FFA Executive Director named Montana Young Professional of the Year
When Gwynn Simeniuk joined FFA in 7th grade, little did she realize that one day she would be executive director for Montana FFA. When she started with the FFA in 2017 as the program and events manager, she didn’t imagine four years later she would receive the Montana Young Professional of the Year title.
Simeniuk grew up on a family commercial cow-calf ranch, raising black Angus. “We started out farming and ranching, but by the time I got involved in the day-to-day operations, my family stuck to growing hay and raising cattle. I loved being on the ranch and having the lifestyle involving my entire family. In 7th grade, I joined the FFA in Opheim. I didn’t realize until I joined FFA and took ag ed classes how much I really didn’t know about agriculture. I certainly developed an appreciation for agriculture and my upbringing being an FFA member.”
After high school, Simeniuk attended Montana State University-Bozeman, where she earned degrees in Animal Science and Ag Education. She explains that while taking her college classes, she realized she would make me a better teacher if she had some outside experience to share with a future classroom.
“I feel ag education is very important, and I want to work with youth and our partners to support ag education in Montana,” said Simeniuk. “Even for students without agricultural background, ag is transformative. I feel when it comes to agricultural advocacy, it’s important that people who didn’t grow up in ag but have learned about it are capable of speaking out, too.”
Working with the FFA allows the young woman to teach others to advocate for agriculture. “There are a lot of people who don’t understand what we do and how we raise our products for consumers. Being in FFA makes you appreciate what you have and teaches you how to share that in a focused, effective way.”
The 27-year-old explained that the Montana FFA Foundation serves to financially support FFA chapters across the state and provides opportunities for students through statewide activities as well as through grants and scholarships.
“We raise funds so we can support students attending the state convention and other leadership conferences. We try to focus on enhancing student engagement at the local level. We also try to provide more funding for instructional grants for teachers.”
As for being named the Montana Young Professional of the Year, Simeniuk was surprised when the award was announced. “Kat Taylor, our programs and office manager, attended a Montana Young Professionals Summit in Sidney where she and our staff decided to nominate me for the award. I feel incredibly honored to receive it, and I see it as a way to continue to promote agriculture. We can see what we’ve accomplished and how what we do at the FFA really does impact students.”
According Taylor, Gwynn, used her talent and instinct for fundraising and development, facilitated a 43 percent revenue increase in 2019 through an in-kind land donation and maintained the increase in 2020 by procuring a strategic grant to hire a director of development for the Montana FFA Foundation.
“As FFA executive director, Gwynn started the Foundation’s Emerge Education program, a special project to benefit all Montana FFA chapters and members. From 2019 to date, she secured $65,000 in Emerge Education funding which local FFA programs can apply to use for leadership development and increasing community impact by updating or enhancing agricultural education classroom equipment and curriculum,” Taylor said on the nomination form.
She went on, “During the pandemic, her enterprising personality led the Montana FFA Foundation in coordinating a unique version of the John Deere Ag Expo, an annual leadership conference held in Bozeman that usually brings over 1,500 FFA members to MSU. Despite restrictions, Gwynn had the idea to host in-person FFA contests in twelve different communities by working with individual county health departments and securing PPE (masks, surface disinfectants, infrared thermometers, etc.).”
“Montana Young Professionals is committed to providing career development opportunities, networking, and community engagement opportunities for young individuals across the state. Gwynn exhibits the same commitment to agricultural education students in Montana. She takes on any challenge with remarkable resourcefulness and tact to find unique solutions. With her professional demeanor and steadfast ambition to grow the next generation of leaders in Montana, Gwynn shines as a young professional in our state,” Taylor concluded.
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