Launchpad for Learning
FFA helped sharpen Carley Esser’s career development, relationship skills all while cultivating her passion for agriculture.
Carley Esser didn’t grow up on a farm. But that didn’t stop her from learning the impact of the agriculture industry and from making the most of her FFA experience.
Today, the former Boonville FFA member is a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., for Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04). In her role, Esser researches and develops policy, engages with constituents and works with agencies to help influence policy and regulations that impact Missouri and the fourth congressional district. She also works on trade, energy, environment, education, transportation and foreign aid policy.
“Having not grown up directly on a farm, FFA helped me gain a basic knowledge of the agriculture industry, take advantage of hands-on experiences I would have otherwise not been exposed to, and develop a love for public speaking — all while building a national network of amazing individuals,” Esser explains.
As an FFA member, Esser held officer positions, participated in as many career and leadership development events as possible and admits rushing through art class projects so she could speed extra time in the agriculture classroom. Her Supervised Agricultural Experience project focused on raising chickens and helping her dad in his construction business while also working with the local parks and recreation department.
Looking back on her time in the blue jacket, Esser says FFA helped her build a resume´ and sharpen her interview skills by competing in a variety of contents and experiences. The same preparation helped her apply for agriculture-related internships and experiences that all assisted her in preparing for her current career.
“My first trip to our nation’s capital was because of FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference, and now every year I get to see the flood of blue jackets across our city,” Esser says. “Even after adding a few more trips to Arlington Cemetery, I am just as excited when I get to explore the monuments today as I was then.”
Esser is quick to note you get out of an activity what you put into it. In fact, she remembers feeling devastated when she passed up for a chapter officer position. The experience taught her both humility and time management.
She explains, “It was brought to my attention that I was putting more time into sports, and I could not expect to reap the benefits of being an officer if I wasn’t willing to also put in the effort of supporting a team. I needed to better manage my time if I wanted to succeed on the ball field and the FFA field.”
To Esser, FFA provides a launchpad for students to develop into well-rounded, contributing members of society.
“You don’t have to be going into production agriculture to benefit from the FFA,” she says. “While that is an important and valuable route, the industry is so diverse and needs advocates both inside and outside the industry.”
Esser encourages FFA members to be active in the organization as well as other opportunities. She says exposing yourself to all you can while focusing on building and keeping genuine relationships is key.
“While experience plays a large role in getting jobs, I am where I am today because of exposure to opportunities and the people who helped get me here,” Esser says. “Every career door opened because of genuine relationships with people who believed in my ability and trusted that I would not let them down. FFA helped expose me to various career paths, people and opportunities to put learning into practice.”
by Joann Pipkin