ATLANTA — To recognize his dedication and commitment to
agricultural education, Jay Runner received the Outstanding Service
Presented by the National Association of Agricultural
Educators, this honor was given to six individuals nationwide during the group’s
annual convention. The award is sponsored by Monsanto as a special project of
the National FFA Foundation.
Runner has been involved with education his entire career.
After graduating with a degree in agricultural education from the University of
Illinois, his first position was teaching in Walnut.
“Then, I went back to be the ag teacher at my hometown high
school, Northwestern-Sciota, near Macomb,” he said. “And that school district is
now West Prairie.”
After teaching about a dozen years, Runner went to work for
the Illinois State Board of Education as an educational consultant for
curriculum materials in the area of career and technical education. In 1990,
Runner joined the Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education program.
“That program was started in 1989 because there was a
tremendous shortfall of graduates entering the agricultural industry,” he
explained. “There was a need to revitalize agricultural education throughout the
state so we could produce the product industry needed which was potential
FCAE is administered through the State Board of Education,
and FCAE program advisors work to improve agricultural education at all levels.
“Having those field reps work with local school districts —
their administrators and teachers has been a tremendous accomplishment in
education,” said Runner, who served as the FCAE state coordinator and retired in
“The FCAE project has brought agricultural education
together in the state,” he noted. “We are the only state in the nation that has
an organized structure for agricultural education from pre-kindergarten through
the community college and university level.”
This cohesive team effort in Illinois has been recognized by
many other states.
“We’ve met with other states, especially in the Midwest, who
ask about how we kept the support from the state legislators to be able to
change the perception of agricultural education in the state,” Runner said.
“The perception of agricultural education has changed
dramatically from 1989, when this project was started, to how it is perceived
today,” he stressed. “It is truly respected by many of the other education
sectors, but it took a lot of hard work, perseverance and determination by
Runner was surprised and humbled to receive the Outstanding
“I’ve received other recognitions, but this one has some
powerful meaning to me because it was given to me by my peers,” he said. “I
appreciate the recognition.”
When he entered college, Runner actually was on a slightly
different path than a career in agricultural education.
“My grandfather was an elementary school teacher, so I
started at Western Illinois University in elementary education,” he recalled.
“But it wasn’t three months into my classes and I felt like
a duck out of water and I didn’t see myself taking advantage of the skills I had
Growing up on a farm, Runner had a passion for agriculture.
He was quite active as a FFA member in high school, serving as the chapter
president and obtaining his state FFA degree.
“So I switched to agriculture education and transferred to
the U of I after my freshman year,” he explained.
“This has been a great career, and I had no idea the doors
it would open when I left teaching to pursue consulting and then work with the
FCAE project,” said Runner, who also has a master’s degree in educational
administration from WIU.
“I am grateful for all the opportunities.”
Although he has retired from FCAE, Runner continues to be
involved with agricultural education.
“I am helping with the Ag Food and Natural Resources STEM
Learning Exchange,” he explained. “This project is organized through the
Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education and the Illinois
Foundation FFA and it is funded by a three-year federal grant with the
opportunity to receive continued funding.”
FCAE is the lead entity that will be working to carry out
the initiatives of the project.
“There are a number of goals, including providing additional
opportunities for students to receive work-based learning opportunities to be
introduced to career opportunities,” Runner said, “and to help provide
curriculum enhancements that will better serve the needs of local communities
and school districts.
“There are a number of initiatives we’ve had on our list
that we’ve wanted to accomplish, but we didn’t have funds to do before this
grant was received.”
In his spare time, Runner also is assisting his brother with
the family farming operation near Macomb, and he is intensively involved with
buying and selling antiques through three shops in Champaign and Douglas
“I have collected antiques all my life,” he noted. “It is a
passion of mine, and now I have the time to focus on antiques.”