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Award Winner - Steves Tapped For National Honor
Escalon High School alum Mary Steves - halfway through her year of service as the California State FFA Secretary - has been recognized as the National Agriscience Student of the Year by the FFA organization.

The honor comes with a monetary award, which will be used as a college scholarship, and Steves was chosen as the top ag student in the nation for her work studying parasites.

More specifically, she worked to isolate a gene in the Barbados black belly sheep that provides that breed with a natural resistance to internal parasites. It's a gene that the more marketable Suffolk lambs do not have.

"We make all of our money on show sheep," Steves said, noting that the Suffolk are much prettier and bring a much better market price than the Barbados.

With parasites adapting and becoming more resistant to treatments used by sheep farmers, Steves said her goal was to provide some hope for the future.

"My research offers a lot for future studies and knowledge," she said of why she feels she was chosen as the national award winner over competitors from multiple other states.

The award was announced at the national FFA convention and Steves is the fourth Escalon High student nominated; the first to win. She is the first California student to take the coveted award. This year is also the final time the selection process will be done this way, so Steves made a little history with the honor.

"I competed against six others," she explained. "I had an interview, did a presentation on my study with the sheep, had a power point presentation, seven minutes of questions."

Escalon FFA advisor Jennifer Terpstra said the research is exciting and has the potential for bringing about dramatic changes in the industry in the future, if the gene can be isolated and the Suffolk breed helped to become more resistant to the internal parasites.

Terpstra said all four finalists that have come out of Escalon over the years have taken tools learned in the ag classes and turned it into a project that has worked, from the scientific methods used to the implications for benefiting the agriculture industry.

Steves worked with Dr. Scott Bowridge of West Virginia University on much of her research, using him as a mentor for the project. Terpstra and Bowridge went to college together at Chico State, forging a connection then.

Terpstra said there was an immense amount of pride in seeing Steves win the national honor, just as there was in having three other national finalists in years past.

"When you get to see them use it, what you have taught them in class, it makes you feel good," Terpstra said. "For me personally, as a teacher and a sheep producer, the information helped me see our industry from a different perspective."

Steves is also in the midst of her year serving as a state officer for FFA and has been busy traveling the state with the officer team. She recently returned to the FFA home in Galt after a holiday break for Thanksgiving and said she is enjoying the opportunity to work with FFA chapters across California. She also is still taking it all in that she was recognized for her research.

"I'm still kind of in shock," she admitted of earning the national title and the $5,000 scholarship.

"It was really cool to realize what an impact it can make," Steves added. "It has a lot of promise for future studies."