National FFA VP ends reign

Published 9:30 am Friday, October 7, 2011

Tiffany Rogers and Cassie Hartsell

BENTON HARBOR — Wednesday’s visit by national FFA Vice President Tiffany Rogers of Niles energized Cassie Hartsell’s agriscience students.
For Rogers, 20, a 2009 Niles High School graduate who will be returning to Michigan State University to resume her sophomore year, since last October has been a blur of 40 states and Japan.
Just to have Rogers in her classroom caused Hartsell to call it her best day teaching.
She left Cassopolis for Batesville, Ind., which had an FFA chapter.
So does Countryside Academy on Meadowbrook Road in Benton Township, which Hartsell joined in July.
“I’m spending a couple of days here at home, getting ready for (national FFA) convention” in October in Indianapolis, Rogers said. “National FFA’s travel agent plans our schedule for us and they keep it pretty full. I was gone about 330 days out of the year. We take two to three flights a week.”
Her reign ends in 24 days.
In Japan, the program is called FFJ (FFA was once an acronym for Future Farmers of America).
“The national officer team,” of which Rogers is vice president for the 18-state Eastern Region, the largest, “takes a 14-day tour and visits different international ag companies and a couple of farms and FFJ. We got to go into their schools and see their programs. We got to stay with a host family, which was interesting because they didn’t speak English. That was neat, to see the international side of agriculture.”
To be excused from MSU for a year, “You talk to your professors at the beginning of the semester and say, ‘Hey, in October I’m running for this office. If I get it, I’ll have to wrap up classes a few weeks early and take my finals then.’ Most of my classes were ag, so they were very familiar with FFA and really understanding. You make arrangements with them, talk with the university and they let us take a leave of absence for a year. I’m halfway through my sophomore year, so when I go back in January I’ll be a year behind, but it’s all good.”
The first Miss Cass/St. Joseph County Outstanding Teen is still pursuing a major in agribusiness and pre-law to become a specialized agricultural attorney, but visiting so many classrooms makes her also consider teaching agriculture.
Rogers’ mother, Cheryl, was the 4-H youth agent for Cass County, then pursued teaching.
Rogers has also been state FFA president — and only the fourth Michigan member to hold a national office.
She was queen of the 156th Cass County Fair, princess in 2004 and capped her showing years by winning the Showmanship Sweepstakes at the 159th Cass County Fair.
“The rewards are tremendous,” Hartsell said. “She talked to over 100 kids today. Many of them have zero hope on a daily basis. I have kids who can’t afford their dues, but people from the community call me and offer to pay for them. She saw more kids today than I see in my classes because they were excited about her coming. For them to leave Michigan is a big deal, and we’re going to come to Indy. In 24 days she will take off her jacket and she’s done. She’s an alumni member, like me. I think she’d be an excellent teacher. Her mom was my favorite teacher.”
Their relationship led to the visit.
“I babysat for her,” Hartsell recalls. “Her mom was my social studies teacher in sixth grade. Then Tiffany babysat for my little girl. She came to the fair Saturday afternoon.”
That would be the St. Joseph County Fair in Centreville — last in Michigan.
“Here we are, the Cass crew, showing draft horses for the week. I took Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off. The only thing we have is two Percheron draft horses because Tiffany got us into it.“
Asked about highlights of her year, Rogers said, “Some of the coolest things are when we get to go to state conventions. We get to do workshops, like we did in here today. And we give a keynote address, but other than that we get to hang out and sit in the audience with chapter members and get to know them. They all tell you the different projects they’re doing. That’s definitely been one of the highlights because I ran to give back to this organization that has given me so much.”
In one ice-breaking, team-building exercise, students were allotted a certain number of minutes to find a member of another group and sing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” to them, teach someone to line dance, recite the alphabet backwards to Hartsell, write an original four-line rap about teamwork, writing the word teamwork 25 times and drawing a picture showing a team working together.
“During the summer,” Rogers said, “we did the national leadership conference for state officers. Our team — there’s six of us — is put into pairs to present to state officer teams across the nation. Three to six states bring their officers to one location for week-long training. We get to teach them facilitation techniques, so when they go out and do chapter visits like this, they’ll be able to have some stuff to do. Or, we talk about how they’re going to do business and industry visits to meet with their sponsors. We talk about developing their team throughout the year and setting team goals. It’s really neat to have that helping hand in knowing we’re the ones who train them for their year of service. They’re the best of the best of their state. To be able to see them and know they’re going to take that back to their state is really cool.”
FFA “was mentioned on ‘Jeopardy’ a couple of months ago,” Rogers recalled. “We were all excited and it was posted all over Facebook.”
Reminded of May 1, 2008, when she and the renowned Cassopolis parliamentary procedure team put on a demonstration for the Cass County Board of Commissioners  on how to conduct a meeting and one of the commissioners remarked she would make a good auctioneer, Rogers said the Cassopolis team going to nationals again this year is all girls and in capable hands with one of them being her sister, Ashley.
“Obviously, their parents don’t ever stand a chance of running the household,” Hartsell joked.
As for sibling rivalry, “Ashley’s probably better than me,” Rogers said modestly. “She’s a smoother chairman than I am.”
There are collegiate-level FFA chapters at some universities, including MSU.
FFA “also has Ag Ambassador programs,” Rogers said. “FFA members are selected to do presentations like this, but more focused on agriculture. There are about 20 college students chosen from across the nation who have been involved in FFA. They’re really expanding into international opportunities now because FFA realizes that agriculture is a growing industry internationally. One trip is offered to Costa Rica for college students, as well as FFA GO (Global Outreach). We send about seven students to Africa for a couple of weeks to teach sustainable agriculture practices. There’s a trip of about 70 state officers who will go to China this year. They went to Argentina last year. They see how the U.S. is affected by those countries and how those markets are affected by us. Those are all opportunities through the national FFA organization.”
Rogers grew up around FFA because of her mother’s involvement with it.
“I went to these guys’ practices when I was little,” she gestures at Cassie. “I was bit by the FFA bug. I always knew I wanted to be an FFA member. I joined in seventh grade. The first thing I did was junior high conduct of meetings. I’ve been a huge parly-pro nerd ever since.”
Rogers’ Rangers FFA team in high school reached No. 2 in the nation behind only Arkansas.
Where only Cassopolis continues to offer FFA in Cass County, “We’re the only one in Berrien County,” Hartsell said.
Next summer, Tiffany wants to work with “WLC,” Washington Leadership Conference, then she might be ready to return to pageants.
“WLC focuses on service, too. Kids go out and do a national day of service while they’re there. They construct a living to serve plan about something they’re passionate about to bring back to their community. They offer grants so the kids with really successful plans can put them into action, whether it’s mentoring or working with the humane shelter. It’s service-focused, but down to what the individual student wants to do.”
Tiffany hasn’t had much down time, but “I was actually home for one day of the Cass County Fair this year and was able to show (draft horses) and to help a couple of other families with their hitches. It was good to get back out there. When I’m home, I go visit people I haven’t seen in a while and drive up to Michigan State to see how things are going.”
”She’s accomplished a lot in 20 years. She’ll be very successful at whatever she does,” Hartsell said.