Seeking inspiration for can-do spirit and creativity making a far-reaching impact?
Consider the Southern Illinois University (SIU) College of Agricultural, Life and Physical Sciences and its virtual FFA horse judging contest that reached students across the country as far as Alaska.
“It’s eye opening what you can do in a virtual world,” said Susan Graham, the dean’s assistant who is spearheading the Carbondale campus’ virtual outreach.
On Dec. 11, the SIU FFA horse CDE (career development event) attracted nearly 300 students from 60 schools in 22 states coast to coast.
It marked the college’s latest virtual activity for high school students from interactive FFA leadership conferences to college exploratory activities.
When COVID restrictions ended on-campus activities and traditional FFA contests hosted by SIU, college leaders and staff began creating and offering virtual options.
For a virtual Illinois FFA horse judging contest, the SIU team created videos for each of seven classes, allowing 178 student judges to view them online and submit electronic score cards.
“Everything worked perfectly,” Graham said of the Illinois contest. “They had a better view of the horses (online) than in person.”
In fact, the unique virtual contest worked so well Russell Ewell with Judging Card, an FFA CDE scoring vendor, suggested SIU consider offering the virtual horse CDE to chapters across the country.
Graham said her heart went out when she learned “some states (FFA) have canceled everything.”
With support from new Dean Scott Ishman, the decision was made to offer the horse CDE nationwide on Zoom in December, and information was posted online.
In addition, Rachel Wright, SIU graduate assistant in agricultural education, contacted all 50 states’ FFA and ag education programs.
“The word (of the contest) went like wildfire,” Graham said.
On contest day, videos were posted on YouTube and included a welcome from SIU Chancellor Austin Lane. After the horse videos were released at 9 a.m., contestants had three hours to view them. Erin Perry, faculty coordinator of the SIU Equine Center, gave closing comments.
Wright and Graham hosted the event for nine and a half hours on a Zoom link.
By 5:30 p.m., the class placing video went live after all scoresheets were submitted.
The playlist went live the following Monday morning. Graham noted teachers may use it as a teaching tool free of charge.
“The emails and feedback from teachers that we are still receiving makes me very happy,” Graham said.
The virtual interaction has led to requests for virtual SIU college visits with schools in three states. Washington and Kansas schools already confirmed dates, the dean’s assistant said, and more are anticipated after the holidays.
Emphasizing the “small army” that helped, Graham thanked the dean, Perry, Wright and Ewell, along with Stephanie Speiser, senior lecturer in animal science; Casey Parr, who served as official judge; Greg Wendt, the videographer; Karla Berry, SIU Equine Center director; Samantha Wuest, Equine Center manager; and all the student volunteers who participated in the filming.
“We’re trying to do our part to help people through this year,” Graham said of the college’s virtual outreach. “Hopefully, it helped people and brought people together.”