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Western Illinois University Ag Alumni Leads Student to GROWMARK Essay Contest Win

“Wonderful how I can describe it,” student Sydney Stiers said when asked about her agriculture teacher and mentor, Kent Rigg, a graduate of Western Illinois University.

Stiers was recently selected as a runner-up in the 29th Annual GROWMARK Essay Contest. This year’s theme was, “What do you think has changed for the better in the agricultural industry as a result of the pandemic?” She received $500 and her FFA program earned $300. Rigg, her FFA advisor at Williamsfield High School, graduated in 2001 from the WIU Agricultural Education Program.

“My family has participated in this competition in the past, but what made it so easy for me to choose to participate was the fact that I loved the topic,” said Steers. “FFA and farming have affected my life, and both this organization and Mr. Rigg have encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone.”

Sydney Steers

When looking into his future, WIU practically took Rigg for granted. He is not only local to the area, but he felt a homely atmosphere at the university that he wanted to be a part of. So far, in his current role at Williamsfield High School, the family atmosphere and close-knit community have been critical reasons for him to apply and stay there for the past 13 years. Now, he works as a mentor and “second father figure” for students, especially those he advises at FFA.

“I love the opportunity to advise students and point them in the right direction,” Rigg said. “Even if a student only tried something once and decided it wasn’t right for them, they tried it at least once.”

While Stiers was originally hesitant about joining the FFA and participating in the various events, with Rigg’s help and a bit of courage, she quickly found the ones she loved and was able to figure out which ones weren’t right for her. Rigg’s advice to “try everything once” held true for her, as well as for her peers, leading her to apply for jobs and get more involved.

Even while facing the many challenges the pandemic has posed for them, including event cancellations as well as reduced participation, this has been a successful year for the Williamsfield FFA.

“There were many challenges, but this was one of our most successful years,” Rigg said. I am grateful to the ambitious students who have been energized even during the pandemic. During these difficult times, many people have had to find out how important agriculture really is and how it affects everyone. Now that there is a shortage and not all products are always there, people are starting to pay attention. We’ve known the importance of this industry for a while, but it’s interesting to see others discover it.”

As a WIU graduate, Rigg is grateful for his education and extensive knowledge of the agricultural field, and for his happiness in his current role as an FFA teacher and advisor. He hopes that recent and future WIU graduates will have the same experiences in their careers after graduation.

“I would advise recent graduates and those close to graduating to find something they love to do,” Rigg said. “Working in the field and a job you love is essential. If you find yourself in a job that you absolutely don’t like going to, feel free to move or look for something new.”

For more information about the WIU College of Agriculture, visit wiu.edu/ag.

Ag Alumni from Western Illinois University Leads Students to Win the GROWMARK Essay Contest

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer, and entrepreneur who has written professionally since debuting at the age of eleven in the pages of the Buyers’ Guide to Comics. A graduate with honors from a USC master’s program, he has written over 50 books including the bestseller The Arimathean, Everybody’s Lucky Number and We’re All Characters.

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