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Former president of the Wisconsin FFA officer team, Amelia Hayden is one of four finalists competing for one of the most prestigious awards at the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo.

The winner of the American Star in Agriscience will be announced during the sixth general session on Nov. 1.  She will vie for the top honors against Courtney Cameron, Lowndes FFA, Georgia; Kacie Haag, Tri-Point FFA, Illinois and Olivia Pflaumer, Zane Trace FFA, Ohio.

Amelia Hayden wanted to start an agriscience supervised agricultural experience (SAE) after taking her first ag class in high school, a decision that would later lead her to compete in the National Agriscience Fair three times and choose microbiology as her collegiate area of study.

As a member of the Big Foot FFA Chapter in Walworth, Wis., Hayden developed research on several topics within the scope of nutrition. One of her first experiments observed how cinnamaldehyde, a compound found in cinnamon bark, affects cell growth. In another study, she looked at genetic familiarity in different fish species.

For her junior year of high school, she switched research tracks.

“I started how I always start my research projects, which is looking at different research that the USDA is putting out and what they’re looking at as hot topics,” Hayden said. “And I found this article about peanut allergy research that they were doing and I thought, ‘Huh, that’s kind of cool,’ and started looking more into that and how I could do research on peanut allergies as well.”

Hayden’s myriad research opportunities led her to study microbiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is also involved in a laboratory that researches if tannins can prevent colon cell damage.

Research challenges Hayden academically, she said, but she also enjoys how it can help educate consumers.

“I think it helps connect the producer to the consumer in terms of an agricultural sense, really allowing the consumer to see all the steps that go into producing their food,” she said. “I think the researcher plays an integral role in connecting that and advancing that.”

Hayden credits her SAE experience for her career path: continuing to research the realm of agriculture.

The 92nd National FFA Convention & Expo runs from Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Indianapolis, Ind.

Colleen Kottke of the Wisconsin State Farmer contributed to this report.

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