By Laurie Bedord, AAEA Future Agricultural Communicators Chair
Established in 2012, the Dr. James F. Evans Scholarship was created to recognize an individual who has had a tremendous impact on the establishment and growth of agricultural communications programs.
As a member of the original committee crafting this honor, JoAnn Alumbaugh says they wanted the scholarship named after someone who served as a mentor to many ag journalists and who had supported and guided the profession with passion and enthusiasm.
“Jim Evans was that person,” she says.
A distinguished career that spanned more than 30 years, Dr. Evans is recognized as the driving force behind the development of the Agricultural Communications Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and for his research in agricultural communications including the distribution of agricultural knowledge to Illinois farm families, and on the adequacy of pesticide labeling.
“This recognition by AAEA members humbles me,” says Dr. Evans, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Communications and Journalism. “I love being associated with a program in which today’s professionals reach out to extend a hand of welcome and support to those who wish to follow.”
Describing him as a selfless and humble man, Jennifer Shike says naming this scholarship after Dr. Evans is a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest educators and servant leaders in agriculture.
“As I’ve interacted with the alumni who have paved the way for our current students in agricultural communications, the impact Dr. Evans has had on all of their lives is overwhelming,” says Shike, Director of Communications and Marketing at the University of Illinois College of Aces. “His passion, integrity, and true concern for others make him an exception in this world. Dr. Evans’ legacy lives on through the many lives he has touched in our industry.”
Although he may have retired in 1995, Dr. Evans is still active and involved in the University’s ag communications program serving on its committees and as an advisor for students and alumni.
“Across the years, I have recognized more clearly the centrality of skilled agricultural journalists and communicators in serving the mission of agriculture in society,” he says. “Historically, they have stepped forward in the face of mushrooming agricultural information, complex issues, shifting audiences, and mind-spinning developments in communications media and methods. Today, their strategic thinking and communications skills are more important than ever, and the effort continues to energize me, even in my mid-80s.”
Strong Slate of Finalists
While it was a difficult task, this year’s pool of candidates was narrowed down to the four young women below. Each has been recognized for their academic and leadership achievements and for exemplifying the dedication and commitment of the outstanding individual for whom this award is named.
Catherine Jones, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Corryn LaRue, Utah State University
Alexa Nordwald, University of Missouri – Columbia
Jill Seiler, Kansas State University
As part of the selection process, each student must take part in an in-person interview. Corryn LaRue, Alexa Nordwald and Jill Seiler were interviewed by a panel of judges during the 2018 Ag Media Summit held in Arizona this past summer.
“This was one of the strongest slate of finalists we’ve seen since we began interviewing the top candidates,” says Alumbaugh, who served as one of the judges. “The three young women we interviewed were very poised, articulate and knowledgeable; and their passion for agriculture was evident. It was a difficult decision in picking the Dr. James Evans Scholarship winner.”
Fellow judge Courtney Leeper, and the 2014 recipient of the Dr. James Evans Scholarship, echoes those sentiments.
“I was incredibly impressed with each of this year’s scholarship finalists,” says Leeper, writer/copy editor with the Noble Research Institute. “They are dedicated, high achieving young women passionate about sharing the stories of agriculture, and it’s obvious they will do great things in their careers.”
After some deliberation among the judges, which also included Brandon Souza with Rabobank, Alexa Nordwald was chosen as the 2018 Dr. James Evans Scholarship winner.
“Alexa stood out as someone who embodies the leadership and character qualities so many attribute to Dr. Evans,” says Leeper. “She exuded both humility and confidence as well as the heart of a servant leader even in difficult situations.”
Alumbaugh adds that, “Alexa stood out when she expressed her strong desire to be part of the ag journalism community and mentor other young journalists in the future.”
“As I use this scholarship to help pay for my final year of college, I plan to be a spokesperson for agricultural communications and AAEA throughout my career just like the man this scholarship is named after,” says Nordwald.
All four scholarships are made possible through a grant from the AAEA Professional Improvement Foundation. The Dr. James Evans Scholarship is sponsored, in part, through the generosity of CoBank.
“CoBank is proud to sponsor the AAEA ACT scholarship program and support the professional development of the next generation of agricultural journalists and communicators,” says Jo Solonika, VP, corporate communications, CoBank. “We appreciate and admire the dedication AAEA has shown in support of its student members and are very pleased to partner with the organization in those efforts.”
“Without the help of AAEA, I would not have been able to attend Ag Media Summit where I was able to make valuable career connections and truly understand why organizations like AAEA are so important to young communicators,” says Nordwald, who also was chosen as AAEA’s marketing communications summer intern with Minnesota-based Padilla.