GRANVILLE, Iowa -- One year ago, Kellie Einck became the first Iowan in 19 years to win an FFA American Star Award.
Twelve months later, Eric Koehlmoos accomplished the feat, giving South O'Brien High School's FFA program back-to-back American Star winners.
Einck was graduated from South O'Brien in 2014; Koehlmoos, in 2015.
"It's rare for a high school to get a finalist for the American Star," Koehlmoos said. "And then to get two winners in two years, that says a lot about what Mr. (Eric) Kumm has cooking up here."
Kumm is the longtime FFA adviser and ag teacher at the high school based in Paullina, Iowa.
Star winners, Koehlmoos said, represent four FFA members out of 650,000 possible entrants.
The American Star Award features 16 finalists from throughout the U.S. who are nominated by a panel of judges who then interview the candidates during the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis. Einck earned the American Star honor in Ag Placement, while Koehlmoos won in Agri-science, topping the field for a research project he began as a high school freshman in 2011. The project examined how a limestone pretreatment regimen on switch-grass and prairie cord grass could boost ethanol production while, simultaneously, boosting protein value in distillers grains, the ethanol byproduct fed to cattle.
Koehlmoos, who started his research for a science fair project in the freshman biology class taught by Kevin Brasser, made a presentation about his research at the White House in 2015. And while he didn't personally meet President Obama at that event, he sat with the group of students as Obama delivered remarks before examining a couple of the projects.
Koehlmoos, who previously lauded the assistance he received from officials at Little Sioux Corn Processors near Cleghorn, Iowa, said it was his hope that we can one day grow more native grasses for ethanol production while leaving corn for consumption by livestock.
The son of Doug and Lisa Koehlmoos of rural Granville, Iowa, is a senior at Kansas State University. In January, Koehlmoos, an ag education major, begins student teaching at Holton, Kansas, a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, home to Kansas State. He said he'll likely borrow some of the best teaching techniques of Kumm and Brasser and others in molding his own style before a class of learners.
"Mr. Kumm, I know, fosters and lets us develop projects we're interested in," Koehlmoos said. "He helps us when we need it and guides us along in the process. He might have been more excited than me when this award was announced."
Kumm joined Koehlmoos on stage along with the student's parents. For the FFA American Star honor, Koehlmoos received a plaque and a $4,000 cash award, money that he'll apply to his student loans.
When asked why he chose teaching over a career in research or industry, Koehlmoos mentioned he's gotten that question frequently in recent weeks.
"I want to teach because I want to see how I can impact the future of agriculture," he said. "I see myself in the role of a teacher where I can help inspire more people to go into science-based careers. Maybe one day I'll help get us five to six future scientists instead of just me. Plus, I think I'll enjoy what I'm doing every day when I'm a teacher."
Koehlmoos said he hopes to become a teacher by August, serving a district either in Kansas or his native Northwest Iowa.