Jacob Harrison Schindler’s sixth-grade science teacher required all of his students to participate in the school science fair.
So he began plotting his project – a mission to Mars.
He theorized that by introducing a noxious, invasive vine native to southern Japan and southeast China called kudzu to the Martian surface, he’d be able to convert the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide into oxygen to make the planet habitable for humans.
“I read about kudzu when I was a fifth grader and I was simply fascinated by it,” Schindler said. “I read that it was virtually indestructible. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t feasible for me to actually complete this experiment until both my mother and teacher explained to me that by the time I would be able to travel to Mars, the science fair would be over and done with.”
So Schindler changed his plans. Instead of colonizing Mars utilizing kudzu plants, he decided to study the effects that different gasses have on the plant to see whether kudzu would in fact survive in an atmosphere different than that of the Earth. Helium, he determined, kills kudzu in rapid fashion.
He reached the state science fair but didn’t win.
Again, he didn’t stop.
In seventh grade, he tested the effects of four gasses on kudzu, entered a regional science fair and won. He was later picked to enter his experiment in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge.
Years of work later, and after joining FFA as a means to continue his work in agriscience research, Schindler developed his research on kudzu into his FFA-required supervised agricultural experiment. By his senior year, he had worked with professional researchers, had a patent pending on a drilling apparatus for kudzu control, been interviewed by CNN and major news outlets about his research and well on his way to a career in agriscience.
“I’m currently working on a site in North Carolina that needs an environmentally friendly method for eradicating kudzu,” he said. “I’m working with the local parks and recreation department and a landscape architect to eliminate 23 acres of kudzu as part of a project to develop an old quarry site into an ecofriendly recreational park.”
Schindler, who attends the University of Georgia majoring in agricultural education, is a 2013 finalist for an American Star in Agriscience award from the National FFA Organization.
Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with an American Star award for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education. The award is the most prestigious honor awarded to a student by the National FFA Organization.
The American Star awards – including the American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience – are awarded to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of a supervised agricultural experience. A required activity in FFA, a supervised agriculture experience allows students to learn by doing by either owning and operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.
Sixteen American Star award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated for a panel of judges to interview during convention. Four are named winners and receive cash awards totaling $4,000. All American Star finalists receive a $2,000 cash award. The Stars Over America are sponsored by ADM Crop Risk Services; CASE IH; DuPont Pioneer; Elanco; Farm Credit; and Syngenta as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.
Schindler, 20, is a member of the Lowndes County High School FFA chapter in Valdosta, Ga., led by advisors Dr. James Corbett, Quinton Hadsock and Michael Barnes.
He is the son of Dr. Julie and Eric Schindler.
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About National FFA Organization
The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 557,318 student members as part of 7,498 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The National FFA Organization operates under a federal charter granted by the 81st United States Congress and it is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education provides leadership and helps set direction for FFA as a service to state and local agricultural education programs. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at www.FFA.org, on Facebook, Twitter and the official National FFA Organization blog.