James McKenna, professor and interim head of the Department of Crop Soil and Environmental Sciences in Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was honored with the 2009 North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Distinguished Educator Award in recognition of his meritorious service to NACTA and to higher education through teaching, educational research, and administration.

The award was presented at the NACTA annual conference held in June at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla.

For nearly 25 years, McKenna has served as his department’s coordinator for advising instruction. His peers have recognized him with numerous awards for teaching and advising excellence, including the Gamma Sigma Delta Teaching Award, the Diggs Scholar Teaching Award, the Certificate of Teaching Excellence, the Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Advising, and the William E. Wine Award for Excellence in Teaching. Previously, NACTA honored McKenna’s work with its Teacher Fellow Award.

McKenna has been recognized for his use of digital technology, using online instruction via Authorware modules in the mid-1990s as well as online, collaborative-education efforts with Orange Free State University in South Africa. Through Virginia Tech’s Global Seminars program, McKenna is also a leader in efforts to internationalize curriculum. He brings scholarship into his classes by engaging numerous undergraduate students in research projects.

McKenna has published 15 articles on curriculum and program development and 33 abstracts on teaching and learning; he has been invited to speak about teaching and learning in higher education at 10 national and international meetings. In addition, he completed two terms as associate editor of the Journal of Life Science and Natural Resource Education.

McKenna has served NACTA as the Virginia state coordinator, eastern regional coordinator, vice president, and as president of the NACTA Foundation; currently, he is the group’s historian. The American Society of Agronomy has also recognized McKenna’s teaching, research, and service by naming him a Fellow.

McKenna earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Rhode Island, his master’s degree in agronomy from the University of Maine, and his Ph.D. in agronomy from Virginia Tech.

NACTA is a professional society that focuses on promoting, recognizing and rewarding excellence in teaching agriculture and related areas at the post secondary level in North America. Members of NACTA are from two-year and four-year colleges, public and private, and have a common bond of teaching agriculture and related subjects. Through the use of competitive awards, NACTA annually recognizes outstanding teaching and publication.

Written by Ashley Estes.

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