National FFA Convention & Expo honors 11 Virginians for outstanding contributions to agricultural education
FFA was founded at Virginia Tech in 1925 by four agricultural education teachers. Today, the National FFA Organization is a school-based national youth leadership development organization of more than 850,000 student members as part of 8,995 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Eleven Virginians earned top honors for their longstanding contributions to agricultural education at the 96th National FFA Convention & Expo, held Nov. 3 in Indianapolis. The honorees included eight Virginia Tech faculty members and alumni who were recognized with the Honorary American FFA Degree, the FFA’s highest honor, and the VIP Citation, which honors individuals who have dedicated more than 20 years of service to FFA and agricultural education.
“The National FFA Organization works to enhance the lives of youth through agricultural education. Without the efforts of these highly dedicated individuals, thousands of young people would not be able to achieve the success that, in turn, contributes directly to the overall well-being of the nation,” said Scott Stump, chief executive officer of the National FFA Organization and National FFA Foundation.
The Honorary American FFA Degree recognizes individuals who have made an extraordinary long-term difference in the lives of students and inspired new generations of agriculturists. Awardees are nominated by their state FFA organization and approved by the National FFA Organization’s board of directors. Below are the 10 Honorary American FFA Degree recipients from Virginia and some highlights of their service.
- Alan Grant has served as dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for the past 14 years and presided over substantial growth in the college’s enrollment, research funding, global impact, and philanthropic support. Grant has spent over four decades of his educational and professional career at land-grant institutions in the U.S. He recently announced plans to retire next year.
- David Kohl, professor emeritus in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech, taught over 10,000 students and earned 11 major teaching awards and 25 Extension and public service awards from Virginia Tech, Cornell University, and state and national organizations. A two-time recipient of the prestigious American Agricultural Economics Association's Distinguished Teaching Award and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Famer, Kohl is also a business coach and part owner of Homestead Creamery. He continues to teach agricultural lenders, regulators, producers, and agribusiness groups nationwide and globally.
- Robert Mills, owner of Briar View Farms in Callands, is a 1994 Virginia Tech alumnus and the 2017 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year and Virginia Farmer of the Year. Mills is a strong advocate for the agriculture industry who has served on the boards of directors for the Virginia Farm Bureau and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as well as on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.
- Melessa Suder, an FFA advisor and agricultural educator at Eastern View High School in Culpeper, is past president of the Virginia FFA Association. A 1998 Virginia Tech graduate, Suder has helped grow the agricultural education program at Eastern View from two to three teachers, designed and built a state-of-the-art greenhouse for the school, and expanded the curriculum to include horticulture and floriculture. Her students create floral arrangements for community events and grow and sell horticultural products to the community.
- John Carpenter, an agricultural educator at Carroll County Middle School, is known for providing numerous experiential and service learning opportunities for students. A 1982 graduate of Virginia Tech, Carpenter is active with the Carroll County Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce. In addition to coordinating an annual community flea market, he has been instrumental in the Carroll County Agricultural Fair and Carroll County Ag Center Heritage Day.
- Margaret Jones is an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Amelia County High School. She has incorporated new curriculum for small animal care and expanded offerings in the Power, Structural and Technical Systems pathway, which has helped open numerous doors for students. Jones also works with local businesses to secure school-to-work programs that allow students to work outside the classroom with local employers to learn more about the jobs available to them.
- Brian Cavey is a National FFA Foundation retiring board member who is senior vice president of corporate communications and government affairs at CoBank, a cooperative bank supporting the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture, rural infrastructure, and rural communities. Cavey leads the team that represents CoBank before Congress, the administration, and regulatory agencies. Prior to joining CoBank, he served as the vice president of legislative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. He has nearly 30 years of experience on Capitol Hill, in the state capitols, in corporate government affairs, and trade association management.
- Jared Hill is a national FFA Foundation retiring board member and senior director of government and industry affairs at Bunge, a global leader in agribusiness, food, and ingredients. He leads the company’s North American government and industry affairs with a passion for engaging with lawmakers, government agencies, and key stakeholders at the intersection or public policy, agriculture, and the global food supply. Prior to joining Burge, Hill was the head lobbyist for the National Grain and Feed Association. He serves on the management council of the International Grain Trade Coalition and on the board of directors of the Commodity Markets Council.
- Andy Seibel was honored in a special ceremony along with his wife, Megan, as a parent of National FFA President and Hokie Andrew Seibel. As the chief executive of Virginia FFA, Andy Seibel oversees agricultural education programs for more than 33,000 high school students and professional development for around 330 teachers in 192 chapters. Seibel is also an associate Extension specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension and second-generation farmer, who holds three degrees from Virginia Tech.
- Megan Seibel was honored with her husband, Andy, for making FFA a family affair, with two of the couples’ three children serving as National FFA officers. Seibel is director of the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) program at Virginia Tech, which is Virginia’s premier executive leadership development program for adults in agriculture. An Extension specialist, she leads training on leadership best practices as well as facilitation and strategic planning. Seibel is the associate director and co-founder for the Center for Cooperative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech and an associate fellow of the Occupational Research Centre in the U.K. From 2016-18, she served as deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry for Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Philip M. Fravel, a native of Virginia and professor of agricultural education at Clemson University for 22 years, earned the National FFA’s VIP Citation Award recognizing Fravel’s 42 years of combined service to agricultural education and the FFA. Fravel has served agricultural education as a classroom teacher, state supervisor, teacher educator, and FFA advisor throughout his career and has conducted numerous hands-on workshops for teachers across the nation. Fravel earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Virginia Tech and served as an agricultural educator and FFA advisor at Strasburg High School for 15 years before becoming a graduate instructor at Virginia Tech and joining Clemson’s faculty in 2001.
FFA was founded at Virginia Tech in 1925 by four agricultural education teachers. Today, the National FFA Organization is a school-based national youth leadership development organization of more than 850,000 student members as part of 8,995 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at FFA.org and on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter.