Renner only one of four students to receive award


Senior takes home national FFA award


At 12 years old, there was a proposal to build another feedlot in Liz Renner’s hometown of Crooks, S.D. But this feedlot, only a mile-and-a-half from her home, threatened Skunk Creek, the creek she had swam and fished in since she was toddler.

The runoff from the 1,500 cows in the feedlot was set to travel down a man-made tributary into the creek, polluting an already dangerously impaired stream.

Seeing her family and neighbors rally together and fight against the proposal inspired Renner to devote herself to the conservation of wetlands and streams.

“I just thought the water is something that we don’t really have control over, and it’s something that we share,” she said. “I thought it was really bold of us to just assume that we can harness the water and to haphazardly harm a stream was just arrogant of us.”

This event, paired with her love and curiosity for the natural world instilled in her by her family and her Future Farmers of America (FFA) advisor, was the motivation behind Renner’s applying for and winning the 2016 American Star award.

Renner, a senior biology major and president of Augie Green, was one of four students to receive the 2016 American Star last month, one of FFA’s highest honors, at the 89th National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, Ind. The award recognizes students who demonstrate significant agricultural knowledge and competencies.  The recognition, Renner said, was “humbling and beyond her wildest dreams.”

The recipients were honored for their achievements in management skills, completing required agricultural education, scholastic and leadership courses and earning an American FFA Degree­—the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.

Since high school, Renner has carried out research around the country, from Homer, Alaska, to the Flint Hills of Kansas. According to Renner, the research is at times hard, but the reward is worth it.

“As with any scientific study, equipment breaks,” she said. “To overcome that you have to MacGyver up solutions in the field. It can also require a lot of persistence to conduct research, even more so if something goes wrong. But, in sticking to it, I’ve found that I’m capable of more than I actually give myself credit for.”

Renner has conducted experiments encompassing everything from the effects herbicides on common water fleas to the impact small impoundments like dams have on the downstream dynamics of fish and insect communities.

West Central High School teacher and FFA instructor Linda Petersen has been Renner’s advisor throughout her high school and college career.

“Liz has always been curious with how things work,” Petersen said. “If we went on an FFA trip and had to rent a hotel room, Liz would always be the last one out because she would check that all the faucets and lights were completely shut off. She’s just so persistent, driven and hardworking.”

Friend Jasmin Fosheim said Renner’s work in FFA and as a student is inspirational, and her involvement and leadership in Augie Green is a benefit for Augustana.  

“Liz took over Augie Green and really turned it around,” Fosheim said. “In the past it really wasn’t a thing, and now it’s doing great, which I attribute wholly to her.”

Renner plans to continue her education in aquatic ecology with the ultimate goal of becoming an aquatic ecologist to educate others about ecological systems.

“If people understand how an ecosystem is supposed to work or what ecological role an organism serves, they’re more likely to value that organism or that ecosystem and advocate for its conservation,” Renner said.

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