Jerome High School senior Shalyn Young has always had a passion for animals. That interest crystalized into aspirations to study veterinary medicine after she began taking agriculture classes and got involved in FFA.
Hoping to expand her knowledge and horizons even further, she applied for a slot at the FFA NexGen Conference: Animal Systems, in Kansas City. She was one of 50 students from across the country — and the only student from Idaho — accepted for the pilot event scheduled for Feb. 18-23.
Conducted by National FFA Organization, the six-day conference is their first for high school students to focus on a specific career pathway with a hands-on, industry-relevant learning experience. Depending on the response from participants, sponsors and instructors, this model may be replicated for other FFA career pathways and at other locations throughout the country.
“This conference will help students explore many different aspects of animal systems,” says Casey Zuwalt, education specialist for the National FFA Organization, and conference coordinator. “More than 150 students applied, and the 50 who are coming represent a wide variety of interests and goals. They are going to learn, be challenged and be inspired. Industry support has been excellent.”
Zuwalt, herself, has ties to the Gem State. She was a Kuna FFA member and Idaho executive director prior to accepting her position at the national level.
She began working on the conference two years ago. The result is a rigorous curriculum featuring sessions on new and emerging ideas, trends and products in animal systems, use of big data, advocacy and engagement, sustainable agriculture, financial management, regulations and regulatory issues, among other topics. Kansas City was chosen for the inaugural event as a major travel hub and for its proximity to diverse animal production and related industries.
“This conference recognizes that the next generation of agricultural industry leaders are FFA members today,” says Zuwalt. “We also know hands-on learning is the way to engage these students, so it will be very interactive. There will be large and small group sessions, classroom (lessons) and tours, plus learning and social activities. We have instructors and content specialists from a wide variety of disciplines and from across the country.”
Like the other 49 registrants, Shalyn (daughter of Tim and Melody Young) is a high achiever: She’s president of her FFA Chapter, a state-ranked member of their veterinary science competition team, an animal science class prep assistant and an intern with Dr. Bob Tillquist at Snake River Veterinary Hospital in Jerome.
“Even though I didn’t grow up on a farm, I’ve learned through my classes and FFA that I have a lot of opportunities in agriculture and animal science,” says Shalyn. “I’m very grateful I was chosen to go to this conference. It’s going to be intense, but it’s going to give me more knowledge of animal agriculture and open my eyes to different aspects of working with animals. Having the chance to meet people from all over the country could mean that I make connections that will be useful in my college and career.”
Shalyn’s application for the conference required her to document interest and experience in animal systems, provide evidence of intent to attend college or be career-ready through work experience, training or other activity and to articulate a vision for how she plans to achieve her goals. Those selected pay no registration, meal or lodging costs but must cover their travel expenses to and from the conference.
All participants will leave with a career readiness plan. Shalyn will start at the University of Idaho in pre-veterinary studies next fall, and this plan will help her to chart her path to veterinary school and beyond. She is still exploring whether that future work will be in a large or small animal specialization, a mixed practice, or some other aspect of the discipline.
Alan Willmore, agriculture educator and animal science instructor at Jerome High School, will also make the trip to Kansas City. Willmore anticipates the conference will be an excellent professional development experience, providing him with new information, contacts and teaching approaches applicable to classroom and experiential learning for his students.
Jerome FFA program support from sponsors including Zoetis, will cover travel costs for Shalyn and Willmore.