Creating the Future: How FFA Prepared Raven Team Members for their Engineering Careers

Future Farmers of America (FFA) prepares members for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through hands-on agricultural education and experiences. Raven, together with New Holland Agriculture, recently expressed our commitment to these future STEM professionals by releasing the Precision Toolkit program. We continue to support and encourage students to learn and see how their work in agriculture impacts the world.

As we celebrate both FFA Week and Engineers Week 2023, we asked a couple of our engineers how their involvement in FFA prepared them for their careers today. Here’s what John Gaard, Senior Test Engineer, and Nathan Linke, Test Engineer, had to say as they reflected on their involvement.

How long were you involved in FFA? Describe how you were involved.

John: I was involved in FFA from 8th grade through my freshman year in college, so six years.

I loved FFA and was involved in everything I could: I served as a Greenhand officer, chapter officer, and district officer. I applied for Proficiency Awards for my SAE. I competed in Freshman Parliamentary Procedure, Senior Parliamentary Procedure, Livestock Judging, Ag Mechanics, and Land Judging. I went to the Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, DC and FFA camp every summer in the Black Hills. I also competed in the National FFA Tractor Restoration Contest.

Nathan: I was involved in FFA for 9 years, starting in 7th grade until I got my American Degree as a college Junior. I participated in Range Judging, Parliamentary Procedure, Public Speaking, Employment Skills, Creed Speaking, and Farm Business Management, and was on state-winning teams for Livestock Judging, Agronomy, and Meats Judging, for which I competed at the national level.

I held multiple chapter offices, including chapter President. In April of 2019, I was selected to be the State Treasurer for the 2019-20 South Dakota State Officer Team. I was the third State Treasurer in my family. My oldest brother, Jonathan, was Treasurer from 2015-16, and my next brother, Aaron, was Treasurer from 2017-18.

After serving as a state officer, I was a Retiring Address coach and the Past State Officer Representative on the SD FFA Foundation Board.

What are some of your favorite FFA memories?

John: I have many good memories:

There was no national contest for Freshman Parliamentary Procedure, so our chapter advisor offered our team the reward of taking us to the National FFA Convention if we won the state contest, probably not expecting us to win. Well, we did, so he was stuck with taking seven enthusiastic sophomores to the National FFA Convention the next fall.

I restored an antique tractor that my Grandpa Gaard farmed with, created a workbook documenting the restoration process, and entered the effort in the National FFA Tractor Restoration Contest. I was named a top 10 finalist and was able to go to the National FFA Convention to compete in the final phase, which involved giving a presentation to a panel of tractor restoration experts.

Our FFA chapter was a consistent contender in Senior Parliamentary Procedure, but we hadn’t won the state contest during our advisor’s tenure. In my senior year, we finally won the state contest, giving our advisor his first Parliamentary Procedure state contest win in 20 years of teaching. However, since we won it in my senior year, my freshman year of college was stressful, as we prepared for the national contest that next fall.

Our chapter did not have a regular Ag Mechanics team, so a group of classmates and I formed one in my junior year. We studied hard and we won third place at the state contest (thanks to a very difficult team story problem involving liquid hog manure application math), upsetting some perennial competitor Ag Mechanic chapters. I was completely surprised and ecstatic when I won 2nd place individually in the state Ag Mechanics contest in my senior year.

Nathan: One of my favorite FFA memories was on the Agronomy Judging team. I was a freshman, and both my older brothers — a sophomore and a senior — were on the team as well. We competed through the spring, placing in our order of age, many times in the top 5 at competitions. State Convention was the only time we beat my oldest brother, as he placed fourth, and my middle brother and I placed first and second, respectively, leading to us winning the event as a team and proceeding to the national competition.

Another favorite memory is leadership retreat as a State Officer. I had attended leadership retreats before, but as the leader of my small group, it was a totally different and fulfilling experience to see members come to camp and have the experience I had at camp. I got to see friendships being formed, people choosing to come out of their shells, and confidence grown in those that came to camp.

How did FFA prepare you for your engineering career?

John: The FFA is a unique organization in that it enables you to grow your leadership skills and technical skills. The wide range of activities and contests allows anybody to find something that inspires them. You can gain soft skills such as leadership, self-confidence, public speaking, teamwork, attention to detail, and documentation. Technical skills can be gained through your SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) and CDE’s (Career Development Events). My SAE gave me experience and skills in automotive and agricultural machinery repair and I competed in the Ag Mechanics CDE which covers a wide range of skill areas: internal combustion engines, building construction, electrical wiring, and natural resources.

Nathan: FFA is an organization that gives the opportunity to explore what areas suit your personality. With all the options for contests and all the opportunities for new experiences, FFA is bound to lead you in one way or another. For me, FFA helped me home in on what I wanted to do by solidifying my desire to remain in agriculture, but also allowing me the opportunity to learn my skills and think critically about how I could apply those skills in the real world. That basis of skills gave me the confidence to branch out and see I could use my skills in the field of engineering and the task of figuring out solutions to complicated problems.

How did FFA inspire you to pursue your career at Raven / in agriculture / in engineering?

John: I did not grow up on a farm, but the FFA gave me another avenue for exposure to the agricultural industry. South Dakota State University hosts the State FFA Convention every spring, so sliding in to the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department at SDSU was a comfortable fit.

Nathan: I grew up on a family farm and had deep roots in agriculture. It was in FFA that I was able to realize the skills I had and the potential to grow that was ahead of me. I never would have looked to engineering and branching out of my comfort zone of farm knowledge without the challenges I pushed through during my FFA involvement. Those challenges helped me gain both technical skills and soft skills that have and will continue to benefit me for the rest of my life, and the confidence I gained in my abilities inspired me to reach further than I thought I ever would.

We're also celebrating Engineers' Week this week, which has the theme of "Creating the Future." How are organizations like FFA are "creating the future" of ag technology?

John: I’m going to sound redundant, but the FFA is a great organization which allows you to gain leadership and technical skills together, inside and outside of the classroom. Every employer appreciates leadership skills. And the multiple avenues for gaining technical skills offers the student the opportunity to explore many different subject areas — providing them broad exposure to the agricultural industry.

Nathan: One of the most important things that FFA does is help you create a network. FFA helped me to reach out across the state and eventually across the nation to find people with a similar drive to succeed and goal to get there. The network that we build is essential to success no matter our profession. As we look into the future, our problems to solve will only become more complex. That network that we can build is the perfect sounding board for the next big problem to solve. The future is built by learning the technical and soft skills through experiences and challenging ourselves and each other through the network we build along the way.

Interested in Joining our Team?

At Raven, we are developing unique technology for a growing and changing world. Bring innovation to life as one of our engineering and technical team members who invent, design, and customize advanced products every day.