RISE FFA program

There are many paths to success with rewarding agricultural careers, but many young people leaving high school might be unsure of what opportunities there are outside the traditional college route. Sunrise Cooperative recognizes this and wanted to do something to help young people see it as well. Through partnership with the Ohio FFA Foundation, Sunrise Cooperative handcrafted a program to bring promising high school graduates directly into the workforce as part of the team.

The idea came from the cooperative’s own board of directors who themselves had kids finishing school. Many of their kids had a strong desire to go back to the farm but felt an obligation to first obtain a college education. 

“We’re pressuring kids in high school everywhere. If you fill out a form, the first line under your name asks where you intend to go to college. It’s like saying if you can’t state where you want to go to college, then you can’t succeed,” said Sunrise President/CEO, George D. Secor. “We’ve done a misjustice to our young people; we really have.”

Communication with the Ohio FFA Foundation followed and the idea was addressed, along with how Sunrise could support a state program and help fill needs. From this, the RISE FFA Career Program was born.

Ethin Bendickson is the first full-time employee hired by Sunrise through the RISE FFA Program.

Beginning at the 2019 Ohio FFA Convention, the elected state president was presented with a new pickup truck, courtesy of Sunrise. Holly McClay, the first Ohio FFA president to receive the truck, used the vehicle as she fulfilled the responsibilities of her office driving all over the Buckeye State promoting the FFA program and agricultural industries.

George Secor and Bethany Starlin

This year, the truck was returned to Sunrise and they presented the new state president-elect, Bethany Starlin, with her new vehicle. The 2019 truck was then given to a 2020 FFA graduate, selected by the Ohio FFA, to be employed full-time at Sunrise. The company has committed to the RISE FFA program for at least three years.

“As part of this program, they come on board and it’s an opportunity to learn. It’s a four-year commitment and they join our team as a full-time employee,” said Morgan Niedermier, vice president of marketing. “They spend the first two years with us learning all about Sunrise.”

During those first two years, the new hire works in all divisions of the cooperative, including agronomy, feed, energy and grain. He or she also gets to perform work in precision ag and spend some time in the corporate office, including marketing and even accounting. The person rotates through the divisions every couple months and at the end of the first two years will sit down with supervisors and evaluate what areas of expertise he or she would like to focus on in the next two years. After the four years are completed, the successful graduate may be offered continued employment at Sunrise.

Getting a jump start

Ethin Bendickson from Miami East FFA was the winning 2020 graduate selected for the program. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he was out of classes early and was able to get a jump-start on his employment. He began in early April.

In this first year of the program, 25 different applicants competed. The rules of entry are simple, allowing for a wide variety of diverse applicants. Candidates must be an incoming graduate, active in their respective FFA chapter and turn in an ag-focused essay. Entries are evaluated and the winner selected by an Ohio FFA committee who then presents the winner to Sunrise.

The pool of candidates was noted as all being of exceptional quality. In fact, Secor noted that they reached out to two of the finalists and also offered them positions at Sunrise which they accepted.

“They’re outstanding people. They want to be there. They want to learn, that’s what we need,” he said. “We will teach them any part of agriculture we touch. Give me a kid who knows how to work a job in agriculture, look me in the eye and shake my hand and we can show them the rest.”

With the enthusiasm and excitement for this program, arrangements already are being made for the next candidate in 2021.

“It’s not only about Sunrise but raising awareness there’s a lot of opportunities out there for students who want to enter the workforce after high school,” Niedermier said. “The heart of it is just providing opportunities for youth and an opportunity for us to reach out to future leaders.”  


Featured Image: The RISE FFA Career Program officially kicked off at the 2019 Ohio FFA Convention when Morgan Nidermier, Sunrise vice president of marketing, presented the newly elected state president Holly McClay a truck to drive.

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