Erin Lutjen and Carolyn White, both 2010 graduates of Blue Springs South High School, were among the first members of the school’s FFA chapter when it started their freshman year.

Erin Lutjen and Carolyn White, both 2010 graduates of Blue Springs South High School, were among the first members of the school’s FFA chapter when it started their freshman year.

Now the two college students are among a small group of students who have earned the American FFA degree.

“I am very honored,” said White, a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “It was a goal of mine to get this award, but I was still surprised that I got it. I always thought it was a one in a million chance.”

The America FFA Degree recognizes those students who have not only demonstrated leadership, but also earned achievements in agricultural business, production, processing or service programs. To be eligible for the national degree, students must have earned and invested $7,500 through a supervised agricultural experience program they started or owned. Students can also have a position in an existing agriculture enterprise and must have completed at least 50 hours of community service.

Students who are awarded the American FFA degree receive a Gold American FFA Degree key and a certificate.

Jay Craven, the FFA sponsor at Blue Springs South, said this is the highest honor that the national organization gives to an individual. He said less than one-half of 1 percent reach this status.

“What really makes this such an outstanding achievement is that these young leaders are truly pioneers for our FFA Chapter. No one from Blue Springs has ever done this before in the 83 year history of the FFA,” he said. “They didn’t have any role models to follow. They had to become the role models for future students.”

Lutjen, a student at MCC-Blue River, said she had no knowledge of FFA prior to joining it. She said looking back, it is one of her favorite experiences during high school.

“My grandmother breeds sugar gliders, so I helped her with that business as well as trained some dogs,” she said. “I definitely think participating in FFA helped to shape who I have become. It was such a positive experience for me.”

White worked with horses for her project. She said it was challenging to account for expenses and revenues, but White said it was a “very educational experience.”

“I have always set my goals high, but there are times when you don’t achieve some of your goals. I think that is why I was so shocked,” she said. “Being in the FFA program really helped my communication skills. I was really shy my freshman year, but I learned about leadership, communication and teamwork. I am such a talkative person now, and that is because of what I learned in FFA.”

Craven said he is not surprised Lutjen and White earned the American FFA degree. He said the program continues to grow and thrive, which is why Craven said he knows there will be more American FFA degree recipients to come.

“Carolyn and Erin were two of the charter members for Blue Springs South FFA. They are uniquely capable of seeing what can be and aren’t afraid to tackle the unknown. When a lot of folks had trouble understanding why anyone would want to take agricultural science and be involved in FFA, Erin and Carolyn jumped in with both feet and are reaping the benefits,” he said.

“FFA no longer stands for Future Farmers of America. FFA is the premier leadership organization for future biologists, future chemists, future veterinarians, future engineers and future entrepreneurs, as well as Future Farmers of America. Also, our approach seeks to always emphasize hands-on learning, real world application and leadership development.”