Hundreds of high school students are filling the stock pavilion, over 60 volunteers are getting classrooms ready, making sure the long line of pizzas are ready to feed a hungry crowd or checking in the busloads of FFA Greenhands and their advisors, and a committee of conference planners waits excitedly for all of their hard work to unfold.
When work began on the 2020 University of Illinois Greenhand Conference began at the end of 2019, our small committee of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications majors planning the event were expecting a traditional format. Icebreaker, workshop, and social media planning began right after winter break, before any of us were aware of COVID-19. Little did we know that March would come and flip our plans upside down.
Due to COVID-19, the conference was moved into a virtual format for the first time. Many Greenhands—high schoolers in agriculture classes in their first year of FFA—experience their first exposure to the organization through attending Greenhand Conference. It was important for us to still provide them with a conference so they could learn about the amazing opportunities the FFA provides.
Therefore, the committee—Lexi Ruemker, Joey Birrittier, Sean Welsh, Eliza Petry, Alex Walden, Ashley Johnson, Kelly Gill and Coordinator Hannah Spangler—moved forward on “Investigate FFA.”
The conference was split into four pre-recorded sessions—Crack the Code on the FFA, Investigate Your Opportunities in the FFA, Investigate Your Leadership in the FFA, and Closing the Case. Each video was recorded by committee members and was accompanied by worksheets, a leadership quiz and even a Kahoot! Teachers who registered for the conference had the option to play the conference for their kids in class, use it as an FFA chapter event, or do it completely remotely.
When planning began on the virtual conference, it was unknown whether we could reach Greenhands like before. Amazingly, 31 schools and over 2,000 students from across the state were able to investigate their potential in the FFA through the first-ever virtual University of Illinois Greenhand Conference.
Although everything looked a little different this year, we were still fortunate enough to keep the tradition of Greenhand Conference alive while inspiring a new generation of leaders in the agriculture industry. No matter what the conference looks like next year, we are excited to continue to lead, teach, and inspire these students and more for many years to come.
Hannah Spangler is a junior in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications.