November 27, 2020

LEADING OUT LOUD: Dan Classen, National FFA Alumni Invest in Ag’s Future

20150115_maxyield_189 (1024x681)Why would a guy who never belonged to FFA in high school become one of its biggest champions? Just ask Dan Classen of West Bend.

“FFA offers a unique opportunity for students to expand their horizons, become leaders, and advance in the most exciting careers in the country,” said Classen, who was elected president of the National FFA Alumni Association in October 2014.

FFA Alumni play a vital part in keeping agricultural education and FFA programs in local schools. The FFA also relies on FFA Alumni to garner support for FFA from their local communities, raise funds for chapter activities and scholarships, assist at FFA leadership camps and conferences, and much more. “We need to have a strong FFA Alumni program to support ag education in our schools,” Classen said.

You don’t need to be a former FFA member to join FFA Alumni organizations, said Classen, who signed up his four-year-old granddaughter for a lifetime membership with the National FFA Alumni Association. “You just need to have a desire to support agriculture education and the future of agriculture,” he noted.

Discovering a new passion
A desire to support agriculture has defined Classen’s life for years. A native of south-central Wisconsin, Classen took ag classes at Horicon High School but never belonged to an FFA chapter.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in technical agriculture from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Classen started farming in 1983 in the West Bend area, where his mother’s side of the family had farmed. He and his wife, Amy, encouraged their son, Zachary, and daughter, Allison, to participate in the West Bend-Mallard FFA chapter. “I liked all the leadership opportunities that were available,” said Classen, who noted that both kids were chapter and district officers, both serving terms as North Central District Vice President. Allison also earned her American Farmer degree and she and Zach participated in the Washington Leadership Conference.

Still, Classen was less than enthused when he was encouraged to get involved with the local Hawkeye FFA Alumni. “I practically went kicking and screaming to the first meeting, but I was impressed by how the group actively supported the kids. It wasn’t long before I signed on as a lifetime member.”

20150115_maxyield_172 (681x1024)Encouraging the next generation of ag teachers
As he discovered how valuable the FFA program is across Iowa, Classen ran for state office and was elected to the Iowa FFA Alumni Association board in 2000. By 2008, he was appointed to the National FFA Alumni Association board.

In his current role as National FFA Alumni Association president, Classen focuses on helping the organization support America’s ag instructors. These teachers play a critical role in agriculture’s future, especially as FFA membership has soared in recent years. “As opportunities in agriculture have grown, more kids are interested in FFA,” said Classen, who meets with his fellow National FFA Alumni Association board members three times a year. “This is a time of record membership for FFA, which has more than 610,000 members nationwide.”

More students mean greater demand for ag instructors, even though instructors are becoming harder to find. “About two ag teachers are retiring for every one that enters the profession—and that’s a conservative estimate,” Classen said. “When an ag teacher isn’t available, schools either have to hire temps or drop the ag program entirely.”

This isn’t uncommon, even in Iowa. Ames High School has no ag program, for example, even though Ames is home to one of the leading ag colleges in the nation. Classen is working with the National FFA Alumni Association to develop creative solutions for schools, such as encouraging leading ag industry companies to offer financial incentives to ag teachers. The 13-member National FFA Alumni Association also wants to partner with the National Association of Agricultural Educators to find practical solutions that offer ag teachers a better work-life balance.

Get involved
Although the National FFA Alumni Association has more than 50,000 members, Classen is on a mission to help grow the organization to better promote ag education and assist ag teachers. He encourages people to log on to www.ffa.org/alumni for more information about this worthwhile organization and the affordable annual and lifetime membership options.

While National FFA Alumni Association members receive a number of perks, from $500 rebates on Chrysler vehicles to discounts at certain hotels, the biggest benefit is the investment in the future. “Agriculture is vital to Iowa and the nation,” Classen said. “We need to support the ag instructors at the local level who are training the next generation of ag leaders.”

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