INDIANAPOLIS (Friday, Aug. 28, 2015/National FFA Organization) – Growing up in a state with a multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry, Jillian Ann Drake of Fallbrook, Calif., first became aware of bacteria citrus disease from a mailer. This mailer sparked the 20-year-old's interest in science.
Today, this interest has resulted in her being named a 2015 finalist for the American Star in Agriscience award, one of the most prestigious honors awarded to a student by the National FFA Organization.
Once Drake read about the disease, she became interested in pursuing research on it. She discovered that the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Citrus & Dates was a leading national research facility for this pathogen. She contacted the director about the possibility of doing some research, and he invited her to the lab. Drake thought her project would be something small in scope; however, her USDA mentors provided her with training, lab space and supplies to conduct several complex projects utilizing bio-engineering principles and genomic studies.
In her time at USDA-ARS she developed and validated new DNA extraction methods as well as conducted a research project at the USDA-ARS Soil and Salinity lab. Drake says she is grateful to FFA for inspiring her to pursue scientific inquiry through agriscience competitions, and she is appreciative of her FFA advisors as well as her USDA-ARS mentors.
Today, she is studying biochemical engineering at Long Beach City College.
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 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 program. A required activity in FFA, an SAE 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 by a panel of judges to interview 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. The American Star Awards are sponsored by ADM Crop Risk Services, Case IH, Elanco, Farm Credit and Syngenta as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.
Judging will occur in Louisville, Ky., during the 88th National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 28-31, with the winner being announced during an onstage ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 29.
Drake is the daughter of Gary and Sheryl Drake. She is a member of the Fallbrook FFA Chapter, which is led by advisors Margaret Chapman, Doug Sehnert and Scott Deffin.
The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 610,240 student members who belong to one of 7,665 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
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About National FFA Organization
The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 579,678 student members as part of 7,570 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
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