MAGNOLIA, AR (News release) - Arkansas FFA President Taylor McNeel recently won the state title at the Arkansas Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet, adding another accomplishment to her busy freshman year of college.
With this win, McNeel earned a chance to represent Arkansas at the national discussion meet in Nashville in February of 2015. She is a freshman Agriculture Business major and Honors College student at Southern Arkansas University.
“It was nerve-racking because it was my first time to compete at State, but I was glad to be able to win and have the opportunity to go to Nationals,” said McNeel.
The Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet competition simulates a committee meeting where discussion and active participation are expected from each participant, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau website. The judges look for the competitor who offers constructive criticism, cooperation and communication while analyzing agricultural problems and developing solutions.
As 2013-14 Arkansas FFA President, McNeel has had many opportunities to hone her communication skills as she has one of the busiest schedules imaginable for a college freshman. She recently accompanied 75 other state FFA officers on an educational trip to South Africa.
McNeel said she learned about agricultural issues facing that country. The group visited vegetable and fruit farms, a 42,000 acre row crop farm and a Senwes – an agricultural community that provides co-ops, insurance, accounting, farm equipment, seeds and logistics. They also went to a 10,000-head crocodile farm, where the massive animals’ hides are worth around seven dollars per square centimeter.
McNeel was impressed by the modern cities and technology in South Africa, but the tour also took them to poverty-stricken areas and shanty towns. She enjoyed a mission project where she had a chance to visit with students there and learn about the obstacles they face.
“A lot of students in the U.S. don’t face the struggles that South African students face. Sometimes they have to go to schools where their native language isn’t spoken and they have to walk long distances to get to school and back home,” said McNeel.
She said that the youth there wish they could come to America because they feel like they could make something of themselves here, whereas they will probably have no such opportunity in their home country.
When McNeel returned to Arkansas, she got back into balancing her SAU studies with her FFA responsibilities. She has recently gone on Business in Industry visits with other state officers, two of which are also SAU freshmen.
McNeel, Caliegh Sue Moyer and Sunni Wise will also soon be hosting an FFA leadership conference in Hot Springs for incoming FFA students, “the Greenhands.” Closer to home, this trio also hosted their first Southern District FFA Leadership Contest on March 7, 2014, at SAU.
Even after her year as President winds down, McNeel does not plan on slowing down. She is already looking ahead to possible internship opportunities with one of Arkansas’ congressmen in D.C. She is interested in pursuing public policy or government affairs after completing her education, and would love the chance to see what their lives are like in the nation’s capital.
Despite her hectic schedule, McNeel maintains a lighthearted spirit and positive attitude. She is thankful for the support from SAU and her professors.
“They have been very supportive of me, even though I have been gone quite a bit and had to miss classes,” said McNeel. “They know what we do as state FFA officers and are very supportive of it.”
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