Ryan Dougherty proudly represented the Prairiland FFA chapter for the second year in a row and received a gold medal in the Power, Structural and Technical Systems category and Division 5 of the competition.
“We are proud to say that Ryan is the back-to-back National Champion in this category and division,” said Clara Price Agriculture Science Teacher/FFA Advisor for Prairiland High School.
More than 20 agricultural teachers, state leaders, and college professors from throughout the U.S. recently met in Indianapolis to judge state Agriscience Fair winners on a national level. Dougherty, alongside fellow Lamar County FFA students, was ready for the competition and was also confident in his project as a contender for the prestigious title.
“I felt confident going into the competition, but there are always some great projects at the national level. I had prepared in the weeks leading up to the competition and had learned a great deal of information through my research, so I was comfortable with my ability to present my project well. After that, it’s all out of my hands, so I tried not to worry too much,” he said.
First-place winners in each state qualified for the national pre-qualifying judging. The panel of judges reviewed entries and selected a maximum of 12 in each category and division to move on to the national competition.
The National FFA Agriscience Fair is a key competition that is part of the Annual National Convention and Expo. To qualify, members working as individuals or teams in grades seven through 12 are required to conduct a scientific research project about the agriculture or food science industries and win their state’s FFA agriscience fair.
Individuals or teams compete in one of six categories – animal systems, environmental services/natural resources systems, food products, and processing systems, plant systems, power, structural and technical systems, or social science.
Dougherty competed in the Power, Structural, and Technical Systems category in Divison 5 (which is for juniors and seniors in high school).
“My project is actually a third-year extension of a project I started my freshman year. My original project compared the sound levels of three types of home-made t-post drivers to see if there was a variation in the sound output,” he explained, “the main thing that my first years’ study revealed was that these drivers were way too loud to be used without hearing protection. Since then, I have spent the past two years attempting to reduce the sound output of a t-post driver to a safe level using various types of sound-reducing applications: first applied to the exterior of the driver, and this year to the interior of the driver against the strike plate.”
Dougherty has been very active in FFA since his freshman year. He served as an officer in the Prairiland FFA chapter (currently serving as Vice President) for his entire high school career, as a Paris District Secretaryin his junior year, also competing in the state Forage and Public Relations team events, leadership conferences, and prepared public speaking competitions.
“I have also raised broilers for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and the Lamar County Junior Livestock Show, where my birds have wind both reserve and grand champion,” he explained, adding, “my most notable involvements have been my time serving as a Texas FFA Foundation Ambassador the past two summers at the Texas FFA State Convention, and of course returning to compete in the National FFA Agriscience Fair, where I won top honors in Division 3 of my category last year. My original Agriscience project also earned me a trip to compete in the International Science & Engineering Fair in Los Angeles during my freshman year.”
When it came to inspiring his idea for his project Dougherty said it was his grandfather that was his main inspiration.
“He has developed hearing loss (especially with mid-range sounds) that makes it hard for him to hear some people when they talk,” he said.
“After years of agricultural work in farming and ranching, as well as serving in the Army National Guard since the 1960s, he was exposed to a lot of extremely loud equipment without hearing protection (because no one really used that years ago). One of the things I noticed when helping him work fences was that his t-post driver was very loud. I wondered how many decibels the sound might be and if this might have been part of the cause of his hearing loss. So, I decided to conduct a test to see if his t-post driver was significantly louder than others in our family. Through this project, I also learned how important hearing protection is, even for quick projects that many people do around the house without thinking about how the loud noise might cause hearing damage in later years,” he explained.
When it came to securing the win at the recent convention, Dougherty humbly said it was a moment that would last a lifetime.
“It was truly a once in a lifetime experience…well, I guess I can now say that it’s a “twice in a lifetime” experience!! Being selected as one of the top 12 finalists in the country was already incredible, but to be able to stand on stage as they announce the top three winners in the nation is pretty over the top,” he said.
For decades, FFA teachers, students, and alumni have continued to boast the benefits of the organization and how the skills learned through projects and group work truly set each member up for success after their academic years. Dougherty is no different; he has high praise for the organization that has allowed him to strive for greatness.
“The FFA is a great way for students to prepare for the future, regardless of your ideas for a career. There is definitely a place for everyone. Whether you are interested in research, farming, livestock, manufacturing, or are simply looking to build leadership and personal development skills, the FFA is the perfect place,” he said, “I have absolutely loved my time in this organization, have learned so many valuable things, and have met some of the most amazing people through FFA!”
Now with two national titles under his belt, Dougherty isn’t slowing down as he continues to push the limits of his academic and FFA career.
“I would like to thank my ag science teachers, my parents, Paris Kimberly Clark plant manager James Alspaugh (who allowed me to borrow an industrial dosimeter to use in my research), and everyone else who has been there and supported me through this journey! It has been an incredible experience to compete at the National FFA Convention as a finalist and see all of the hard work and dedication that FFA members from all over the country have put into their projects,” he said.