About Derek Hill
Derek Hill is the Director of New York FFA and a staff member of the Agricultural Education and Outreach program at Cornell University.
Derek specializes in youth leadership development and is responsible for the oversight and management of the New York Association of FFA. Derek is an award-winning educator with over 15 years of experience working with students and educators at varying levels.
Connect with Derek: Email | Linkedin
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
New York FFA (Future Farmers of America)
SUNY Morrisville – Associates in Applied Science – Natural Resources Conservation
Cornell University – Bachelors of Science – Agricultural Sciences
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s guest. His name is Derek hill and he is the director of New York FFA and a staff member of the agricultural education and outreach program at Cornell university. Derek specializes in youth leadership development, and is responsible for the oversight and management of the New York association of FFA.
Sam Demma (01:00):
Derek is an award-winning educator with over 15 years of experience, working with students and educators at varying levels. You will feel Derek’s passion in this interview, and it was a pleasure working with him and his state conference with all the students from his organization and association in New York city. I hope you enjoy this, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that brought you to where you are today working with young people?
Derek Hill (01:36):
Sure. Thanks a lot Sam for having me today. I’m Derek hill, I’m the New York FFA director and I’ve been in this position for about six years now. My background is I grew up on my grandparents’ dairy farm here in New York and always had a passion for agriculture and thought that I would, that’s what I would do someday is I would take over their farm and and be a dairy farmer. But that, that didn’t work out that way. So you know, and I, I, after that point I thought I was gonna be I wanted to be a natural resources conservation officer. So I went to SUNY Morrisville and got my natural resources degree and while I was there, professor, my advisor had told me that they were look that he thought I would be a good ag teacher and he suggested that I go to Cornell and get my teaching degree.
Derek Hill (02:27):
And at that point I thought he was crazy, cuz all growing up in high school, you know, school, wasn’t my, my favorite thing. I never could have picture pictured myself being a teacher and you know, here’s this guy telling me, he thought I would be you know, a good teacher. I thought about it for a while and I decided to apply and, and go into the teacher education program. And that’s what I did. And I ended up getting a te a teaching position at Tali which is just south of Syracuse. So I was an ag teacher and FFA advisor there for over eight years. And then my current role opened up and I decided to apply for this job thinking that you know, if I could have that much impact on students in the Tali community, you know, this would give me a chance to have an even bigger impact on, on more students. And so that’s why it was a very difficult decision at that time. And cuz I loved being at Telli. But I made that jump over. So here I am today
Sam Demma (03:44):
And for all our Canadian friends that are thinking what the heck is FFA . Can you tell me a little bit more about the acronym what the organization stands for, what it hopes to achieve and accomplish and what compelled you to get involved?
Derek Hill (03:58):
Yeah, so FFAs used to stand for future farmers of America in the 1980s. They voted to just make it the national FFA organization. And the reason for that is, is we do a lot more than talk about production agriculture there. You know, everybody knows the agriculture industry is much broader and wider than the, you know, the farmer that’s on, on the farm. It’s you know, it’s getting the food there, it’s getting the food processed, it’s getting it to the stores, it’s all the financing behind it, all those things. So FFA recognized that and we wanted to be more inclusive of everybody. So that’s where the name kind of changed. It’s the largest youth organization in the country. We have over 700,000 members in all 50 states and and Puerto Rico, Virgin islands as well.
Derek Hill (05:03):
And the, the idea behind it is to help those students that are interested in agriculture to develop leadership skills and get recognized for the skills that they’re developing in their programs. And you know, a comp in, in the United States, a comprehensive agriculture program at the middle and high school level includes the classroom laboratory piece of it, but it also includes work-based learning which is what we call an SAE supervised agricultural experience. And then that third circle third component is FFA and they get to develop their leadership skills and compete in competitions from anything from public speaking to demonstrating their mechanical skills that they’ve picked up in their ag mechanics class. So huge opportunity. And we’re trying to grow it further here in New York so that more schools offer this opportunity to students.
Sam Demma (06:08):
That’s it’s awesome. I wish I had something like that here in Toronto, Canada. Growing up, that’s so cool. And I know leadership skills and giving students experiential opportunities is a huge thing that the organization does, especially with the, you know, huge conferences and everything that happens outside of the agricultural education. What are some of those experiences that they go through and have you seen the impact that it can have on a young person? Like maybe you can think of, you probably have hundreds of stories, maybe think of one or two and you can change the student’s name if it’s a crazy story, just to keep them private, but I’d love to hear how the impact change a young person’s life or change a perspective or something. And also some of the events that you guys hold and host every year.
Derek Hill (06:55):
Yeah. So what’s really awesome about FFA and I’ve always admired is the fact that you can have students that are in sixth grade all the way until, you know, they can be freshman, sophomore in college, even, but those high school students and those middle school students, you know, if you, you were to ride the bus with them to school each day, some of ’em would be sitting in the front and some would be in the back and they wouldn’t interact with each other at all. And FFA for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter what, how old you are, where you come from your background. Cuz we have students that live in the inner city all the way to students that live in the rural as part of the state. And they just are able to connect because they have a commonality and that they wanna grow as leaders and they, they wanna learn more about agriculture and all that other stuff gets pushed aside.
Derek Hill (07:54):
And the older students wanna help the younger students. We have a lot of mentor programs with the high school and middle school. So you know, the, the best thing that I can tell you that students have told me is a lot of times we, we have students that are lost and they don’t fit into sports. And Sam, I know your, your background is in sports and you know what it’s like to feel like to be on a team, right. And build that family well for these kids, you know, sports really doesn’t do that for ’em. And not to say we don’t have any athletes, we have a lot of athletes too, but the stories that stick in my mind are those that can’t find a place that they feel like they fit. And because we’re, I feel that we’re very accepting of just about anybody.
Derek Hill (08:45):
They they find that family and that’s what sticks out to me. And I’ve had students that could not for whatever reason do well in their other classes. But because, you know, as their ag teacher and FFA advisor, we spend so much extra time together. We build that bond and, and they can you know, kind of see the, the forest through the trees. They, they start to do better academically. And that’s what, that’s why I keep doing this is when they come back and tell me, you know, thanks for, for everything you do. Because it didn’t make a difference. And that’s what I’m here to do.
Sam Demma (09:33):
It’s, it’s cool too, because you know, agriculture planting, you know, reaping sewing, you know, as a, as someone who works with young people, you’re planting seeds in them as well, you know, and absolutely, you know, you’re watering it over time by giving them experiences and mentoring in them. And sometimes plant shoots to the ground and grows super fast. Others take some time. Sometimes you don’t even see it, you know, you don’t even see it happen. And it might be five years down the road that someone comes back and tells you about the impact that you made. I was gonna ask you, you know, what keeps you motivated to get up every day and do this work? Is it the students like tell me more about personally, what keeps you going?
Derek Hill (10:12):
Yeah, it’s, it’s definitely the, the students you know, there’s a lot of aspects to my position cuz part of it is being that administrative piece. And I’m not saying that that piece isn’t important or I don’t enjoy certain aspects, but that’s certainly not what keeps me going every day. Got it. It’s working in my position. I get to work with our, our state officers and district presidents. And then I also plan a lot of the events that all of our or a lot of our members come to and to work with them and see the difference that they’re, that they’re having to go to an event and see the new friendships that are being made. The networking that’s happening. You know, I, I can’t stress that enough. These students now know people from all across the country because they attended national convention and met somebody from a state that they would’ve never met before.
Derek Hill (11:09):
And it, you know, working with the state officers and, and you know, this intensive year that we have with them and seeing the growth from the beginning to the end and it, it always, it always is difficult at the end because we’ve put so much time and effort and they’re, they’re at a point where they’re performing and I can just send them out to schools and chapters and they’re good to go. And then I gotta start that process all over again each year, which is a challenge, but it’s also exciting, you know kind of hard to let go sometimes too.
Sam Demma (11:42):
Yeah, no, I hear you. And you know, just to give people an idea of the intensive experience, what does that look like? Is it you guys meet on a weekly basis? I know you obviously plan events together, but what does that commitment look like from a state officer’s perspective? And those are what age students as well?
Derek Hill (12:00):
Yeah, so they’re typically either a senior or a freshman in college. This year we have all college students they’re freshman and sophomores. Nice. it just happened to work out that way. And this is the first year that we’ve had all female state officers and female district presidents in our 96 year history. So, wow. it’s pretty exciting. Nice. in terms of the intensity in a normal year we’re going there’s something every week whether it’s going to a conference for another organization that wants us to come and speak or you know, they go through hundreds of hours of training. So as soon as they’re elected about a week or two later, they go into their first multi-day training learning about themselves. We start by focusing on themselves and helping them figure out who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Derek Hill (13:02):
And and then we start to build that team once they know who they are and try to get them to gel. And sometimes that, that happens quickly and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes they learn to respect each other and they ne you know, they never necessarily become the best of friends, but that’s okay too. You know, that’s, that’s the way the world is. And then after that you know, we focus on their ability to facilitate workshops and give presentations. And throughout the year we offer all kinds of different leadership conferences. So one of our biggest ones is called 2 12, 3 16 in January. And we bring in some national trainers and we have about 800 students that’ll attend that. And they’re learning to grow themselves as leaders. Our state officers will do a tour in the fall around the state visiting different chapters and businesses.
Derek Hill (14:14):
So we’re on the road for about seven days, traveling, 15, 1600 miles meeting members and industry partners. We go to national convention, which is a week long process where our state officers become our delegates there. And you know, they work on committees and, and vote on different issues during the Del the business session. We have our own state convention that’s hopefully gonna be in person in 2022 . And that’s a three day event that our state officers we have six general sessions and, and they do all those sessions. They write the whole script, they write the retirement addresses. We help them work on presenting those. And so it’s, it’s a year round job, and, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m their advisor, but most of the time I end up being a coach and their, their life coach. And I’m available to them almost twenty four seven. When they call me at one o’clock in the morning, then my wife gets a little upset, but you know, so I try to keep it during working hours, but it, it, it’s it’s a lot of one on one time and helping them develop and not only their skills, cuz if they’re elected as a state officer, that’s a very competitive process. They already have those, some of those natural skills. But it’s, it’s about developing who they wanna become.
Sam Demma (15:57):
Mm. And what’s with the corduroy jackets, , you know, tell like where, where did this hype come from? And, and tell me more about that.
Derek Hill (16:08):
So that’s part of our official dress. And that’s been around pretty much the entirety of the organization. And what’s funny is throughout the years, the, the emblems changed even depending on when they could, what type of fabric they could get to make that quarter Ray sometime there was a point where it was almost like a purple color instead of blue, just because of the fabric that they could get at that time. But it, it’s, it’s a tradition for us. You know, it’s important to evolve as an organization and, and we certainly have tried to do that over time, but I think it’s also important to keep and maintain some of those traditions. And when you walk into national convention, downtown Indianapolis, and there’s 70,000 students, we’re in that blue corduroy and we’re all walking down the street together that makes an impression and everybody knows that they’re part of that organization. And the same thing at our own state convention, you know, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. We’re all wearing that. And, and the, the students feel unified. So it’s a, it’s a point of pride for us. And you know, sometimes it’s fashionable. Yeah. And sometimes it’s not, and right now it seems like it’s coming back around to being a little more fashionable.
Sam Demma (17:29):
, it’s funny. I tried getting one on eBay before the state convention and it wasn’t gonna ship in time, so I had to pass up on it. But I, I spoke to Ryan Porter, a guy who probably spoke for you guys, you know, a couple years ago or a long time ago. And he was like, yeah, man, the corridor jackets, you know, they, they love their jackets. And I was like, what is it? What is it about the jackets? But that’s awesome. Thanks for, thanks for sharing. And the emblem has changed lots. Like the logo now is pretty fascinating. Is there like meaning behind it or anything or
Derek Hill (17:59):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. There’s it has changed a little bit over time. It used to say vocational education instead of agricultural education. And that really had to do with the change of terminology over the years. You know the symbols all mean something you know, the owl is there for wisdom and represents the, you know, the advisor piece the rising sun is kind of emblematic of looking towards the future. So each piece of that, you know, the cross section of the corn, you know, that’s kind of unity is behind that because corn’s grown in all 50 states. So yeah, we, we, we actually, as an ag teacher, a lot of, a lot of teachers will break that emblem down and, and get students to realize what that, what that all means and why it’s there.
Sam Demma (18:53):
Got it. Cool. That’s awesome. And when you talk about being an ag teacher how did that differ from the role you’re in today? Are you still doing that as well?
Derek Hill (19:04):
Yeah. I still consider myself a teacher. I’m just different role just doing it a little differently. I’m not in the classroom having to worry about six different preps each day. instead I’m worried about six different students, but yeah, it’s certainly as an ag teacher you know, you plan events and do things at the local level and you, you host competitions and things like that. But at this level I’m planning events for 2000 people where as an ag teacher, I might have been planning events for 150 people. So there’s a lot of similarities, but there’s some differences. You know, as, as, as the chapter leader, you’re thinking about your students, your chapter as the, the director for the state organization, I have to think about the entire state and, and what’s in the best interest for that. And you know, sometimes that’s, that’s easy to do and sometimes it’s not.
Sam Demma (20:10):
Yeah. And I have to ask, cause you mentioned it earlier that you thought you were gonna take over your parents’ dairy farm do you have a farm of your own? Do you grow vegetables?
Derek Hill (20:20):
yeah, we, we typically have a garden and we’ve raised pigs and cows in the past. We just moved. So you know, my two boys and, and I are working on building the fence and hoping to get them involved with some showing of animals and things here soon.
Sam Demma (20:42):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. And if you could go back in time and give yourself advice, knowing what you know now, and though all the experiences you had, if you went back to your first year, working with youth in any capacity, what advice would you give your younger self that to help equip you and prepare you for the journey
Derek Hill (21:01):
Yeah. I think I would give myself two pieces of advice. One would be to, to keep an open mind because I never would’ve imagined that I would be where I am today. This was not where I started out thinking I was gonna be. And here I am. And, and number two would be, you know, for all, all the teachers out there, you know, there are a lot of rough days but there’s also those good days too. And we have to, we have to remember those good days too, and not, not just the bad ones. You know, and I, I know that’s what kept me going is, you know, even through those bad days when a, a student or a teacher comes to me and you know, they’re, they’re happy and going in the right direction. That’s, that’s what keeps me going,
Sam Demma (21:58):
Love that. Awesome. Well, if someone is listening to this right now, Derek, and they wanna reach out, maybe just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to, you know, find your info or even get in touch with you?
Derek Hill (22:10):
Yeah, probably the, the easiest way would be to send me an email and my emails pretty straightforward. It’s just firstname.lastname@example.org. So feel free to reach out anytime.
Sam Demma (22:23):
Awesome. Derek, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you a little bit about your journey, the corduroy jacket, the logo, what the organization stands for and the part, the role that you play in, in the whole process. This has been awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Derek Hill (22:39):
Thanks a lot, Sam.
Sam Demma (22:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
Join the Educator Network & Connect with Derek Hill
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