Nicole Harder of Kahlotus, Wash., is one of four national finalists for the FFA American Star Award in agricultural placement.

The award is presented to the FFA member with the top agricultural placement supervised agricultural experience in the nation. The member must demonstrate outstanding achievement, active FFA participation and an exemplary scholastic record.

Harder's supervised agricultural experience was based on her work in the cattle and horse industries, including Harder Hereford Ranch, Stockland Livestock Inc., Spokane County Working Ranch Horse, Running O Horsemanship and the Blue Mountain Community College Meat Lab.

 Harder considers being a finalist a "huge accomplishment."

"It is probably one of the most intimidating things that I have ever done," she said in an email to the Capital Press. "This is by far one of the coolest opportunities I have had the privilege to be a part of. I cannot wait to go back to nationals and represent Washington state!"

Harder recently graduated from Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Ore., with a degree in livestock production with a beef emphasis.

She joined the FFA in eighth grade. Both of her parents were FFA members in high school, she said.

"My goals moving forward now that I am done with college would be to go work for another business other than the family ranch back home," Harder said. "I want to broaden my horizons before I come back to the ranch, where I hope to someday manage myself."

Harder credits agriculture teacher Lisa Baser with giving her the confidence to fill out the application.

"She has also been a tremendous role model in the way that she also pushes me to do my best and try for better things," Harder said.

"It feels pretty special," Baser said. "Nicole is extremely driven and hard-working. I may have helped edit her application but she was the one that had to put in the hours of work over many years and stay motivated enough to complete the application process after she graduated and wasn't seeing me on a daily basis."

Harder placed sixth in the national FFA meat evaluation career development event in 2017, was a national finalist in diversified livestock proficiency in 2017 and won the national beef placement proficiency award in 2018, as well as placing in many state FFA events, Baser said.

"I think that is a reflection of her intelligence, work ethic and drive," Baser said. "In the future I see her growing and modernizing her family's cattle operation and making it more productive and efficient."

Harder recommends other FFA members also fill out and submit American Star applications.

"Talk to your advisor about what needs to be done and how to fill everything out," she said. "There is nobody who wants you to succeed more than your ag teacher does."

The other three finalists are from Kansas, South Dakota and Georgia. Final selection will be made at the national FFA convention in Indianapolis in October.

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