Agricultural Education and Hospitality Management get hands-on experience behind the scenes of Missouri FFA Convention

Thousands of high school FFA students gathered on Mizzou’s campus April 17-19 for the Missouri FFA State Convention.

Seven women pose for a photograph.
Hospitality management students planned and executed the career expo at Missouri State FFA Convention. From left to right, Alex Ebbesmeyer (adviser), Leah Trokey, Kastin Galloway, Kate Peterson, Mary Margaret Garrett, Marta Cunningham, and Amanda Alexander (adviser). Photo by Sally Schmidt.

Each year in April, more than 8,000 blue jacket-clad high schoolers flood Mizzou’s campus to attend the Missouri FFA State Convention. Over the course of three days, students compete in Career Development Events (CDEs), Leadership Development Events (LDEs), and attend leadership sessions celebrating their year of hard work. While the high school students enjoy the fun, competition and celebration on campus, a team of agricultural industry professionals, CAFNR faculty and staff, and students ensure the event runs like a well-oiled machine. Agricultural education and leadership students and hospitality management students got boots-on-the-ground experience with the event this year.

FFA students stand at a table speaking to a Mizzou student.
FFA students got to explore Mizzou opportunities during their time on campus. Photo by Genevieve Howard.

While agricultural education and leadership students are almost all involved with the convention in some way, students in Jon Simonsen’s Methods of Teaching 1 (Ag Ed Ld 4320) play a significant role in operating CDEs as student superintendents. In this role they assist a faculty or industry member in running their assigned contest or contests, including helping with student check-in, scoring, proctoring and ensuring the high schoolers have all the necessary materials. While many agricultural education students attended and competed as FFA members, working the contests gave them new perspective.

“Once it’s your responsibility to do it, it’s a whole new ball game,” said Emma Roth, junior ag ed major and student superintendent for the agronomy and entomology contests. “You’re responsible for all those kids and it’s humbling. It’s such a big organization that, for a lot of us, affected our lives and shaped what we’re all going into as a career, so being able to be behind the scenes gives a new depth to it.”

Many ag ed students become student superintendents for CDEs they aren’t familiar with, presenting a new learning opportunity. While junior Abby Miller had competed in livestock and meat evaluation contests in high school, she was unfamiliar with the forestry contest before becoming student superintendent.

A student holds a sign reading "Dairy Foods" and leads other students through the livestock arena.
Sydney Stundebeck, a junior agribusiness management student, helps lead FFA members to their contest location. Photo by Genevieve Howard.

“I had to look up what the students were supposed to bring and what the parts of the contest were; I had no idea,” said Miller. “But now I feel like I’ve learned enough from the experience that I could coach a forestry team one day. All 10 of us in the class will be better ag teachers and be better able to prepare our future students because of this experience.”

For the first time, Missouri FFA State Convention spanned three days this year instead of two. This change, along with other changes to contest rules, such as not allowing ag teachers into the contest rooms or to check in their students, presented some challenges for the student superintendents to navigate. Emily Hoyt, junior ag ed student and student superintendent for the nursery and landscape contest and the poultry contest, navigated check-in and rule change issues with a new understanding of the process from her previous experience as a competitor.

“I understand now why the changes could be stressful to ag teachers,” Hoyt said. “They really care about their students and their success in the contest, and they know the capabilities of their students and want them to be able to live up to that potential. We did some high-level problem solving over those three days to make sure the students had a smooth experience, even with the changes.”

It takes a village, and the student superintendents were glad to be a part of that for an organization that has been and will continue to be a part of their lives.

“You don’t realize when you’re a high school student what all goes into this event,” said Alivia Beanland, junior ag ed major and student superintendent for the food science contest. “The community that it takes to put something like this on is so impressive. It’s a lot of preparation, but it’s all for the students, and that’s why Missouri FFA is such a special thing. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Contests weren’t the only thing keeping people busy on campus during the convention, though. Students could tour Mizzou, attend leadership sessions and network at a career fair with agricultural industry professionals. Many of these events occurred simultaneously, with volunteers, professionals and students all over campus working together. This year, for the first time ever, hospitality management students planned and executed the career fair.

A student speaks to two vendors.
Kastin Galloway checks in vendors at the career expo. Photo by Sally Schmidt.

In August, five hospitality management students began planning the career expo as part of Amanda Alexander’s Field Training in Hospitality Management (HM 3993) and Internship in Hospitality Management (HM 4993) courses.  The months-long process involved contacting vendors, organizing volunteers, working with Mizzou campus facilities and the many other details that make a large event run seamlessly.

“You can’t just stop when there’s a bump in the road,” said Mary Margaret Garrett, junior hospitality management student. “The event has to get done and you have to work as a team to make it happen.”

The students had some information from previous years career fairs, but with the number of changes to the convention they had a lot of learning and problem solving to do on their own. While some of the group of five were FFA members in high school and some were not, their diverse perspectives helped them polish the event into something everyone was happy with.

“It was great to get real-world experience communicating with people who aren’t just your peers, which you might not get in the classroom,” said Marta Cunningham, junior hospitality management student. “It was a good introduction to what will be expected of me in the future. Not everybody gets to run a several thousand-person event during college.”

The students also got to prove themselves as professionals after months of hard work.

“We faced some skepticism from the vendors at the beginning of the process, especially with the venue change from the fieldhouse to Trowbridge, but by the end they were all happy with how it went,” said Kate Peterson, junior hospitality management student. “They really got to see what we could do.”

“One of the biggest things that made this event successful was the way the students handled the day,” said Alex Ebbesmeyer, hospitality management academic advisor. “It would’ve been extremely easy for them to just sit down and let the event happen, but they were running around all day figuring out problems, emptying trash cans, replenishing food, getting people water, checking on people, and that’s a testament to their training and the work the hospitality management department does.”

High school FFA members attending the career expo were even interested in the students’ work.

“I had a lot of high schoolers see my branded shirt and ask about the hospitality management program,” said sophomore Leah Trokey. “It was great to do some recruitment and introduce them to that opportunity.”

“It’s good for those students to see that we’re college students, not much older than them, putting on an event as big as this, and to see that we’re capable and they can have learning opportunities like this in their future,” said Kastin Galloway, sophomore in hospitality management.