It came as a shock, Tony Hansen and Ben Nath said. When it was time to name the winners in the Crops Specialist competition at the national conference of the Post-secondary Agricultural Student Organization, they were called up on stage.
"We had no idea," Hansen said. "Suddenly we got called up, and we didn't believe it." Not only were they called up, but the two Southwest Minnesota State University students were named first in the nation.
"It was kind of overwhelming," Nath said. Around 600 people from around the U.S. attended the conference.
SMSU students Tony Hansen and Ben Nath were among the award-winners at this spring’s national conference of the Post-secondary Agricultural Student Organization. Together, the pair was first in the nation in the Crops Specialist competition. The SMSU College Bowl team also won third place nationally at the conference.
PAS is an organization that Nath described as being "like college FFA." A total of eight SMSU students attended the PAS national conference in Springfield, Ill., March 9-12. The group had a strong showing, Hansen said. The SMSU College Bowl team of Hansen, Nath, Zach Jans, Andy Busman and Rose Wendinger beat about 30 teams from around the country to place third in their event. While they did not make it into the top three, students Matt Aarons and ReNae Clark also did well in the Swine Specialist and Equine Specialist competitions. SMSU student Steve Paradis also represented Minnesota as a state delegate at the conference.
Nath and Hansen also earned honors for their individual scores. Nath placed first in the country, and Hansen placed third.
A total of 65 people, some in teams and some competing alone, were entered in the crops event, Nath and Hansen said. The Crop Specialist competition involves both a written exam and a field practicum, the students said.
"The tests were really hard," Hansen said, and competition was intense.
"But that's kind of the way it should be," Nath said. "The amount of stuff you need to know is incredible."
Several schools, like Iowa State, had a strong agricultural tradition to uphold. "They were actually the ones who beat us in College Bowl," Hansen said. "There were some strong teams from Washington State, too."
"We hoped we'd win a few of them," Nath said of the College Bowl competition. But, he said, "We just kept winning."
Mingling and networking is another major focus of the conference, the students said. Conference attendees were mainly staying in the same two hotels in Springfield, and students would often take time to hang out by the pool or meet each other, Nath said.
"It was a fun trip. It's fun to compete, especially in the area you like best," Nath said. NAS competition categories cover everything from livestock judging to job interviews.
"It really reflects well on our school," Hansen said of the students' competition results. Instead of intense practice for events, the students were mostly relying on information and skills they either learned in class or through personal experience.
The students are already making some preparations for the next contest.
"We're trying to find out who might be interested in competing next year," Hansen said. Dr. Grace Armah-Agyeman of the university's agronomy program is also helping students by providing crop adviser's manual, he said.
Hansen said he hoped the outcome of the conference would draw more attention toward the agriculture and agronomy programs at SMSU.
"We've got a pretty good program here," he said.