LSU AgCenter’s FFA Youth Organization Laid Groundwork for Careers in Medicine

March 08, 2021

Educating Leaders in All Areas

A spark was lit when, as a teen, Sara Toal watched her younger brother slip into a coma from an infectious disease. Fortunately her brother recovered, from what turned out to be viral meningitis and encephalitis. Toal knew right then she wanted to help people fight illnesses. She is now a junior majoring in nutrition and food sciences in the LSU College of Agriculture, while laser focused on going to medical school. She credits much of her past and present success and motivation to the FFA youth organization, headquartered in the LSU AgCenter, with more than 10,000 high school students currently enrolled in Louisiana. Formerly known as Future Farmers of America, the program prepares members for leadership and careers in the science, business, and agricultural technology. Students learn modern agriculture theory and techniques, greenhouse management, plant genetics, animal sciences, and help run on-campus farms.

“FFA has been such a big part of my life,” Toal said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it, and it is still helping me get to where I want to be.”

Many students in FFA also participate in Louisiana 4-H, another youth organization under the umbrella of the LSU AgCenter. The program reaches more than 100,000 youth across every parish in the state, and allows children and teens to participate in hands-on projects in many areas, including health, science, agriculture, and civic engagement.

Sara Toal

Sara Toal


“For a small-town kid who grew up on a farm in Vidrine, Louisiana, I saw the ability to travel and get a scholarship for college by participating in both 4-H and FFA through the LSU AgCenter. Each program was a door opener, and between events and cattle shows, I roamed the LSU campus my entire youth. This led me to the College of Agriculture and animal sciences and research, which then led me to LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. Through these youth programs, you can go off the beaten path for your education plan, and not only succeed, but excel.”

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, LSUHSC (Bachelor of Science, LSU College of Agriculture, ’99), (Doctor of Medicine, LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, ’03)