Proficiency Awards

By: Shay Williams-Hopper, Agriculture Education Consultant, San Joaquin Region

This year, California has 29 members representing us as finalists in the National Proficiency Awards Program in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Hours of hard work in SAE development, application revisions, and interview preparation can truly be seen by not only these individuals but all of the students who completed proficiency award applications last year!

As we prepare for this year’s application process, I wanted to give a few tips to help your students be successful with their applications.

1. Choosing the appropriate category: One of the hardest parts of the whole application is determining if your student is in the correct category.  National FFA updates categories every year and those descriptions can be found here:  One thing to keep in mind as you are determining the correct placement is that with 48 categories, some of the hours and finances accrued in an SAE project will not fit perfectly into one category.  For example, a student who owns dairy cattle and milks those cows and produces butter to sell at a farmers market, cannot include the sale of butter or the time invested in producing that butter on a Dairy Entrepreneurship Application.  Those dollars and hours would need to be pulled out into a separate SAE for Ag Processing.  Also, all skills must be applicable to the Agriculture Industry Sector.  Information that can be deemed part of another industry is subject to disqualification.  Please check in with your regional supervisor if you have questions or feel free to contact me to assist with proper placement.

2. Compare the application to the rubric:  The rubric is followed at both the State and National levels.  While some areas are worth fewer points than others, you should be striving to earn as many points as possible in ALL areas.  You are likely giving up “free” points if you are not reviewing the rubric. Better yet, find a friend in the English department and have them read the application and score it on the rubric. They will give you honest feedback for grammar, spelling, point deductions, and questions they have after reading the application!

3. Have your student tell their SAE Story:  We say this repeatedly, but agriculture in California is extremely different from anywhere else in our country.  Your student will need to explain as much of their project as they can. Things that seem common sense here are not so common in other places.  Try to vary the application and use as many different examples as possible. Repetition of the same skills makes for a less interesting read.  Connect to industry practices if possible. Also, make sure the student’s voice is heard in the application.  Interviewers can tell when the student has had assistance writing the application, and when they have not.

4. Keep accurate records:  As students are entering financial and journal entries, be sure that they are accurately documenting how those hours have been earned and categorizing finances correctly.  Students with an entrepreneurship/research project must have financial entries.  Entrepreneurship projects should also have some type of inventory entries.  If they do not, then that needs to be explained in Question A1.  For example, why does that student own a tractor if they are farming 50 acres of cotton?  Placement projects need to record hours and income earned on their financial entries pages.  Hours from the journal will not transfer over to the application on placement applications.

5. Be sure that SAE Plans are complete: This is a disqualification area at the State Level if they are not complete!

6. Do NOT include information from 2022 on the application: Applications are closed as of December 31, 2021.  Plans can be mentioned for the future, but you cannot say, “In January 2022, I … with my project.”  Leave 2022 for next year’s application! This is also the same for that student’s resume.  Awards earned in 2022, such as a Sectional Proficiency Award Winner, cannot be included.  The resume will be awarded zero points!

7. The “clipboard” is your student moneymaker:  This is the largest amount of points on the entire application.  Make it count.  The clipboard, which can be found on the student’s SAE Program Manager, allows for students to briefly describe their project.  Please coach your students to explain what the project was, what skills they learned, and make sure they are showing growth from year to year in their skill attainment.  Fill in all the space provided.

8. Pictures:  Use the pictures to highlight the awesome skill attainment these students have acquired.  Stay away from “posed” pictures with groups of people.  Make sure that the skill being showcased and the student can be seen in the photo.  Start collecting photos now!  Do not wait until January when the application is due.  Remember that as you are doing SAE visits and you are documenting those visits in AET, you can add a picture from that visit that then drops into the student’s AET files for easy access later!  Start collecting these pictures when they are freshmen. Try to stay away from “showing” livestock pictures.  Your descriptions need to describe what I can’t see in the picture.  I can see you giving an injection; tell me why we are administering the vaccination.  What does it prevent? What method are you using to administer it and why?

I hope that these hints will help your students to be successful as they are moving forward. I am always willing to help should you have a question and so are your regional supervisors. 

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