Riley James Schwader was raised on a 5,400-acre farm in eastern South Dakota. The oldest of four children, he grew up helping his father grow corn and soybeans.
The South Dakota FFA member logged more than 5,000 hours of progressive skill development by working at Schwader Farms as his FFA-required supervised agricultural experience on crop placement, work that involved planting, harvesting, operating heavy machinery and property maintenance.
“I really wanted to gain a firm understanding about how a farm operates,” he said. “When I began, I had just a few responsibilities. As my maturity and skills progressed, I was able to run complex machinery, work longer hours and explore researching ways to improve efficiency.”
His parents urged Schwader, who was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, to attend college, get a degree and gain employment outside the family farming business to expand his experiences.
In his first year at University of Michigan, where he is majoring in mechanical engineering, Schwader was accepted to the Michigan Research Community, which helps undergraduates find research positions. Last summer, he completed a research internship at John Deere as a continuous improvement design engineer.
“I was responsible for projects concerning warranty and cost reduction and resolving design issues in regard to assembly,” he said. “I gained an understanding of what it takes to manufacture quality, dependable machines that farmers rely on for their livelihood.”
Schwader is a 2013 finalist for an American Star in Agricultural Placement 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.
Schwader, 22, is a member of the Howard High School FFA chapter in Howard, S.D., led by advisor Charlene Weber.
He is the son of Julie and Max Schwader.
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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.