June 30, 2023
If not for Bill Payne, a faculty member at Murray State, and Dave Downey, the legendary teacher at Purdue, Jay Akridge might be managing the family’s fourth-generation farm supply business in Fredonia, Ky. Fortunately, fate intervened — and thousands of Indiana farmers, Purdue students and Purdue University are better for it.
“My brother Paul still runs the business with two stores,” Akridge says. “I worked for Dr. Payne while attending Murray State University. Near the end of my undergraduate years, he asked if I had considered graduate school. I said no, I was planning to work in the business with Dad.
“After he asked, I considered it, and decided to attend Purdue for a master’s in ag econ and agribusiness, then go home and work with Dad. Well, when I got to Purdue, I met Dave Downey and got excited about teaching and working in agribusiness. So, I worked on a doctorate and was able to land a faculty position here. You know the rest of the story!”
Indeed, nearly everyone knows the story. Akridge’s career earned him the title of Honorary Master Farmer this year. The award is sponsored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue College of Agriculture.
Early in his career, Akridge distinguished himself as a teacher and expert in marketing strategies for agribusinesses. He began winning teaching awards as early as 1996, and in 2000, he became director of the Purdue Center for Food and Agricultural Business. By 2007, he drew the attention of Purdue administrators, and served as interim vice provost for engagement into 2008.
His next assignment was interim dean of the College of Agriculture, which turned into a full-time position a year later. Akridge flourished and became well respected for listening and weighing various points of view before making decisions.
Under his leadership, the College of Agriculture grew and moved forward in important projects, including the Plant Science initiative. This eventually led to the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center at the Agronomy Center for Research and Education and the Plant Phenotyping Center on campus.
Akridge’s close friend, Marshall Martin, also in Purdue administration as an assistant dean, was also instrumental in the innovation center project, along with Karen Plaut, who followed Akridge as dean.
He left the dean’s role in 2017 to become provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity at Purdue, until late 2022. As chief academic officer, he was responsible for the university’s overall academic strategy, overseeing a budget of $2 billion; 50,000 students; 2,700 faculty members; and 8,000 staff members.
So where is Akridge headed next? Apparently, right here in Indiana, continuing his career at Purdue. “I took time to visit a few other universities and get reconnected with friends, but now I’m looking forward to teaching students again this fall,” he says.
Expect Akridge to do what he can to promote Extension and the land-grant system. Always a proponent of land grants, he held various positions with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities during his career.
Earlier this year, he presented the annual James C. Snyder Memorial Lecture, talking to farmers and colleagues. “I was pleased to share thoughts about the future of the land-grant system,” he says. “I am biased, and we will need to continue to evolve, but the land-grant system is well positioned to lead in the years ahead.”
Honorary Master Farmer at a glance
Justification: Jay Akridge started his career in Purdue ag economics, serving students, farmers and agribusinesses. He was dean of the Purdue College of Agriculture for nearly 10 years and served as a provost for five years.
Beginning: Akridge grew up on a small cow-calf farm near Fredonia, Ky., graduating from Lyon County High in 1978 and then attending Murray State University. His family operates a fourth-generation farm supply business. He pursued a master’s at Purdue, met Dave Downey, and fell in love with teaching and agribusiness marketing.
Career: Akridge was a sought-after teacher and was named a Purdue University Faculty Scholar in 2000. He was designated as the James and Lois Ackerman Professor of Agricultural Economics. Then administration came calling. He was director of the Purdue Center for Food and Agricultural Business from 2000 to 2007, then interim vice provost for engagement, and then interim dean of agriculture before becoming the full-time dean. In 2017, he became provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity. Today, he is the Trustee Chair in Teaching and Learning Excellence in Ag Economics, with teaching assignments.
Family: Akridge and his wife, Michelle, met in graduate school. They have two children, Sean and Samantha. Sean and wife Liz have a 4-year-old son, Charles. Samantha is a doctoral student in education at the University of Delaware.
Service and recognition: Akridge received the Charles Murphy Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching in 1996 and was listed in Purdue’s Book of Great Teachers in 2003. He was a leader within the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. He served as chair of the Steering Committee for AgriNovus Indiana and on the board of directors of Agriculture Future of America. In 2017, he received the AgriVision Award from Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch.
Notable: Dwight and Jeff Armstrong also attended Lyon County Schools and Murray State. Dwight was CEO of National FFA. Jeff was head of animal sciences at Purdue and is now president of Cal Poly. “Jeff was one year ahead of me, and I was reporter when he was FFA chapter president,” Akridge recalls.
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