ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Not many people can lay claim to being “best in the nation,” but you can count Jared Unrau among that number.
The 2006 Goessel High School graduate was named the national winner of the “Agricultural Energy Systems Proficiency” award at the 79th annual FFA convention Oct. 25-28 in Indianapolis, Ind.
Proficiency awards recognize FFA members who excel as agricultural entrepreneurs, employees or volunteers during their years in FFA. Awards are presented in 51 categories at local, state and national levels.
“It represents a lot of hard work,” Unrau said of the achievement. “I don’t know how many hours I spent working on it.”
All FFA students are required to take on a “supervised agricultural experience” (SAE) during their career in FFA. They can try for a proficiency award by filling out a 10- to 12-page application that develops into notebook form.
The notebook is first submitted and evaluated at the district level. Unrau’s entry received top honors.
“If you win at the district level, you send it on to state,” Unrau said. “But in between district and state, they give you suggestions of things to change before you send it on. So I made some changes and then sent it on to the state level.”
He won the top award at that level too, beating out the first-place winners from the other five FFA districts in Kansas.
Unrau made some more revisions before sending the notebook on for national consideration in a competition that included the winners from the 49 other states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Unrau credited Justin Schrag, his FFA adviser at the time, with helping him develop a successful notebook.
“He sort of knew what it took to win, so he helped me quite a bit,” Unrau said. “He told me you need to change this, or this isn’t right.”
Schrag ended his tenure as FFA adviser at GHS that spring and was succeeded this fall by David Graham.
In early August, Unrau was notified he was among the four finalists in his proficiency area.
But the competition for the national award was still open. At the convention, he and the other three finalists went through an interview process with a panel of eight to 10 judges.
“All four of us went into a room together,” Unrau said. “You gave them a two-minute overview of what your SAE was all about for your proficiency.
“Then you all went out of the room, and they called you back in one at a time and asked you 10 minutes worth of questions.”
Unrau said he didn’t feel his interview went very well. So, when he and the other three finalists took the stage in front of several thousand fellow FFA members from across the country, Unrau didn’t expect to hear his name as the winner-and he didn’t hear it, even when it was announced.
“My adviser kind of pushed me out there,” he said. “I didn’t think it was me because I didn’t think my interview went very well. But I guess in some cases when you don’t think you you’re doing very well, you actually are.”
In addition to receiving a plaque and a $500 check for being a finalist, Unrau accepted a bigger plaque and another $500 check for winning the competition.
Unrau said he was already interested in “agricultural mechanics energy systems” as a young boy as he helped on the farm his dad and uncle operate east of Goessel.
“Dad always found some way to get me involved and gave me some project to work on,” he said. “I always loved doing it.”
Jared’s natural interest led him to do his SAE in that area when he started FFA as a high school freshman.
“I just did different projects-working on engines, hydraulics and electrical systems,” he said. “I figured it was a great area to go into. I put in a lot of hours and know quite a bit about it by now.”
Unrau is currently a freshman at Hutchinson Community College, where he has begun a degree in ag technology management. He plans to complete that degree at Kansas State University.
While studying at HCC, he has been earning a scholarship by pursuing an internship he has almost completed at in the research department at Krause Corp. in Hutchinson.
Unrau said winning the national FFA award was a fitting capstone to what he considers a very positive FFA experience at GHS.
“I’d say it’s helped my self-esteem a lot-and not just this award,” he said. “You meet a lot of people at conventions and just through our chapter and different events.
“It builds your self-esteem and it gives you recognition for things you do that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
“It was a lot of fun.”
Unrau is the second of two sons in the family to win a national proficiency award. Older brother Zane won top honors in the area of emerging agricultural technology.
“Usually, when there’s an involved ag family, it becomes sort of a tradition, I guess,” Jared said.