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As harvest season approaches, so does perhaps the busiest time of year for the State FFA Officer team. The midpoint of September found the officers beginning their annual Sectional Leadership Workshop tour across the state. In a three-week span, the team travels to each of the ten sectional officer’s hometowns to host a leadership workshop for a combined total of over 2,000 middle and high school FFA members. With two or more business and industry visits in each section and a stop at World Dairy Expo sandwiched in the middle of it all, the three-week endeavor adds a few thousand miles to the team’s vehicles.

Sectional Leadership Workshops (SLWs), an annual series of events on the Wisconsin FFA calendar for decades, are focused on providing a fun and educational experience for chapter officers and members alike. With two energy-filled large group sessions to fire up the crowd and workshops ranging from leadership training to chapter development to agricultural careers, the evening events provide a well-rounded experience for both veteran FFA members looking to dive deeper and new members testing the waters of the FFA world.

Each year, the state officer team picks an underlying theme to embody the message of their workshops and opening skit. This year’s theme is “Start Your Engines.”

The theme certainly has a nice ring to it, allowing for an easy figurative reference to jump-starting FFA members for the year ahead. And the officer team has definitely had a blast using “Start Your Engines” as a thunderous chant from the audience to energize the crowd. But a little deeper analysis of the theme easily connects the fundamental workings of an engine to the fundamental workings of an FFA member. Intake. Ignition. Exhaust.

These three simple processes responsible for making any internal combustion engine tick happen to be representative of three common steps an FFA member takes on their journey in the blue corduroy.

Step one, intake. For an engine to run, a mixture of air and fuel passes through the intake valve into the cylinder. In other words, engines take in gas as a source for output later. Well, that’s exactly what FFA members do. They spend much of their career taking in their fuel - the knowledge, skills, talents, and interests they uncover that they’ll use to take action somewhere down the line.

Each time FFA members attend a leadership conference such as an SLW, engage in hands-on learning through agricultural education in the classroom, or participate in career exploration through their Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAE), they are developing their character, work ethic, and their passions - their intake. They are gathering the fuel they’ll use to power their engines throughout their FFA careers and well into their post-secondary futures.

Step two, ignition. The engine can have all the fuel it wants, but if there isn’t any spark, there isn’t any explosion, the pistons don’t fire, and the crankshaft doesn’t turn. For an engine to run, it must take its fuel and light it on fire. FFA members do the same thing. They take their fuel - the character, talents, and work ethic they’ve developed and use it to ignite action.

FFA members spark ignition each time they broaden their agricultural knowledge through a Career Development Event, challenge their public speaking skills in a Leadership Development Event, or step out of their comfort zone to organize a chapter meeting or event. FFA members know how to take action.  

Finally, step 3, exhaust. Once the air fuel mixture is ignited, the end product is a gas that is expelled through the exhaust valve. The product of ignition must be released. For FFA members, that exhaust comes from serving others. Just like the exhaust of an engine spreads into the surrounding environment, so does the exhaust of FFA members spread into their communities. Because not only do FFA members discover the value of taking action; they discover the priceless value of using their action to serve others.

Throughout the year, FFA members around Wisconsin can be found organizing community service events, hosting Food for America agricultural literacy events, and partnering with other local non-profit organizations. They ensure that their exhaust makes a difference.

Intake. Ignition. Exhaust. That’s how an engine runs. That’s how FFA members run. And that’s how we all run in the agricultural community. We are constantly working to improve our skills, character, and work ethics. We are constantly pushing ourselves to try new things and take more action. And we are constantly striving to serve others. So as the State FFA Officer team prepares for the final week of Sectional Leadership Workshop season 2019, we invite each of you to “Start Your Engines!”

Weltzien is the president of the Wisconsin FFA Officer team

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