'The most dedicated kids' — 2 Perham graduates earn FFA degrees after years of hard work
Perham High School graduates Cooper Brasel and Britney Loerzel recently earned FFA state degrees despite many delays from the COVID-19 pandemic.
PERHAM — The COVID-19 pandemic brought many school activities to a screeching halt over the past few years, including the state degrees students can earn while participating in FFA. The pandemic caused cancellations of many required events and made most unable to earn a degree during this time. Despite this, Perham High School graduates Cooper Brasel and Britney Loerzel remained dedicated enough to finally receive their FFA state degrees in 2023.
"The state degree is the highest degree or honor that FFA members can get; the only thing higher than that is the (American FFA Degree), which only 1% of FFA members ever get," explained Shell Tumberg, Perham High School agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. "(In order to earn their state degree) they keep records throughout their FFA experience. How much money they spend; how much money they make; where they're investing their money, making smart investment decisions. Like, yes, I could go to McDonald's, but that's money out of my paycheck that's kind of just spent for fun. But if I save my money, I can buy a new heifer, or I can buy a tractor or truck."
Tumberg believes that participating in FFA and earning a state degree is a fantastic way to prepare students for their future careers, and Loerzel and Brasel definitely agree. Both are currently pursuing higher education after graduating high school. Loerzel is studying welding technology at Lake Area Technical College, and Brasel is studying diesel mechanics at Alexandria Technical and Community College.
"I believe that it does prepare students for future careers," Loerzel said, reflecting on what she learned while working for her state degree. "You have the opportunity to go to leadership events that grows your community skills and grows your individual skills. Maybe you struggle with speaking. You can go to leadership events where you can learn how to speak. There's just a lot of different things out there for you to do. I believe whatever you decide to do within FFA, that (it) can help you make a great career."
She and Brasel both had to complete a large number of tasks to earn their degrees. As Tumberg explained, both of the students had to keep records throughout their high school careers of their supervised agricultural experience (SAE). For Brasel, he worked at Ace Hardware in Perham and used the money to buy a truck to help his uncle with the farm and other agricultural work. For Loerzel, she focused on raising cattle for show and sale. She sold her very first heifer at the Minnesota Beef Expo in 2021.
As Tumberg explained, she supervised how they made and spent their money in these agricultural business endeavors. She's there to serve as their advisor and to offer guidance, but, for the most part, earning a state FFA degree is a very individual process.
"FFA is unique in the fact that we're all student-led," Tumberg said. "My job is to keep kids safe and to give them advice from time to time — to be their advisor or their mentor and to only step in when I need to step in. In other words, I step aside to give them free rein to do their thing."
On top of these SAE hours, there are several other requirements students need to meet to earn a state degree. They also need to receive a chapter FFA degree, be an active member for at least two years, receive 360 hours of agricultural education, invest $2,000 and 600 hours outside of class, demonstrate their leadership skills, complete ten different FFA activities, do at least 25 hours of community service and more.
For students to earn a state degree, they often have to dedicate their entire high school career toward the task, Tumberg said. For Brasel and Loerzel, the pandemic put a few hurdles in their path, but they were able to continue pursuing their degrees post-graduation. They both managed to earn them in 2023, and they will be presented with their degrees at the Minnesota State FFA Convention April 24-26.
For Brasel, earning the degree is rewarding, especially after five years. "To me, personally, I'm a second-generation member," he said. "My grandpa was a part of the Perham FFA chapter back when he graduated in 1969. So, I am the first of our family to get any sort of degree (at the) state level. Eventually, I'm hoping for my national level, but it's just nice to see. On a resume, it just shows the work that you put in, and it can show a company that, hey, I go the extra mile. I do what's required of me and more."
In Loerzel's current college welding course, businesses come in to talk to her and her classmates about job opportunities. These possible employers mention that FFA is a great thing to have on your resume. The degree took a lot of hard work to earn, and having it is proof of dedication and effort.
"When I got the email that said they were approved at the state level? I cried," Tumberg said. "I'm an emotional person … Both of these kids, it didn't happen for them when they were in high school. They had to come back and work for this, and do some things after graduation and were dedicated enough to make it happen. Both Britney and Cooper are just some of the most special kids in the entire world — the most dedicated kids. My own sons and daughters — they look up to Britney and Cooper. That's the ultimate goal, right?"
Though, as Tumberg said, very few students earn a national degree, both Loerzel and Brasel hope to earn theirs and are ready to take that next step.