Salem native selected as FFA American Star Award finalist in agriscience

Published: Oct. 20, 2023 at 10:42 PM CDT
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BROOKINGS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Every year, the Future Farmers of America presents “American Star” awards to students displaying excellence in farming, agribusiness, agricultural placement and agriscience. One 2023 finalist is a South Dakota State senior from Salem.

Out of the thousands of FFA members, less than one percent receive their American FFA Degree. That number is narrowed down even further for the American Star Awards. A total of sixteen finalists are selected, four for each category. For Hadley Stiefvater, her name being included in that exclusive list is surreal.

Friends, family and advisors said that Stiefvater is more than deserving of the honor. For her, goal after goal has been set and met throughout her time in the FFA since middle school. She served as the McCook Central FFA chapter president and she served as South Dakota’s state FFA secretary. She is committed to and passionate about agriscience.

“Agriscience is so important because it is the future of the agriculture industry,” explained Stiefvater, the animal science and agriculture leadership double major. “The research and the technology that are being developed are helping keep our food supply as safe and as wholesome and feeding as many as we possibly can.”

Her FFA advisors said that she grew from a shy middle-schooler to a confident, intelligent young woman. They explained that she is a hard worker, a leader, and a role model.

“I just think she has so much compassion and empathy and a lot of that has got to go back to her parents,” described Terry Rieckman, the McCook Central FFA chapter advisor. “I think it’s what you’re taught and what you learn and what you believe in.”

“She was a former homeschooled student when she came to us,” said Tracy Chase, the former assistant FFA advisor and current secondary principal at McCook Central. “She was very reserved and very quiet at first and the more confidence she gained was due to her ability level. She just kept growing in that. She kept pushing herself. Every project she picked was one step further or something that challenged her. She always challenges herself.”

The role her parents played in her journey is unique. Her interest in agriscience started with her family and their veterinary practice.

“I’ve grown up there my entire life helping with appointments and learning the aspects of animal health and veterinary care,” Stiefvater said. “That really fueled my passion for research and my interest in the animal science industry and agriculture as a whole.”

She also followed in her parent’s footsteps and attended SDSU.

“They always pushed me to be my best, do my best, provided me with contacts of people that could help me understand research better and the different projects that I did,” Stiefvater said.

The McCook Central FFA chapter has had finalists in multiple categories before, but Hadley is the first to be a finalist in agriscience. Her advisors said that the chapter’s success comes from community support and motivated students like Hadley. For advisors, getting to play a role in their student’s success is a rewarding experience.

“I don’t think it’s any different than if you’re a head coach in football or basketball or something like that, you make it to the championship game, this is our championship game,” Rieckman said.

“It’s just hitting those milestones and Hadley has hit every milestone running and I would say this is it, we’re going to hit this one,” said Chase.

Regardless of the outcome, her friends, advisors and family are proud of this driven student, and Hadley’s younger self is likely proud, too.

“The opportunity to hear that I had achieved my dream of becoming a national finalist in the Star in agriscience program was really exciting, super enlightening,” Stiefvater said. “The fact that all of my hard work through high school and college really paid off to achieve that dream was something super exciting for me.”

“If anybody can do it, it’s Hadley,” Rieckman stated with a smile. “We’re really proud.”

The winners of the American Star Awards will be announced at the National FFA Convention & Expo on November 1-4, with the ceremony taking place on November 3rd.