JERSEYVILLE, Ill. — Krista Russell vividly remembers the night that changed her life.

It was a Thursday, and representatives of the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center were meeting with the student members of the Agronomy Society at Southern Illinois University.

After the presentation, they sat together and ate pizza.

Russell talked about her background and passion for agriculture, which started when she was inspired by her brother, Derek, to join FFA. She then was offered an internship for the summer.

“I did a lot of different marketing and educational projects for promoting ethanol,” she said. “From that, I gained an opportunity to go on to graduate school at SIU.”

Russell recently received a $1,000 William C. Berg Excellence in Agriculture Scholarship from the National Corn Growers Association in partnership with BASF at the Commodity Classic conference in Orlando, Florida.

“My start with agriculture was FFA in high school. My brother got involved when I was in middle school. I saw all the awesome things that he was doing and immediately wanted to get involved. I took every ag class I could, just really got all that experience,” she said.

“I went on and got my American FFA Degree. I knew that I loved agriculture and wanted to do something in it. So, I then went to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and I pursued a degree in agricultural systems and education.

“So, I did get my student license. I completed student teaching at Goreville High School this past fall, and I graduated with my bachelor’s in December.”

Top Of The Class

In January, Russell started a graduate program at SIU at Edwardsville, studying environmental science and specializing in public administration and policy.

“My career goal is ultimately just to be an advocate for agriculture. I might go back to teaching. I might not. I’ve really started to like what I’m doing in graduate school,” said the daughter of Craig and Beth Russell of Jerseyville. “But I have a strong passion for agriculture and anything I can do to support, advocate and educate for the industry.”

Why is Russell so passionate about ag?

“It’s an industry that I just fell in love with. It’s something that affects each of us daily. We all have to eat. We all have to have our clothing,” she said.

“I think it also has a lot to do with the people in the ag industry, just goodhearted, hardworking people. I feel like it’s something where I can really make a difference in this world.

“I feel there’s a lot about the agriculture industry where the general public doesn’t necessarily know our whole story. So, I guess my goal is to tell the story of the agriculture industry, help educate and promote, because it’s something that affects all of us and I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”

Russell said winning the scholarship means a lot to her.

“Receiving this award is a really big deal to me. First off, just being here in Orlando, getting to make all these different connections, talk to different companies and, ultimately, just learn a lot about what’s current and just kind of getting a better idea of where things are today versus what I’ve already had — expanding beyond the classroom, this is definitely that kind of experience for me,” she said.

“Having this scholarship itself will greatly help me as I go through graduate school financially and support my future career.”

James Henry can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 190, or


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