JEROME — For a second year, Jerome High School alumna Gretchen Hansten was among the top contenders for a national FFA office.
A new group of six officers was announced in late October during the National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis, Ind., and Hansten wasn’t selected. But it’s a prestigious recognition to make it as far as she did in the rigorous interview process, a state FFA official says.
Hansten, a 20-year-old who graduated from Jerome High in 2016, now studies animal and veterinary science at the University of Idaho. As a national FFA officer candidate, she has represented Idaho twice — in 2017 and this year — and made the final cut both times.
This year, 42 candidates began the interview process and 23, including Hansten, made it to the next phase of interviews.
“She was painfully close,” Idaho FFA Association executive director Clara-Leigh Evans said.
Hansten has been a member of FFA since high school. The organization’s name changed from “Future Farmers of America” to “National FFA Organization” in 1988. In addition to learning about agriculture, students gain experience in areas such as leadership, public speaking and how to prepare for a career.
Each U.S. state is able to choose one candidate yearly as a national officer candidate. The person who fills that role must have the American FFA Degree — the highest degree possible within the organization, which fewer than 1 percent of FFA members achieve.
“That in itself is pretty incredible,” Evans said.
This year, there were four young adults from Idaho — all past state FFA officers — who were vying to be selected as Idaho’s national officer candidate, Evans said. Hansten, who was state FFA president during the 2016-17 school year, was selected.
As a national candidate, the process included six rounds of interviews, including one-on-one interviews, a media simulation interview and demonstrating the ability to lead a workshop.
Most national candidates take five to six months to prepare, Hansten said. “It’s probably the most intense interview process someone can go through.”
The selection group is looking at who you are as a person, she said, and how much knowledge you have about agriculture, agriculture education and FFA.
For Hansten, it’s the last year she’ll be a member of FFA. At the national conference, “this year, it was kind of this bittersweet feeling that this is the last time I would put my FFA jacket on,” she said.
Throughout her years in FFA, “I dropped all of my fears and truly took advantage of all of the opportunities I had,” she said, adding it was a chance to grow as a person.
Even though she wasn’t selected as a national FFA officer, it’s not all about the destination, Hansten said. “It’s about the journey we take along the way.” She said she’s grateful for those in the Magic Valley who helped her get to this point.
Hansten was always very dedicated to FFA, said Tom Clifton, an FFA adviser at Jerome High School. “She’s one of Jerome FFA’s superstars. Her name is on just about every plaque and banner we have here at the high school.”
Clifton has known her since she was in middle school. Now, he teaches Hansten’s younger sister, who plans to run for a state FFA office.
Hansten will be successful at whatever she chooses to do in her life, Clifton said. “She’s been an inspiration to the students here at Jerome High School and in our FFA chapter.”
Hansten is in her third year of college. After earning a bachelor’s degree, she plans to go to medical school to pursue a career in family medicine or pediatrics.
“I’m hoping to go back to a rural area,” she said, whether in Idaho or elsewhere in the western United States. “I really want to focus in on rural mental health issues and making sure we’re taking care of people in those areas.”
Evans said: “She has a huge heart to go out and make a difference in that way.”