Highland News Leader

Alhambra woman to get her ‘Ph.D. in FFA’

Amy Raymond
Amy Raymond

On Oct. 31, Amy Raymond will become just the seventh student in the 73-year history of the Highland High School FFA program to receive an FFA American Degree.

The Alhambra native will be presented her degree during the 88th National FFA Convention & Expo, which will be held in Louisville, Ky.

“This is the culmination of five years of hard work,” said Raymond, a junior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale majoring in horticulture (food) production and viticulture, the science, production and study of grapes.

The American Degree is annually awarded to FFA members who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to FFA. Nominees are selected based on the quality of their degree applications and an in-depth interview.

“Just like in college or high school, to be considered for the American Degree you have to meet criteria,” said Highland FFA sponsor Renee Barr, herself an American Degree recipient.

There are different degrees you can attain based on your involvement in FFA. The degrees are Greenhand, Chapter, State, and American.

“American, of course, is the highest degree with the highest level of requirements to obtain,” Barr said. “I often describe it as getting your Ph.D. in FFA.”

The process of getting an American FFA Degree really starts as a freshman in high school. That is when a student selects their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), which can be anything from raising livestock to a plant project.

Raymond’s SAE included multiple areas. She worked to promote and increase the awareness of agriculture education in the community. She also worked at Syngenta Seed in Highland for two years, where she was responsible for a multitude of tasks. In a general scope, she assisted with the research and development of soybean varieties at an early level of the pipeline.

“While at Syngenta I took part in all four seasons activities from seed processing (cleaning, counting, packeting and shipping) to planting (riding planters, putting seed into field order) on to summer activities (weed maintenance, running the summer crew as its lead) and as well as heavily involved in harvest activities (running a combine, bagging seed, taking field notes),” she said.

Raymond was also frequently put in charge of guiding other workers as well as given free reign over projects placed in her care.

Raymond also volunteered with the Alhambra Reading Wagon.

Approximately 3,500 American Degrees are given out each year at National Convention and the FFA’s membership is 629,367.

Raymond will be one of 112 people from Illinois receiving their American Degree this year. Illinois’ FFA membership is more than 16,000 annually.

Raymond will join her sister, Krista (Raymond) Howard, who was presented with her American Degree in 2011 as a recipient.

“I wanted to follow Krista’s example,” Raymond said.

Two American Degrees in one family in the same generation is almost unheard of.

“She is very proud of that, and my husband (David) and I are very proud of Amy,” the girls’ mother, Laurie, said.

Amy Raymond hopes to work in a vineyard and possibly start her own after graduating from college. It’s a project she would like to start with her dad.

“I got the vineyard idea from my dad and grandfather,” she said, adding their family farm in Macoupin County was once a pear orchard, long gone before she was born.

Highland FFA American Degree recipients

In the history of Highland FFA six people have earned the American FFA Degrees. They are:

▪ Terry Henschen in 1980

▪ Amy Susan (Rogier) Klenke in 1996

▪ Rene (Mettler) Barr) in 2001

▪ Mary (Schwarz) Jackson in 2003*

▪ Krista (Raymond) Howard in 2011

▪ Amy Raymond in 2015

*Jackson earned a star in AgriScience.