National FFA Week Alumni Spotlight-Jay Solomonson ’02


National FFA Week WIU Alumni Spotlight-Jay Solomonson ’02

Jay Solomonson is the Director of Career and Technical Education & the Agricultural Education and Cooperative Education Instructor at Orion High School (Orion, IL). He is currently on a sabbatical leave with the school district as he is working on his doctorate in agricultural education at Iowa State University.

Jay chose WIU for the hands-on approach used for instruction, the fact that all of the students and faculty knew one another, the leadership opportunities available through student organizations, and the quality of education that you receive at an affordable price. WIU left it’s mark on him as well. “My years at WIU were some of the best years of my life. Besides taking classes, I was very active in many student organizations on campus where I had the opportunity to develop 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.”

There are several memories throughout his career that make Jay feel proud, but he is most proud when “a senior or former student tells me that they are going to go into an agricultural career that they weren’t considering before taking my class. It warms my heart to hear that I was influential in their decision to enter the agricultural industry, especially those students who tell me that they want to go into agricultural education.”

Jay understands the challenges that agriculture education students now face. His advice is to “Stick with it! There are many hoops and obstacles one must go through to earn their professional teaching license now days. Don’t get discouraged and keep with it. Working in the classroom is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. It is completely worth it to finish the program and get certified. You will not regret it!”

We look forward to seeing what the future holds for the soon-to-be Dr. Jay Solomonson.

Think Purple. Think Agriculture. Think Western.


National FFA Week-WIU Alumni Spotlight, Jerry Driscoll ’97

National FFA Week WIU Alumni Spotlight-Jerry Driscoll, 2007 alumnus
Jerry Driscoll is the agricultural educator and FFA advisor at Sigourney Community School District High School. He also serves as the Precision Agriculture instructor at the Keokuk County Career Academy. Jerry’s education at Western Illinois University put him on the right path to pursue such a fulfilling career. Jerry chose WIU for the same reasons as many current students do: the department is like family and each person is known as an individual, not a number.jerrydriscoll

“There were several reasons I chose to attend WIU. I had an older brother that went to WIU and had a great experience there. That is what really started me thinking about it. I am a livestock person at heart and have always been big into livestock judging. I had known Bruce Engnell for along time and really respected him as a livestock judging coach and livestock producer. With Bruce being the coach and having the opportunity to learn from one of the great livestock minds made the decision easy. Bruce set up a day for me to visit the campus and it was great. I really liked the fact that it was a smaller campus and everybody seemed to know each other. The Ag Department seemed to be extremely tight-knit. Knowing that I wanted to go into Ag Education, Bruce set a meeting for me with Dr. Andy Baker. That meeting really sealed the deal. Dr. Baker and I talked in great detail about his program and I realized I was not going to be just a number at a larger University. I had the feeling that I was going learn how to take my knowledge and passion for agriculture and pass it on to my students, rather than simply teach a topic.”

Sharing his passion is just what Jerry has done since graduation. “One of the proudest moments I have had in my career would have to be helping one of my students being recognized as the Star Over Iowa in Agribusiness. Helping my students succeed with their SAE’s and then have them rewarded for their hard work and skills that I taught them is a great feeling.”

Jerry credits Dr. Andy Baker as helping prepare him for a career in agricultural education. “Dr. Baker did a great job of challenging us every day. He tried to make classes as real life as possible. He knew my plans were to come back to Iowa to teach because I wanted to farm with my family as well. Dr. Baker did everything he could to help me learn the Iowa ways along with the Illinois ways of conducting agriculture classes and FFA programs.”

Students at the Keokuk County Regional Center solve real-world problems while earning dual credit.

For the newest agricultural education graduates, Jerry encourages them to step outside of the box. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try new things. Not every idea is going to work the way you planned it to but every now and then it works better than you could have imagined and those outcomes definitely outweigh the mistakes.”We are fortunate to have Jerry as an agricultural educator and are proud to call him a Leatherneck. To learn more about how his students are solving real-world problems, check out this article from the Iowa Department of Education.

National FFA Week-Student Spotlight, Anna Shupe

National FFA Week Student Spotlight-Anna Shupe

Anna Shupe, an agricultural education student from Ursa, IL,
was very reluctant in joining FFA at first. “I had no intentions in getting involved at all. After my first month as a member I was absolutely in love with the program. I had gained so many leadership skills and knowledge about the agriculture industry. After my first year in FFA I decided that I wanted to always be involved with FFA and wanted to help students find their own love for FFA and decided to become an agriculture teacher.”

Anna’s first pick for college was WIU due to its great agricultural education program. “While here at Western I have gained so much knowledge and have been able to network with other individuals in the agriculture industry. I am in six different agriculture clubs at Western and each one has helped me grow as a person.”

We look forward to what the future holds for Anna and are proud that she is sharing her passion for agriculture and FFA with students.annashupe

National FFA Week-Student Spotlight-Shannon Brown

Happy National FFA Week!
The WIU School of Agriculture is celebrating by featuring students and alumni who have been impacted by their FFA experience and are still involved in the organization.shannonbrownstatedegree

Shannon Brown, a senior from Steward, IL, began her FFA career at Rochelle Township High School. She was an active member for all four years and served in leadership positions for two years. One of her favorite memories from her FFA experience was earning her FFA State Degree in 2013. Her leadership experience, coupled with her achievements at local contests and regular attendance at state and national conventions helped prepare her for her transition to WIU.

“I met so many people through FFA, some of which I’m still friends with today. Being in FFA helped me get out of my shell which also helped me get used to being away at school.”

Shannon is involved with FFA on the collegiate level, hosting contests and conferences for high school chapters.

Shannon plans to pursue a career in agronomy while helping on her family’s farm. We know she will be a lifelong supporter for FFA!

Think Purple. Think Agriculture. Think Western.


National FFA Week Spotlight-Jason Kilburn ’94

National FFA Week WIU Alumni Spotlight-Jason Kilburn 1994 WIU Alumnus

Jason is the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at the Monmouth-Roseville High School. Proximity to home and the small student to faculty ratio brought Jason to WIU and if he had the chance to do it over again, he would.


“My time at WIU was very enjoyable and challenging in a good way. I felt that I was pushed to be the best that I could be. The knowledge and experiences I gained by attending WIU was very valuable. I was able to network with many professionals within the agricultural education field. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would not change a thing. I would go to WIU again!!”

Jason credits his involvement with Collegiate FFA and Ag Mech Club for gaining experience in the industry, building a network of professionals, and improving time management skills.

When asked what his proudest moment of his career has been, Jason cannot pick just one. “I am proud all the time of my students and FFA members. I measure the proudest moments by seeing young individuals strive to achieve goals and reaching them. Working with them on that journey and seeing the satisfaction on their faces when they achieve them, knowing that they had their doubts but keep on going anyway. Getting a student to compete in Career Development Event that you know is not their strength but they compete anyway to become a better rounded student. These are moments I’m the proudest of.”

Agricultural educators continue to be in demand. Jason added a few words of advice for those pursuing degrees in agriculture education. “Agriculture education is a rewarding field to be in, but is also challenging at the same time. Be sure to stay patient and know that it will get easier as time goes on. Teaching high school agriculture and being an advisor of the FFA can seem overwhelming at times. The time you get to spend working and guiding the young people is worth every moment. Stay patient, dedicated, and take time to enjoy the little successes you will have while teaching the leaders of tomorrow.”

Thank you Jason for your dedication to the leaders of tomorrow.

Think Purple. Think Agriculture. Think Western.