Trio of Minnesota FFA state officers find a home at UMN Crookston
Three is the magic number this year when it comes to current Minnesota State FFA Officers on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus. UMN Crookston is no stranger to having a state officer on campus during their term. Britton Fuglseth (reporter) did it in 2019-20. Eleora DeMuth (reporter) did it in 2017-18. James Mathiowetz (sentinel) is on campus now after serving in his role in 2018-19. But this year, UMN Crookston boasts the current Minnesota State FFA President Ben Olander, Treasurer Elaina Knott, and Sentinel Laney Swiers.
“I was the first one announced and thought I was going to be the only one that is going to be from Minnesota Crookston,” Swiers stated. “There was Britton, there was Eleora. There has never been more than one person in a class from Crookston. They said the name of Anna (Euerle) early, and then they said Elaina. Elaina is from region one and we were on a region team together. She was the region president and I was the region vice president. I literally bawled my eyes out because I was like ‘that is so cool.’ I called Elaina right after and was like ‘are you joking, this is amazing.’ And lastly, Ben got called. And I was like wow, we are really representing the north.”
For Olander, a graduate of Staples-Motley H.S., FFA first piqued his interest through supervised agricultural experiences or work-based learning. He was driving home one day and told his father that he wanted to start his own steer business. From there, the two tried to figure out the best way in which he could start his own business. “That summer my Dad and I went to Menards and built a lean-to and a pen for them and that fall and spring I ended up getting my own steers and raised them for five or six years until I graduated,” Olander stated.
For Knott, she started out in FFA purely to get awards, plaques, and medals while competing in the poultry competition. It was actually almost by accident that she ended up in a leadership role within her high school FFA organization at Lincoln H.S. in Thief River Falls, Minn. “I accidentally went into the FFA and agriculture room,” said Knott. “I was bringing in my check for $30 for the dues, and they were in the middle of chapter officer interviews. That is not something I wanted to do. I wanted to be strictly in the poultry competition, nothing else, nothing more. Mrs. Katie Shaw, my advisor, saw me and she sat me down. I got almost every question wrong about FFA and the next year I was a student advisor on the chapter officer team. It all started when I accidentally walked into the ag room when they were doing officer interviews.”
Swiers’ path to FFA started because of her siblings, and more specifically the impact of her older sister Lindsey. “My sister Lindsey was in FFA and she was in the Nursery/Landscape CDE contest,” Swiers remembered. “All of my siblings have been in FFA. I am the fifth kid. My dad was in the FFA. My mom was in FFA.. My sister Lindsey encouraged me to join and she said you should do Nursery/Landscape Career Development Event (CDE) with me. I was like okay. I didn’t really have a thing for plants when I was in high school. Little did I know I would be minoring in it when I got to college. I am minoring in horticulture all because of Nursery/Landscape.”
They each had their different routes to their leadership positions within FFA. Like stated before, Knott’s was almost by accident, but both Olander and Swiers had their paths a little more planned out. For Swiers, she always had envisioned the potential of being in a leadership position, but she didn’t think it was truly possible. It would be at the State Greenhand Leadership Conference (SGLC) during the summer after her freshman year that Swiers truly started to believe it was possible. It was also with the help of someone who would eventually become a friend and fellow Golden Eagle.
Olander’s road to a leadership position began because of what he observed at a leadership conference within FFA. “I really never dreamed that I was going to get to a leadership position like this,” Olander stated. “I went to a region two leadership rally. The first one I went to in the fall of my freshman year. I saw the region officer team and region president there and saw what they did to facilitate the event, including some of the organizational skills. I am very detail-oriented and I like to see some of those things come together. I thought it was so cool to see how they ran it as students. FFA is considered the largest student-lead organization in the world, and it is. It is incredible to see students and what they can actually do.”
“Sophomore and junior year I was set on going to NDSU,” Olander stated. “I went on a tour there and I absolutely hated it. I like the small town feel. Their lecture halls are huge. The campus takes 20 minutes to walk across from one corner to another. At UMN Crookston, I have timed it in five to seven minutes. The other thing up here, I mentioned I like to work. It has been easy to find funds to support working on different projects. While you may find your group within your classes (at a bigger school), I don’t think you get the connection with the whole campus or the overall diverse group. You wouldn’t acclimate with each other as you do here because of the small town feel. Even if I go out of my hall, even though it is a COVID year, you still recognize a lot of people. You walk by and say, ‘hey, I recognize that person.’ It is definitely something I truly enjoy.”
“I originally wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon and then I was really kicking around being a veterinarian, until later into my sophomore year,” Knott recalled. “I then started to see what my ag teacher was doing and all the different impacts she has on her students, and impact on myself, as well. I started getting involved on the region level and now onto the state level. It was very apparent to me I needed to be an ag teacher and that is where I wanted to be. I absolutely love sharing my passions for agriculture, a little extra to the poultry. I also love seeing members develop those leadership characteristics I got and to have those aha moments. I absolutely love that. When I had my major figured out, I started to look at colleges like one does. I was dead set on going to the Twin Cities ever since I was very young. I started to look at their ag ed program and I started to see that it wasn’t what I really wanted. I love the atmosphere down in the Cities, but I personally didn’t think the education was as quality as I could get in Crookston. I would say that I get a lot more hands-on experiences in Crookston. Yesterday I was in the barn shearing sheep. Never have I ever done that before. That was interesting. At the same time, we are shearing sheep, we have a heifer giving birth a few pens over. It just shows the small community Crookston has and the opportunities we have available as students.”
“After ninth grade I went to a conference called Intense,” Swiers remembered. “We went all across Minnesota to different businesses, industries, and universities. We started at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and eventually made our way to UMN Crookston. That is where I found my niche. My advisor -Jenna (Cardinal) Bendickson - went to UMC and she always talked about it. I was focused on the Twin Cities for a while, and I didn’t want to go college until I went to Intense. That is where I found my place to belong here at UMC. It was kind of cool. My advisor was the one who was talking to us when we got to UMC. She was showing us around and telling us about ag ed and different places on campus. I was like, I could see myself going here.”
All three have also been comforted by having other past FFA State Officers on campus in DeMuth, Fuglseth, and Mathiowetz who have been instrumental in providing guidance and help whenever the trio needs it.
“When we came here, Britton, Eleora, and James were on our case,” Swiers recalled. “They were going to help us out with everything we needed FFA-wise and Ag Ed-wise. Me and Elaina have coffee with Eleora just to talk about life and talk about Ag Ed, how passionate we are about it, what emphasis we want to go into and what school districts. Knowing someone is further along than us, but is still passionate about it, is so great to hear. It is the same thing with Britton. We can sit down with her for hours and talk about Ag Ed, our chapter, and FFA. It is nice to have someone to talk to who understands because they have been state officers too.”
FFA has given so much to the trio of State Officers at UMN Crookston. They have grown as leaders, have become more career ready, and they have experienced personal growth. None of them envisioned becoming the leaders they have, but it is something they will forever be grateful for.