Andy Seibel has deep roots at Virginia Tech and the nearby community, and that’s fitting for the new leader of Virginia FFA, a group that has been affiliated with the university since the earliest days of the national FFA.

FFA was founded on campus in 1925 by four Virginia Tech agricultural education teachers. Back then it was called Future Farmers of Virginia. It later became Future Farmers of America, and then just FFA.

Seibel, who became executive secretary of Virginia FFA in October, has a relationship with Virginia Tech that goes back more than 30 years. He holds three degrees from the university: a bachelor’s in agricultural education and master’s and education specialist degrees in career and technical education. He taught high school agricultural education for 15 years, and between 2002 and 2018 held various jobs in agricultural education with FFA and Virginia Cooperative Extension.  

Seibel, 56, was born and raised in Roanoke, where his family owned a dairy farm. The farm is still in the family, now used to raise beef cattle and grow wine grapes. As a child, he said he, “I worked on everything there is do with the dairy industry,” and he was an officeholder in his local FFA and 4-H chapters. 

Seibel is now the chief executive of Virginia FFA, overseeing agricultural education programs for more than 33,000 high school students and professional development for around 330 teachers in 192 different chapters. Befitting the nationwide switch from “Future Farmers of America” to FFA in 1988, the group aims to introduce students to careers in agriculture that go far beyond growing crops. There are more than 300 such careers, Seibel said, many of them requiring backgrounds in science and technology.

“Agriculture is the largest industry in the state of Virginia, and there are a lot of opportunities both for college graduates and students that want to go to community college,” Seibel said. “We’re letting people know that it’s more than just production agriculture.”

For example, the turf grass industry is growing rapidly in Virginia, and there are plenty of job opportunities in developing, installing, and maintaining turf athletic fields. Companies like John Deere also need service technicians and are willing to pay the tuition for students in two- or four-year programs, Seibel said.

FFA’s program for agricultural education has three components: work-based learning for students, including internships, entrepreneurship, job placement, and community service; leadership and career development, including the livestock judging and other contests and events; and secondary instruction, which includes working with the Virginia Department of Education on curriculum for the 28 state-approved agricultural education classes.

The work-based learning is especially important and is mandated by FFA’s federal charter. It allows teenagers to gain real work experience as part of a comprehensive training program, something that no longer happens in many industries.

FFA also has a program that trains young people for leadership positions inside or outside of agriculture. Every year, Virginia has a handful of “state officers,” recent high school graduates that take a gap year to devote to FFA. These officers travel around the state leading workshops, and they attend a leadership camp. In return, FFA awards them partial scholarships.

“The experience of visiting schools and developing leadership content for students helps them develop into more mature college students. My own children have done it,” Seibel said.

Seibel’s first couple of months in the new job have been “really hectic,” he said. In November, he oversaw Virginia FFA’s trip to the national FFA convention in Indianapolis, bringing more than 500 high school students from around the state. In December came the National Association of Agricultural Educators convention in Anaheim, California, which he attended with a group of teachers from Virginia.

FFA isn’t just for high school students and teachers. It also helps Virginia Tech by introducing high school students to the university and its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“We bring kids to campus for various events and it helps make a connection, so that when they’re considering schools, they consider Virginia Tech,” Seibel said. 

—    Written by Tony Biasotti

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