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Purdue Ag student aims for highest FFA honor

Sydney Hefty has been working almost her entire life towards the National FFA American Star Award in Agriscience, and while the work leading up to the announcement of her being selected as a finalist wasn’t easy, the drive to get there is certainly in her blood.

The American Star Awards, four awards total, represent the best of the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients, the FFA’s highest level of student accomplishment. The award recognizes FFA members who have developed outstanding agricultural skills and competencies by completing a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) program, a required activity in FFA that encourages learning by doing. Members can own and operate an agricultural business, intern at an agricultural business, or conduct an agriculture-based scientific experiment and report the results.

Other requirements to achieve an American Star Award include demonstrating top management skills and completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements.

Hefty, a sophomore studying agricultural economics, comes from a family with 35 Purdue University graduates, with 31 receiving degrees from the College of Agriculture.

Two of Hefty’s cousins have been named finalists in recent years for American Star awards, and the excitement that builds around the ceremony, taking place during the National FFA Convention held in Indianapolis this October, is something Hefty has looked forward to since elementary school.

As a finalist, a film crew will capture footage of Hefty working on her research in herbicides and mechanical sustainability and her life outside of the lab and classroom. The video will play as she stands on the stage at the final ceremony in October, one that will hopefully see her name in lights as she walks across the stage to a backdrop of fireworks, and one that she’s dreamed of for many years.Sydney Hefty

“The entire ceremony is a massive production. I get chills just thinking about it, and the anticipation each year of who will win is so exciting,” she said. “But the ceremony isn’t the only reason I’ve worked towards this; for me, it’s always been about my research.” 

Hefty has been conducting research since she was in middle school, when she was inspired to find a natural herbicide that could be within anyone’s reach.

“An older woman that I’ve known for years came up to me at church to talk and ask how I was doing in school. In the conversation, she mentioned to me she was struggling with some large, aggressive weeds in her garden,” she said. “Her kids were all grown, and she didn’t have a lot of help around the house, so through trial and error, I created an herbicide solution that was vinegar, dish soap and orange oil that killed the weed within 24 hours. That’s kind of where it all began; my research stems from how I can help others.”

Hefty said she is still pinching herself about the news she received in July. But whether she hears her name as the American Star in Agriscience Award winner or not, Hefty said she hopes her story that plays leading up to the final moment inspires other young FFA members just as it did for her years ago.

“Everybody's research means something no matter how small you think it is or whether or not you feel it has an impact. Someone out there is going to see it and benefit from it,” she said. “If what you’re doing helps even one person, then it’s worth it. You never know what the ripple effect of helping that one person could be.”

The National FFA Awards Ceremony will take place on Oct. 29 at Lucas Oil Stadium. For more information about the awards, visit ffa.org/stars.

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