FFA members and agriculture students from 14 area high schools were at Central Community College in Grand Island Wednesday competing in the District 7 Career Development Events Competition.

The competition comes during FFA Week, when FFA students across the state and nation celebrate this training ground for students working toward ag-related careers.

In all, there were about 250 students at the Grand Island CCC campus Wednesday, competing in 14 different events. Those who score the highest in each of the competitions will advance to the state finals in April in Lincoln.

Each of the 14 events demonstrated the value of FFA and vocational agriculture programs in high school. In many ways, FFA is the original career pathways program for high school students as the skills they develop are further amplified in area community colleges or state and private colleges and universities, or, in some cases, straight from high school to a well-paying job.

The events included ag mechanics, natural resources, welding, livestock management, bio-technology, meat production, food science, floriculture, ag sales, nursery landscaping, agronomy, ag science and farm management.

Jessica Brondel, agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Northwest High School in Grand Island, was overseeing the floriculture competition.

Brondel said the students took a written test, a flora and tool identification test and constructed a boutonnière.

She said this was the first time that the District 7 Development Events Competition has taken place in Grand Island.

“It is a chance for the students to show their abilities in the different career areas,” Brondel said. “It allows them to show off some of the skills that they have learned and how they can apply them.”

She said the competition is also an opportunity for the students to network with other FFA students and also industry professionals who are asked to judge the students’ efforts.

Northwest High School FFA junior Jared Pankonin was involved in the welding competition.

“It is a pretty cool event,” Pankonin said. “It is pretty nice that they put this on for us.”

He said one of the values derived from the competition is the feedback he gets from the industry professional who judges what he has welded during the competition. The students also take a written test.

“It really teaches us how to weld in real life,” Pankonin said.

Through his FFA education, he said, he has learned a lot about the various career opportunities available in agriculture, along with the hands-on experience that is provided to him as a student, such as developing his welding skills.

Having the competition at CCC in Grand Island also allows the students to see all the career opportunities the two-year institution provides students of all ages.

Another FFA student helping out at the event was Blake Palmer, who is an officer of his FFA chapter at Doniphan/Trumbull High School.

Palmer said the competition helps students decide on future careers.

“During these competitions, the students get to come out and try different events that they like to participate in,” he said. “They may have never tried it before, and they could decide on making it a career path for them.”

Each of the 14 competitions uses information students learn as a FFA or vocational ag student at their schools.

Palmer said since he joined the FFA program as a high school freshman, it has exposed him to a wide range of possible careers.

“FFA is not just about agriculture, but covers many things, such as mechanics, welding, floriculture and much more,” he said.

Overseeing the welding competition were Tony Sigler and Dave Johnson. Sigler is the FFA adviser and ag teacher at Aurora High School. Johnson holds the same position at Doniphan/Trumbull High School.

“These competitions allow them to take what they learned in their welding class and apply it in a contest,” Sigler said. “Some of it is just for fun, comparing themselves with students from other schools, but they can also qualify for the state competition against other FFA and vocational agricultural students.”

He said it also is a way for the students to showcase their talents.

“It is all about taking what you learn in class and applying it to a real-life situation where you can take that and the day you graduate get a job in a field related to that area,” Sigler said.

Johnson said having the competition at the CCC campus is also a plus. Community colleges have stepped up their programs to work with the employers in their local communities to train students in jobs that are open in the area.

“They have the facilities because they are training those who go into industry,” he said.

Many students at CCC in Grand Island are from the local area and former FFA students, who not only are training for future careers, but also are working for area employers who may hire them after they receive their degrees.

Johnson said CCC is also using the opportunity to host the event as a recruiting tool to get the students to attend their campus after graduation.

“We try to centralize the location of our contest so they are in close proximity of the high schools,” he said.

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