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Follow Emily Kilmer on Ag to Asphalt Day

Slideshow: Indiana FFA State Secretary Emily Kilmer gets a firsthand look at asphalt paving.

Emily Kilmer learned about pigs, sheep and chickens growing up on a farm near Remington, Ind. What she didn’t learn about, and likely never dreamed of learning about, was the art and science behind paving the roads that she drives on. The 2017-18 Indiana FFA state secretary got an up-close-and-personal look at the process during the first annual Ag to Asphalt Day at the Indiana FFA Leadership Center on May 2.

The unlikely story for this former Tri-County FFA member and 4-H’er starts when she and her fellow state officers attended the convention of the Asphalt Pavement Association of Indiana last winter. As it turns out, APAI member-companies need a new crop of employees, and the Indiana FFA Leadership Center needed paving work, beginning with the large parking lot. The two groups came together to make things happen when APAI member-companies paved the center’s parking lot on May 2, and Indiana FFA held a career fair on the same day for more than 150 FFA members and agriculture students.

That’s when Kilmer and her fellow state officers re-enter the picture. They helped register students, pass out those classic yellow vests so everyone would be visible, and served as group leaders for students for the day. Tour stops included a career fair with more than a dozen colleges and schools offering information and simulator experiences for students to learn about the asphalt industry, followed by a panel discussion with human resources specialists focusing on what employers look for in the industry .

Asphalt in action
Not long after Kilmer led her “gold” group to the final stop, the actual paving site, she switched out her gold sign for a hard hat and donned a seat on one of the operator’s stations on the paving machine. No, she wasn’t paving herself, but she got a firsthand look at how the machine operates.

“It was neat to see the asphalt flow down from the holding bin into the machine and onto the pavement,” she explains. Industry experts say the asphalt was 290 to 300 degrees F as it went into the paving apparatus.

“You really get a bird’s-eye view and see things from the top of the paving machine that you can’t see on the ground,” Kilmer adds.    

A veteran of the paving industry standing nearby as the paver made its first pass with Kilmer aboard observed that the asphalt wasn’t going down as level as it should. Sure enough, before long, the operator stopped the pass and backed up to the beginning. The truck supplying the asphalt repositioned itself, and they started the pass over. This time the operator made a smooth pass and continued all the way across the parking lot.

“Hey, it wasn’t my fault,” Kilmer said later, laughing. “I was just along for the ride.”

The industry veteran smiled and said it happens to the best operators when people are watching. “It’s like trying to hit a golf ball when a 100 people are standing around watching you,” he said. “He got it right the second time.”

Indeed, next time you visit the Indiana FFA Leadership Center, you’ll find a parking lot that looks brand-new, free of cracks and budding potholes. If it’s after early June, Kilmer will have moved on to finishing her year as a state officer at the Indiana FFA State Convention, followed by her enrollment at Purdue University. Even after her initiation into the asphalt industry, her career path is likely to take her into ag education and a possible role teaching agriculture herself someday.

To see photos from Ag to Asphalt Day, check out the slideshow.

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