Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with American Star Awards for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.
The American Star Awards, including American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience, are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of an SAE. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows students to learn by doing, by either owning or operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Here are the 2017 finalists for American Star in Agribusiness:
Nathan DeYoung (Indiana)
A podcasting club in eighth grade to help students connect to one another led Nathan DeYoung to the future path of innovative communications and marketing.
The Middletown, Ind., resident plugged into social media when he joined FFA. Through his podcasting and social media experience, he developed a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) that focused on communications and marketing.
Today that experience has earned the Shenandoah FFA member the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agribusiness.
During the first two years, DeYoung concentrated mostly on social media, but then his attention shifted to graphic design, mass communications and then marketing. He also works on web design along with videography and photography.
That culmination of skills has allowed him to be innovative on what he offers his clients. He created a business from the ground up and strives to meet his customers’ needs.
“I always try to instill trust with my clients and help them understand the process that is being used,” DeYoung says.
DeYoung credits FFA for everything from helping him be more decisive to acquiring customer service skills.
“When I first joined FFA, I was a reserved person and kind of shy. I wasn’t that person who would put myself out there and take risks,” DeYoung says. “But FFA taught me through classes and the experiences outside the classroom to take risks. And it’s those risks that have allowed me to push my SAE forward.”
DeYoung praises his advisors, Tammie Gadberry and Steve Hickey, for their encouragement and feedback they provided. He also credits his parents, Stephanie and Randy, for their support.
The Ball State University student is now pursuing a degree in telecommunications (news and meteorology). His advice to others is: “Don’t shy away from your dream. Don’t let your idea get shot down,” DeYoung says. “It might seem wild or crazy and may be kind of risky, but stick with your idea and progress with it. When I started seventh grade, I didn’t know this would grow into a communications business, but I knew it would make an impact. Just be be persistent with your thoughts and ideas.”
Audra Montgomery (North Dakota)
Some people see a need and simply say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have…?” But for Audra Montgomery of Carrington, N.D., she noticed a need and then took action to fulfill it.
Montgomery has been showing cattle and sheep since she was a young girl. When she was traveling to shows, she witnessed time and again many showmen who needed supplies, but there was no one to fulfill their needs. Cleverly, she decided to make this the assignment for her supervised agricultural experience (SAE). The result: Final Drive Show Supply was created.
“Once I had the idea, it kind of snowballed,” Montgomery says. “I received a grant through our North Dakota Foundation and purchased my first stock of products. I got my name out there and started taking my supplies to the various shows.”
Montgomery notes that her biggest selling point for her business was being on site, but it was also important for her to develop strong customer relations and good time management skills.
“You need to make sure you listen to your customers to help determine what they need and be available for them when they need you,” Montgomery says.
She has watched her idea flourish from a start-up to a successful business that has earned her top honors, as she has been named a 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agribusiness.
In addition to creating Final Drive Show Supply, she also helped start the Montgomery Ranch Annual Production Sale.
She thanks FFA and her hands-on experiences for her business success and she specifically credits an egg sales class she took her junior year. “During that class I learned how to deal with customers and fine-tune those skills and relationships.”
Montgomery also credits her parents and her advisor (who is also her sister) for their guidance and encouragement. “The support of my family and seeing this grow from, literally nothing, has just been one of the best experiences,” Montgomery says.
She says to others who are considering entrepreneurship, “The experience from doing any sort of business in general is just awesome. The things you learn about your business and yourself helps you grow as a person.”
Currently studying agricultural education at North Dakota State University, Montgomery hopes to find a position at a school closer to her home so she can still be involved with the family farm. She plans to continue her show business and perhaps one day pass it down in the family.
The daughter of Betty and Dennis, she is a member of the Carrington FFA Chapter, led by advisor Missy Hansen.
Austin Nordyke (Kansas)
Since the invention of the push mower, cutting the grass represents a rite of passage for many kids. The only difference for Austin Nordyke was that his mower’s puttering speed propelled him to find a faster way to get the job done. And in 2012, this determination drove him to launch his own lawn maintenance operation—Austin Nordyke’s Lawn Care Service. It currently serves a healthy customer base in southwestern Kansas.
Nordyke began his business when he was in eighth grade, as part of his supervised agricultural experience (SAE). He soon realized that with all of the yards he was mowing, one simple mower would not allow him to keep up with the volume. So he purchased a zero-turn lawn mower. This allowed him to be more efficient and take on more yards. In addition, he invested in more backup mowers and soon was taking care of 65 lawns.
Though the money-making aspect first motivated him, all the opportunities that came with the business impressed him even more. “Over the last five years, I’ve been able to start my own business and successfully manage it,” Nordyke says. “I’ve been doing everything from bill-paying and basic accounting to taking care of my taxes.”
For Nordyke, his achievement is about more than just his business. It is also about his leadership skills and critical-thinking skills he credits FFA for developing. “I was always interested in the leadership activities that FFA offered, and it has benefitted me not only through high school, but through my first year of college,” Nordyke says. “The skills I’ve learned through FFA and through my business will stay with me throughout the rest of my life.”
The Hugoton, Kan., resident is currently studying engineering technology management at Wichita State University. “With my business background in lawn care, I found this pathway. While it’s a lot of engineering, it also involves business.”
Nordyke points out that his experience with FFA and with his business also helped him with a project in one of his college classes, where he had to develop an innovative product design. “All through that opportunity I was able to use my organizational skills, and eventually transition to team lead for the project.” Today his business has earned Nordyke top honors as he has been named 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agribusiness.
As for Nordyke’s words of advice to FFA members hoping to start an SAE project: “Do it! If you have the aspiration, go for it.”
Nordyke is the son of Shannon and Paul. He is a member of the Hugoton FFA Chapter, led by advisor Les McNally.
Shaun Wenrick (Ohio)
For Shaun Wenrick of Sidney, Ohio, his foray into business began with a passion for landscaping and a desire to earn money. Wenrick knew he had the basic skills and most of the tools needed to start the business. The Anna FFA Chapter member began knocking on doors and building his business from the ground up. He and his brother worked with their dad, who gave them the tools. Meanwhile, he picked up more and more business, cultivating a solid customer base.
Active in his local FFA chapter, Wenrick shared his business plan with his advisors who were excited about the idea. Then they helped him with agribusiness classes. Wenrick lauds those classes (along with writing down everything in his little green book) and the support of his advisors for his success.
“I already had a passion for the landscaping business, but my ag teachers had a positive attitude that gave me the confidence that we could succeed,” Wenrick says. “We created the business on our own and have watched it grow over the years.”
What began as a side job has grown into a business that has earned Wenrick top honors as a 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agribusiness.
For Wenrick, it’s more than just a business. It’s also an opportunity to give back, whether it be volunteering time and services at the local library during a recent expansion, or assisting with clearing hiking trails at his school, Wright State University.
“Giving back is one of my passions,” he says. “There’s just something in my heart that likes giving back and making a difference.”
Wenrick’s advice for becoming successful is simple: Treat people like you’d like to be treated and be courteous of their time. “It’s always a choice to do the right thing,” Wenrick says. “Do the right thing and you will be successful.”
Wenrick is the son of Teresa and Ronald. He is a member of the Anna FFA Chapter, led by advisors Sarah Hellers and Tim Zimpfer.
Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated by a panel of judges who then interview the finalists during the national convention and expo. Four are named winners and receive cash awards totaling $4,000. All American Star finalists receive a $2,000 cash award. Case IH, Elanco Animal Health and Syngenta sponsor the awards.
Judging will occur in Indianapolis during the 90th National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 25-28, with the winners being announced during an onstage ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 26.