Nebraska scientist named 2012 Star in Agriscience finalist by National FFA Organization

INDIANAPOLIS (September, 2012/National FFA Organization) - A young child forever interested in her family’s agricultural pursuits, it was only a matter of time before Rachael Arkfeld turned her curiosity into a career-building endeavor. And now, thanks to her wide range of science projects and experiments, Arkfeld is one of four FFA members selected as finalists for the National FFA Organization’s American Star in Agriscience award.

The American Star in Agriscience is one of the four awards that represent the highest honor FFA can bestow upon its members. Arkfeld, of Syracuse, Neb., will join the other three finalists during the final day of October’s 85th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis in hopes of being named the organization’s top member in the area of agriscience.

But before that moment, Arkfeld will detail her projects and accomplishments to a panel of judges representing many areas of agriculture.

It’s a story that starts when Arkfeld was a young child surrounded by her family’s swine operation and garden but takes off when she competed in her first science fair in seventh grade. She exhibited a project about extending the shelf life of roses that quickly established her love of research, and continued with a new project the following year investigating micro-organisms found in the vascular systems of roses. Another project explored hydroponic growth woody florals such as red-twig dogwoods, scarlet willows and more – an endeavor that eventually produced a plant systems division gold medal at the National FFA Agriscience Fair. Arkfeld added another winning entry to her resume the next year when she branched out to a swine project that verified the accuracy of the Minolta color meter in her study of pork color measurement techniques. The Syracuse FFA member, however, wasn’t close to being done.

Later, working in the micropropagation laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Arkfeld won the Greater Nebraska Science and Engineering Fair and was selected to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Her participation on the international level was related to a project started in hopes of finding new ways to clone female bittersweet plants, due to the plant’s male counterpart not producing bright red-orange berries desired for floral arrangements. A side project back at home, meanwhile, dealt with E. coli in piglets and how it affected the parity of sows – a project Arkfeld said produced an aroma that only a passion for science and research could handle.

Arkfeld is currently attending Oklahoma State University, where she majors in agricultural education with a minor in soil science. In the future, she hopes to earn a master’s in agronomy and pursue a career either teaching horticulture or soils, or working in crop breeding and research.

The American Star Awards represent the best of the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients. Finalists for the awards have mastered skills in production, finance, management and/or research in one of four areas: Star Farmer, Star in Agribusiness, Star in Agricultural Placement and Star in Agriscience. Each state FFA association recommends a finalist in each area, and the National FFA Organization selects the four national finalists in each area. The 16 total finalists receive a $2,000 award for their efforts in the national program.

The American FFA Degree recognition programs, such as the American Star Awards, are co-sponsored by Alltech Inc.; Case IH; Elanco; Farm Credit; Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont Business; and Syngenta as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.