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Left to Right: Jay Solomonson, a 2002 graduate of WIU's agriculture education program; his wife Sheryl; their daughter Adalyn; and Max Armstrong, host of the Tribune Radio Network program "Farming America" at the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting in December. Solomonson, who teaches agriculture-related subjects at Orion (IL) Middle and High Schools, and his wife were bestowed with the Young Leaders Excellence in Agriculture Award from the Illinois Farm Bureau. Sheryl is the ag literacy coordinator for Rock Island County in Illinois, and Jay also serves as the Orion School District's FFA adviser.
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Ag Alum Receives IL Farm Bureau Young Leaders Excellence in Agriculture Award

February 24, 2010

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MACOMB, IL -- This weekend, student members of the Western Illinois University School of Agriculture's Ag Mechanization Club will put on the largest student-run farm show in the United States. For 40 years, the Ag Mech Club has been organizing and staging the two-day WIU Farm Expo, and thousands of students, over that almost half a century, have benefited from their involvement with it. One of those former Western ag students -- now WIU alumnus -- Jay Solomonson, who earned his bachelor's degree in ag education in 2002, noted that he gained immeasurable benefits from his involvement with the School of Ag's student organizations, such as the Ag Mech Club and Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) Fraternity.

Late last year, Solomonson and his wife Sheryl were honored with a Young Leaders Excellence in Agriculture Award from the Illinois Farm Bureau. He noted that in addition to the School of Ag's preparation program for ag educators (Solomonson works as an agriculture teacher at Orion Middle School and High School in Illinois), the School of Ag's many student organizations provided him with the opportunity to grow his leadership and professional skills outside of the classroom.

"While at WIU, I was involved with AGR, Collegiate FFA, Ag Vocators, Ag Council, Alpha Zeta and the Ag Mech Club," Solomonson said. "All of these organizations provided me with experiences that helped me grow as both a leader and as an individual. The people I met through these organizations have become some of my best friends, and I continue to keep in touch with most of them even today."

Solomonson noted that when he first came to visit WIU before he started college in 1999, the School of Ag (which was known then as the agriculture department) was in the process of revitalizing its ag education program.

"Dr. Andy Baker had been recently hired, and it was exciting to be involved with the changes he was implementing in the ag ed program," Solomonson said. "From the first time I visited Western's agriculture program, I knew WIU would be a good fit for me. It felt more like a family than an academic program at a university or college."

Today, Solomonson teaches Orion Middle and High School students such subjects as agribusiness, agricultural science, horticulture, ag mechanics, agricultural leadership and communications, veterinary medicine and environmental science. His and his wife Sheryl's Illinois Farm Bureau honor, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau website, is "to recognize extraordinary accomplishments in service to agriculture by those individuals or couples whose primary source of income is not from production agriculture." Sheryl is the ag literacy coordinator for Rock Island County in Illinois, and Jay also serves as the Orion School District's FFA adviser.

"I couldn't be happier for Jay and Sheryl, and I was very excited to hear about the news," said Andrew Baker, professor in WIU's School of Ag. "Their recognition is well deserved. They both work very hard in promoting the agricultural industry inside and outside of the classroom. They are a fine example of a couple working together to teach others about the value of agricultural education."

Solomonson noted that, looking back, he would not change a single thing about his experiences at Western as a student in the agriculture education program and as a busy member of the ag-related student organizations.

"I am a proud WIU graduate. My experiences in Western's ag program definitely prepared me for my professional career, and I am grateful for that," he said.

For more information about the School of Agriculture's ag education program, student organizations or for general information about the agriculture program, contact WIU's School of Ag at (309) 298-1080 or visit More information about the Ag Mech Club's 40th Annual Farm Expo is available online at Learn more about the Illinois Farm Bureau at

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Communications & Marketing