First-year Washington State University student Cole Baerlocher is doing something no other Washingtonian before him has done. For the next year, he will represent more than 700,000 members of FFA as the organization’s National President.
Only the fifth national officer to hail from Washington state, Baerlocher was selected Oct. 30 to join a slate of six national student leaders during FFA’s National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“To be the new president is an incredible honor,” Baerlocher said. “It’s not about me, it’s about what I can do for others. It’s reflecting the spotlight onto our members and how they’re discovering their purpose and passion.”
FFA is a youth organization that prepares members for leadership and careers in the science, business, and technology of agriculture. Aspiring national officers go through a six-day series of interviews, speeches, and meetings with agricultural professionals, and are ultimately selected by a committee of peers.
“You’re judged on how well you carry those conversations,” said Baerlocher, who was “absolutely shocked” to hear his name called for president. “I knew I did my best, I gave it all I had. I just wanted to make the team.”
Speaking from a hotel room outside of Indianapolis, site of the National FFA Center, Baerlocher was preparing to train with fellow officers for their national roles. He will complete his fall semester of college early, then travel the country for a year, representing the youth voice.
In many ways, it’s a continuation of Baerlocher’s prior role as Washington FFA President. Graduating from Colfax High School in 2020, he took a gap year to lead the state organization.
“But this is on a way bigger scale, times 50, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Baerlocher said.
Path began in elementary school
His path to president began in the fourth grade, showing market lambs through 4-H at the Palouse Empire Fair. Joining FFA as a high school freshman was a natural progression.
“I wanted to show my lambs and get a cool blue jacket,” Baerlocher said. “I didn’t really understand how important this organization was going to be to my life.”
Baerlocher started competing in FFA contests involving public speaking, parliamentary procedure, and how to conduct a chapter meeting. As a junior, he represented Washington at the national convention in a public speaking competition. It was an honor that unlocked aspirations to state leadership.
“You never know what experience is going to change your life,” Baerlocher said. “Put yourself out there, don’t be afraid of new opportunities. That’s where you’re going to grow the most.”
As state president, he worked closely with his current teachers, Assistant Professor Anna Warner and Teaching Associate Professor J.D. Baser, in WSU’s Ag-Ed program. Warner, former interim executive director of Washington State FFA, “opened my eyes to how impactful an ag teacher can be,” he said.
“I’ve known Cole as an FFA member in Colfax, and then as state president,” said Baser. “His agricultural education lineage runs deep between Washington FFA and WSU.”
His family is deeply connected to WSU, ag-education, and FFA, or all three. Baerlocher credits his aunt and uncle, Jessica and Nathan Moore, both agricultural educators in Whitman County, for encouragement and inspiration.
“Cole is a man of upstanding character with infectious enthusiasm and a passion for agriculture, agricultural education, and FFA,” Warner said. “He is committed to helping all students feel included and have the ability to reap the benefits of this student organization. And he’s a proud Cougar.”
As Baerlocher has been preparing for his new role, his input into class discussion has been valuable, Warner added.
“Students commented on how much they missed his input during class last week while he was in Indianapolis,” she said. “We look forward to the perspectives he brings back to WSU after his year of service.”
As president, Baerlocher wants to show all young people that they have a place in the organization and in agriculture, no matter their interests or background.
“One of the biggest challenges facing America is a shortage of trained, skilled workers,” he said. “Career and technical education helps young people discover who they are, what their abilities are, and where they fit best in our world.
“The opportunities are vast, and everyone is important.”