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Learners to Leaders Emphasizes Agribusiness

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Click here to enlarge. Awards were presented for selection into Smithfield Foods' Learners to Leaders program. Pictured left to right are Melanie Bloom, ag instructor and FFA advisor at Sioux Central High School in Sioux Rapids; Alan Witt, Midwest environmental coordinator with Murphy-Brown, LLC; Joe Pedersen, ag instructor and FFA advisor at Laurens-Marathon High School in Laurens; Christine Eppstein, director of community affairs at Smithfield Foods, Inc. and Tony Small, division director of education at the National FFA Organization.

Awards were presented for selection into Smithfield Foods' Learners to Leaders program. Pictured left to right are Melanie Bloom, ag instructor and FFA advisor at Sioux Central High School in Sioux Rapids; Alan Witt, Midwest environmental coordinator with Murphy-Brown, LLC; Joe Pedersen, ag instructor and FFA advisor at Laurens-Marathon High School in Laurens; Christine Eppstein, director of community affairs at Smithfield Foods, Inc. and Tony Small, division director of education at the National FFA Organization.

Smithfield Foods, Inc., and Murphy-Brown, LLC, along with the National FFA Organization, on February 28 launched a two-year Learners to Leaders alliance that will help prepare FFA students from six northwest Iowa high schools for careers in agribusiness.

Smithfield Foods will donate $200,000 to enroll students in FFA programs that emphasize agribusiness. The selected high schools include Graettinger, Laurens, Rock Valley, Sibley, Sioux Rapids and Swea City.

"The Smithfield Foods Learners to Leaders alliance is an invaluable tool for helping our young people fulfill their potential," said Tony Small, division director of education for the National FFA Organization. "The program we are developing is designed to enhance the leadership and career development skills, as well as personal growth, of the students as they advance through the four-year FFA program."

The Learners to Leaders/FFA program focuses on the final two years of a student's FFA career and offers a wide range of skills for students interested in pursuing high-demand careers in agriculture, food and natural resources industries. During the two-years, student activities will include participating in state-supported conferences; planning and arranging speakers/field trips; attending the state and national FFA conventions with an emphasis on leadership workshops, tours and agribusiness sessions; participating in monthly leadership activities; developing a program of activities, including a major community service project; and applying for an international opportunity to study global agriculture. The program will run from April 2008 through April 2010.

The partnership is part of Learners to Leaders, a national educational alliance funded by Smithfield Foods and made up of its independent operating companies and local educational partners. The alliance includes the local chapters of the National FFA Organization, which is developing the leadership, career success and personal growth program that will be integrated into existing FFA agricultural education programs at the six high schools.

"We have always been firm believers in giving back to our communities, and we can think of no better way than to help northwest Iowa FFA students benefit from additional opportunities to both develop their leadership skills and grow on a personal level," said C. Larry Pope, president and chief executive officer at Smithfield Foods. "To be competitive in today's environment, it is critical that Iowa's young people have skills in more than just production agriculture – they need to understand agribusiness, too."

This is the sixth Learners to Leaders initiative announced by Smithfield Foods since 2006. To read about the programs in Denison, Iowa; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Milan, Mo.; Green Bay, Wis.; and Norfolk, Va; please visit the website at www.learnerstoleaders.com.

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Learners to Leaders Honors Students from Denison Middle School

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Click here to enlarge. Twelve students from Denison Middle School participated in the Learners to Leaders/Science Bound Science Fair. Picture here with the judges from the event.

Twelve students from Denison Middle School participated in the Learners to Leaders/Science Bound Science Fair. Picture here with the judges from the event.

Click here to enlarge. Brian DeSchepper, quality assurance manager at Farmland Foods, talks with student Eric Cardenas about his Science Fair project.

Brian DeSchepper, quality assurance manager at Farmland Foods, talks with student Eric Cardenas about his Science Fair project.

Twelve eighth-grade students from Denison Middle School were honored in January at a Science Fair sponsored by the Learners to Leaders/Science Bound program.

Top honors at the fair went to Katherine Acosta, Andres Castaneda, Alejandro Medina, Juan Meza, Oscar Portillo and Valeria Vargas. Judges included Denison Mayor Nathan Mahrt; Christine Eppstein, director of community affairs at Smithfield Foods; and Brian DeSchepper, quality assurance manager at Farmland Foods.

"This Science Fair was an invaluable learning experience for our students, and each and every one of them did a fantastic job in creating their projects," said Mike Pardun, superintendent of the Denison Community School District. "Their teachers and I are very proud of their achievements."

In addition to the Science Fair, students currently enrolled in the Learners to Leaders/Science Bound program participated in an overnight retreat with their teachers at Springbrook Park last October, where they were introduced to the environmental sciences. They also visited the Iowa State campus for an engineering demonstration.

Denison's Learners to Leaders/Science Bound program was created last year as a community educational partnership that includes Smithfield Foods, Farmland Foods, the Denison Community School District, and Iowa State University's Science Bound program.

Through the nonprofit Smithfield-Luter Foundation, Smithfield Foods' Learners to Leaders program provides learning opportunities to students who may not otherwise have the chance to attend college due to academic, economic, geographic or social challenges. Participants include first-generation college-bound students, as well as low-income and minority students.

About 60 to 75 eligible eighth through 12th grade students from the Denison Community School District will be participating in the Learners to Leaders/Science Bound program from 2007 to 2012. The program's focus is to equip students during their high school years to successfully pursue science- and math-related college degrees. Smithfield Foods is underwriting the estimated $296,000 cost of the program.

"The students who took part in the Science Fair clearly demonstrated that our Learners to Leaders program is working," said C. Larry Pope, president and chief executive officer at Smithfield Foods. "We're confident that over the long term this partnership will help Denison's young people fulfill their potential, and in turn, strengthen our communities."

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