Jay Runner, past state coordinator of the Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education program was honored with the Outstanding Service Citation from the National Association of Agricultural Educators. Runner (center) received congratulations from Ken Couture, 2011-2012 NAAE president, and Serena Gregory, science education manager for Monsanto, which sponsors the award.
Jay Runner, past state coordinator of the Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education program was honored with the Outstanding Service Citation from the National Association of Agricultural Educators. Runner (center) received congratulations from Ken Couture, 2011-2012 NAAE president, and Serena Gregory, science education manager for Monsanto, which sponsors the award.

ATLANTA — To recognize his dedication and commitment to agricultural education, Jay Runner received the Outstanding Service Citation.

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 employees.”

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 June 2012.

“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 everyone involved.”

Runner was surprised and humbled to receive the Outstanding Service Citation.

“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 developed.”

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 counties.

“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.”