Drew List didn’t grow up on a farm, yet he has nonetheless succeeded in Future Farmers of America, ascending to one of its top statewide elected positions this summer before entering Southern Arkansas University as a freshman.
The Vilonia resident, who is majoring in Agriculture Plant Science, said he didn’t have farming in his background.
"The closest thing to farming (his family) had was growing a stand of pine trees, which we harvested when I was about 5 years old," List said.
He comes to SAU as Northwest Arkansas Vice President of the Arkansas FFA, an office he’d campaigned for but was shocked to actually win.
Election to the post last June taught List "I can do anything I put my mind to."
He is among several high-ranking FFA officers to choose SAU. Kinsey Watkins, current Arkansas FFA president, also chose SAU this fall. Senior Taylor McNeel is National FFA president and former Arkansas FFA president. She chose SAU along in 2013 along with two other state officers – Caleigh Sue Moyer from Prairie Grove and Sunni Wise from Bismark. List said he knows McNeel and was partly inspired by her to get involved.
"I hope to get to talk to her at national convention," List said, referring to the National FFA Convention, which will be held in October in Indianapolis. "If we can tear ourselves away for a minute, I definitely want to."
List said he found FFA in high school after trying a number of things that didn’t quite work out. One of his first assignments was learning the FFA Creed and reciting it aloud in front of his fellow students. "I had never spoken in public before," List said. Later, his teacher pulled him aside and asked if he would be the FFA Creed Speaker for the ninth grade. "I said I’d give it a try."
One of his earliest triumphs in FFA was placing seventh out of 25 creed speakers at competition in Fayetteville.
"I had to recite all five paragraphs and then judges asked questions pertaining to the creed and how you interpreted it," List said. "I had never gone to a competition before and never spoken in front of judges."
The experience was a confidence-builder – and an eye-opener – for the high school student.
"Before ninth grade, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know where I belonged in high school," he said. FFA showed him "where I needed to be."
In 10th grade, he discovered another passion, one he has followed to SAU: forestry.
"We had a forestry career development event, and I figured I’d give it a shot," List said. "I’d tried other competitions but didn’t enjoy them. I figured it’s easier to judge something that’s not moving, like a tree."
List found that he "really connected" with other members of the team, and was encouraged by his agriculture teacher and forestry coach, Mr. McCain. "He got me to focus on what I was doing in high school and where I wanted to go in life."
After competing in the forestry event – and placing third overall in competition – he decided in his junior year that he wanted to go work for the Arkansas Forestry Commission.
"I gained a respect for the commission," he said. He was also learning independence and greater self-confidence. FFA "showed me a lot of things about myself I didn’t know. It showed me I can do pretty what I have a desire to do. It’s possible."
Last May, at Vilonia High School, he delivered his final address as FFA chapter president.
"I talked about the struggles I had before FFA, how I didn’t really fit in many places. I talked about my FFA experiences, how much I’d grown, and said that everybody should take the opportunity to try something new. Give it a shot, and if doesn’t work out, something else will come along. You’ll find where you really need to be."
Initially, List had no desire to run for state office, but after seeing the camaraderie among newly-elected officers, he decided to "give it a shot."
Training to campaign was hard work, he said.
"I still retained some of my shyness from ninth grade, but I wanted to at least try. We could not actually campaign for office until the slate was announced the first week of general session (at the Arkansas FFA State Convention). After that announcement, we could go out and introduce ourselves as running for state office."
At the convention, held June 1-3 at Camp Couchdale in Hot Springs, List was listed for Northwest Arkansas vice-president.
"That was fine with me," he said. "I was happy to campaign for whatever they had me slated for."
Winning, he said, left him in a state of shock.
"I could not believe it. I won’t lie. I sat there going, ‘How on earth did that happen?’ I called my mom and she couldn’t believe it. My dad called me back and said, ‘Tell me that again.’ I’d had confidence, but I was thinking that no matter what, it was a fun experience."
List said he didn’t know what his choice for college would be until 10th grade, when he met McNeel at the Faulkner County Fair.
"She was talking about SAU, and I said, ‘I’m thinking about going into forestry,’ and asked her about the program. She said plant science was strong, and I did the research and saw that it was extremely strong. When I came to tour SAU, it just felt like home. It felt like I was still in Vilonia, even though I didn’t know a living soul here."
He lives on campus and plans on spending most of his time in Magnolia and SAU this fall.
"I’m looking forward to living here and getting involved," he said. "College is a definite change from high school. People always told me, ‘you’ll spend all your time studying,’ but I’ve got plenty of time to get my studying done and then get out and meet people. For me, it’s been a little bit easier than high school. I am a first-generation college student, so this is a new experience for all of (his family) at the same time."
His comfort in Magnolia was part of the reason he chose SAU.
"In Vilonia, when you walk down the street, you know who is walking on the other side of the street. I think it’s the same here. You don’t have a lot of distraction outside of school but there are still things going on you can participate in."
He said his plan is still to go into forestry.
"I’d like to use my degree to either go into the Forestry Commission or go to work for the Department of Agriculture in some capacity higher than entry-level," he said. Research on the forestry industry led him to discover that "it’s bigger than I ever imagined it being."
He said that in his capacity as Northwest Arkansas vice-president, he will be touring different parts of the state, "letting people know who we are and what we do. I cannot wait to go to Indianapolis."
Part of the reason he anticipates a reunion with McNeel at the National Convention is because she is from his hometown.
"She was elected chapter president during my freshman year in high school," he said. "To see her perform her duties on a national stage is exciting. She went with me to my first public-speaking competition, and I got to know her throughout ninth grade. She is shown me that anything is possible once you have a desire to do it."