the impacts this issue has on society and the environment. As a recipient, he received a $50,000 living stipend and up to $50,000 in startup funding to implement his project. Graber’s research provided ways to make the recycling process easier on consumers and economically feasible for both the public and private sector.

            “My upbringing in agriculture, both FFA and 4-H, is completely responsible for where I am today,” Graber said. “It’s the reason I started my college journey at Ohio State in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and the reason I conducted my research in food waste that led to the President’s Prize.”

            As Graber was working through research for rECOvery Organics, he realized the challenges associated with developing a research paper and project.

“I always felt like I was wasting time having a mess of notes and spending hours figuring out citations,” Graber said.

Graber found there was an option called Reference Management Software to organize citations, but these options seemed more geared toward professors or graduate students and were difficult to use.

“The FFA gave me a passion to create things that actively benefit other people,” Graber said. “So, I set out to make a solution.”

To allow for students to feel more prepared and confident, Graber developed Opendemia, a website that allows students to keep notes organized, automates in-text citations and full work cited pages, saving them for future use. Graber developed a model, assembled a team and found software to support his design. Opendemia is currently a free resource any student or individual can use. Now, within the first year, Opendemia has users ranging from high school to graduate students from more than 50 colleges and more than 50 majors. One of the first users to create an account was Graber’s FFA advisor, Brandon Readshaw.

“The support has never stopped,” Graber said.

Graber hopes students will become empowered rather than discouraged through their research projects. He recognizes that FFA members may benefit from the resources on Opendemia as they develop a passion for certain topics, work on research projects in class or create projects for the Agriscience Fair.

“Being able to do research and write effectively are useful skills no matter the career path you choose,” Graber said. “I want everyone to feel like they can become an expert in anything they are interested in and I want to help make it easier for them to get started!”

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