Six Maryland FFA students, representing six chapters and five Maryland counties, have been chosen to serve as state officers for the 2020-2021 season.
As state officers, the team is responsible for planning and implementing leadership development opportunities for the 2,500 FFA members in the 54 chapters that are spread throughout the state of Maryland. They will also represent the Maryland Association at local, state and national events, including the National FFA Convention, which will be held virtually for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The state officer team represents all five regions of the state this year,” said Terrie Shank, executive director of the Maryland FFA Association. “They are committed to serve as officers, and have experienced virtual learning firsthand, which will allow them to better relate with the members in an online environment. I know they appreciate the total team effort that it will take throughout this year to provide leadership activities and programs for the local members.”
Shank said there is an extra amount of effort that goes into any team and organization this year, due to the effects and restrictions of COVID-19.
“Currently, our plans are, as always, to provide leadership opportunities for our members; however, that will look a little different as local school systems reopen with guidelines for virtual and in-person learning,” Shank said.
The newly elected officers are excited to serve, regardless of the circumstances.
State President Cassie Bell lives on a 33-acre tree farm in Anne Arundel County, and has a passion for horses and the equine portion of the agricultural industry. Bell is a member of the Southern FFA chapter.
“I fell in love with the agricultural industry once I knew all it had to offer,” Bell said. “I joined FFA my freshman year of high school and knew from day one that this was where I needed to be, and have made it my main focus ever since. The thing I’m looking forward to the most would have to be giving back to the organization that’s given me so much. I’m so excited to work with my team and work with the members across the state as well. While this year may look a little different, my team and I are beyond excited to start working with everyone and show you what we have planned.”
The state vice president, Helen Leadingham, is from Washington County. She is a member of the Boonsboro FFA chapter.
“Over the past few years my affection for the agriculture industry has grown into a lifestyle for me through the few farms that I have worked on. I am very passionate about this industry and I hope to always be involved with it,” Leadingham said. “I am most excited for getting to meet members this year, whether it is virtual or in person, and I hope to learn about each member and their FFA story.”
McKayla Kiernan, from Caroline County, is the state secretary. The Caroline County FFA chapter member has also been bitten by the horse bug, and has been riding horses since she could walk. She aspires to be an equine veterinarian.
“I joined the Caroline County FFA chapter the fall of my sophomore year of high school and fell in love with the organization immediately,” Kiernan said. “The first time I met a state officer team I was inspired, and I knew I wanted to run for an office and give back to Maryland FFA as much as it gave to me. During my term, I am most excited for working with my amazing officer team and giving back to our incredible organization.”
The state treasurer, Kyle Schulze, of Carroll County, lives on his family’s farm where they raise black Angus cattle and grow corn, soybeans and wheat. He is well known in the local 4-H show ring, is a member of the Maryland Junior Angus Association, and currently works as a butcher at Wagner’s Meats in Mount Airy, Maryland. Schulze is a member of the South Carroll FFA chapter.
“I started in FFA my freshman year of high school in 2015 at South Carroll High School,” he said. “I was always a very shy and not outgoing kid growing up. Hearing the words ‘public speaking’ used to make me shiver. However, once I was in FFA, my adviser and fellow members pushed me to break out of my shell and compete in my first competitions and even run for a chapter office, the treasurer. Once I got a taste of the opportunities FFA had for me, there was no holding me back. I competed in every competition I could and eventually ended up the president of my chapter. All of those amazing experiences have pushed me to always strive to do more, and now here I am, the state treasurer.”
The state reporter, Morgan DeFriece, from Frederick County, recently graduated from Brunswick High School and will be attending classes at Frederick Community College for general studies during her time in office, after which she is planning to transfer to a four-year university to major in nursing. DeFriece is a member of the Brunswick FFA Chapter.
“I have been in the FFA since I was a freshman in high school. My SAE is vegetable and fruit production, and I worked on my family’s orchard in Dickerson, Maryland,” she said. “I’m so excited to serve this year for a wonderful organization (that) has taught me about leadership, success and personal growth. I’m mostly looking forward to meeting lots of new people, especially members from all over the state. I hope to fulfill them with the knowledge all of us learn this year.”
The state sentinel, Elsie McKenzie of Carroll County, is the from the Francis Scott Key FFA chapter, where she served as the vice president for her sophomore and junior year, then as president for her senior year.
“Throughout my years as a member I participated in various career and leadership development events from extemporaneous speaking to tractor driving. I live and work on my family’s dairy farm as well as have my own small farrowing operation that is part of my supervised agricultural experience,” McKenzie said. “Watching my older siblings at a young age achieve their dreams through FFA is truly what inspired me to follow their path, as well as the many leaders in this spectacular organization. I am looking forward to working with my amazing team to serve all of our passionate FFA members so that they may shine their light to the fullest potential.”
In Maryland, the statewide FFA is supported by a partnership between the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, which provides a grant to support leadership programs through the Maryland FFA association.
Susanne Zilberfarb, executive director of the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, said she enjoys working with the Maryland FFA.
“It fills a critical need in ag education by providing training and opportunities for the next generation of leaders, and really rounding out their skills,” Zilberfarb said.