Evans, James F. | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Evans, James F.

Historical Note:

JAMES F. EVANS (1932- )

James F. Evans, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Communications and Journalism (1968- ), is recognized as the driving force behind the development of the Agricultural Communications Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and for his research in agricultural communications including the distribution of agricultural knowledge to Illinois farm families, and on the adequacy of pesticide labeling.

James Forrest Evans was born in September, 1932 to Walker and Ruth Evans in Monmouth, Illinois. In 1938 when James was 6, the Evans family moved to his parent's home territory in Winfield, Iowa to farm and raise livestock. Evans was interested in agriculture at a young age, and became involved in agriculture studies and Future Farmers of America (FFA) activities at his high school, and competed in FFA speaking contests.  After graduating from Winfield High School, Evans' agricultural teacher suggested that he combine his interest in writing and speaking, and to study agricultural journalism at Iowa State College. He graduated from Iowa State University (then Iowa State College) in 1954 with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Journalism, and gained experience working for the college newspaper and radio and television stations. Shortly after graduating and marrying his high school sweetheart, Marlene, Evans got a job as a farm editor at the WBAY-TV and WBAY-Radio in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He worked there for 6 months before being called into active duty in the Air Force in 1955. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, as a career counselor for one year,  then at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a information services officer for one year. After leaving the service in 1957, Evans got a job as Associate Broadcast Director and Assistant Account Executive at Aubrey, Finlay, Marley, and Hodgson Inc. Advertising Agency in Chicago, IL where he worked on several advertising campaigns for the International Harvester Company and other agricultural clients from 1957-1960. He left the agency when he started to become more involved with advertising but realized that he did not have the marketing skills. Evans therefore decided to pursue a Masters of Business Administration at the University of Chicago in 1961 and a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1965.

In December of 1961, Evans came to UIUC as the Head of the Teaching and Research Division of the Extension Editorial Office (1962-1985); Professor (1975-1985) Acting Head (1985-1986) and Head (1986-1995) of the Office of Agricultural Communications and Extension Education until his retirement in 1995. Evans is nationally and internationally recognized for his role as an educator, researcher, and program leader in agricultural communications and education. He was a driving force behind the development of the Agricultural Communications Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1962, and helped bring in high school students who excelled in 4-H public speaking contests and other communications programs. Evans was also the first UIUC College of Agriculture instructor to use Tele-Lecture to bring professionals into his classroom by amplified phone in 1968/69 and the first to record his grading comments on tape for his students.

Evans was also one of the first users of the innovative 1960s computer program: PLATO. The Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO) was developed in 1960 to run on the University of Illinois’ ILLIAC I computer. Developed as a way to use computers for education, the PLATO system used a consumer tv and a projector controlled by ILLIAC, while ILLIAC overlaid the slide with vector graphics and text. This allowed for the system to offer interactive feedback. New versions of PLATO grew to include video games and hundreds of hours of instructional courseware.

In 1980, Evans expanded his work internationally when he served as a founding associate for the International Program for Agricultural Knowledge Systems (INTERPAKS) and the International Program for Agricultural Communications Education (PACE), that helped teach communication programs, conducted research, and worked with universities to help establish agricultural communication programs in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, Pakistan and the West Indies. In addition to this, Evans helped establish what is believed to be the first international student-faculty exchange program in agricultural communications in 1982 with Muresk Institute of Agriculture and Western Australian Institute of Technology (now Curtin University of Technology).

Throughout his professional career, James Evans has received many awards for his research and service including the James F. Evans Endowed Chair in Agricultural Communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; named UIUC Outstanding Instructor by the Men's Independent Association (1965); the Brown Derby Award by Sigma Delta Chi Journalism Fraternity for his outstanding service at UIUC (1965);  the E.B. Knight Award for Outstanding Article in the Journal of the National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (1973); the Paul A. Funk Award from the UIUC College of Agriculture (1974); Thomas Pawlett Scholar from the University of Sydney, Australia (1979); National Award of Agricultural Excellence (Public Service) from the National Agri-Marketing Association (1990); Haydn Williams Fellow from Curtin University of Technology (1991); James W. Schwartz Award for Distinguished Service from Iowa State University (1996); Service Award from the International Association of Agricultural Communicators in Education (2003); Abraham Lincoln National Agricultural Award for outstanding achievement (2007); among many others.

In addition to his recognition and awards, Evans also helped found and develop the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, which is thought to be the biggest on-site and online-searchable collection of literature about communications in farming, nutrition, rural development, natural resources, and other agricultural topics (now a special collection within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library).

Sources: https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2023/03/plato-how-an-educational-computer-system-from-the-60s-shaped-the-future/
Note Author: Katie Jones

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