Created by NAAJ, the scholarship encourages high-caliber students to enter agricultural journalism and honors the life of Sonja Hillgren, a leader in the field as a reporter, editor and magazine executive. Hillgren passed away in December 2006 and work on the scholarship began in 2007. It was endowed in 2010. As of April 2013, the scholarship has almost $60,000. For the first couple of years of its endowment, the scholarship was awarded to one student per year. For the first time since its inception, three students were given the scholarship in 2012-13.
Hillgren was a sterling writer who simultaneously saw the big picture of farm policy and the practicalities of modern agriculture. She raised reporting standards through hard work, by being thorough, fair and objective in her work and expanding the realm of “farm reporting” to include diet, tax, trade and environmental policy. Although a formidable competitor, Sonja always was willing to share knowledge with colleagues. All of these are qualities the scholarship intends to propagate. With her designer wardrobe and a sparkling wit, Hillgren made agricultural journalism glamorous, whether as National Press Club president or visiting folks at the county fair.
NAAJ is grateful to Sonja for her role in modernizing the group, formerly the Newspaper Farm Editors of America, into a professional society with an international membership.