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The University of Illinois Agricultural Communications Program issues this e-newsletter to share updates on student and faculty accomplishments, academic activities, and other initiatives. Contact Lulu Rodriguez, Program Director, with questions or comments.

A partnership in preparing the next generation of ag communicators
 Lulu shares a cycle rickshaw ride with then Ag Comm freshman Lea Peck in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The two assisted in a USAID-funded project that aims to Integrate service delivery mechanisms that better reach women farmers and promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

by Lulu Rodriguez

With the 2016-2017 academic year behind us, there is much to report. This special issue of our newsletter, however, is meant to highlight the contributions of our alumni, friends, and benefactors. Thus, it is fitting to showcase some of the strides we have taken due to your generous support.

First, you don’t know how much you have helped us undertake major and minor changes to our courses and curriculum. Five courses (AGCM 110, 220, 320, 330, and 430) are now leaner and meaner in content, catering to the needs of students who have expressed interest beyond agriculture to include food, fiber, fuel, the environment, and rural development. To do this, we sought the advice of our external advisory committee, our Council of Sustaining Sponsors, and alumni who graciously visited us on campus to assist in our teaching initiatives. You did so in many ways—by offering ideas for skills development, helping in evaluating student work, alerting us to developments in the field, or by simply forwarding us materials to read to keep pace with industry. 

We were also successful in reinstating two courses, AGCM 230 (Ag and Environmental Photography) and AGCM 270 (Sales and Persuasive Communication). A strategic planning committee convened in 2008 identified AGCM 230 as critical in developing visual communication competence that should go in tandem with strong writing ability. AGCM 270 was reinstated to respond to the continuous need for students to learn techniques and methods for setting sales objectives, conducting sales communications efforts, and analyzing and evaluating sales results.

Our syllabus audit goaded us to place greater emphasis on strong writing across the curriculum, and our alumni have been most generous in providing our students a taste of what it’s like in the professional world. This initiative is also a direct response to the College of ACES identified need “to continue to plan college-wide undergraduate courses on research writing and communication.”

Our array of course offerings now shows a greater balance between proficiency in the use of text and the application of visuals to communicate ideas. This is because we have fashioned and offered two new courses, AGCM 250 (Visual Principles for Ag Communicators) and AGCM 315 (Emerging Media). The former is intended to enhance students’ exposure to visual principles and strategies to supplement their ability to handle words. AGCM 315 is intended to make students recognize—and exercise with integrity—their potential as catalysts for using information technologies and knowledge to improve the quality of life for others.

Thanks largely to your financial gifts, we were able to support professional development opportunities for our students, including their attendance in the Ag Media Summit, the National Farm Broadcasting Association’s annual conferences, the Agricultural Future of America Leader Institutes, and the annual meetings of the Ag Relations Council, among other professional venues.

Alumni support has been essential in affording our students more opportunities and occasions for engagement. Our students are in constant touch with industry professionals who serve as guest speakers, resource persons, and informal advisors within and beyond the classrooms. Through your support, the program was able to strengthen students’ intellectual and affective connection to the science behind agriculture and environment industries—and the people that they affect directly or indirectly—by supporting the continued visits of guest lecturers with technical subject matter expertise.

As we strive to sharpen professional skills competence, we also have made some headway in adding a research component to the curriculum. We are now seeing more student participation in research internships and independent research projects.  

We tell our students that getting out of the comfortable path is what exploration is all about.  With your encouragement and following the lead of alumni across the globe who have made a name as practice and thought leaders in agricultural communications, our students now seek more study abroad opportunities. Whether studying food, nutrition, and culture in Rome; doing service learning in Cape Town; marveling at the checkerboard patterns of Belgian fields; or participating in an ecotourism project in the Dominican Republic, our students are applying critical thinking skills as they are exposed to complex agricultural and environmental issues and their implications on local, national, and international levels.

Loyal supporters. Conduits to social and professional networks. Role models. Program ambassadors. Critics. Surrogate professors. Learned advisers. Friends. Whatever the role, we hope our alumni will remain our partners in preparing the next generation of ag communicators for their important work.

Program administration moves back to ACES; alliance with Media continues

As part of the evolution of the Agricultural Communications major, the Colleges of ACES and Media, in joint consultation, have agreed to transfer the program’s administrative home and oversight to ACES. This change will be effective Fall 2017. The program remains a joint effort of ACES and Media, and both colleges are committed to maintaining the quality of the program and heightening its relevance.

What does this mean for our students?  


Starting in Fall 2017, all incoming students (new freshmen and transfers) will be served under the ACES administrative umbrella. Continuing students have the option to either remain under the College of Media administration, where they will receive academic advising support and other services, eventually receiving a BS degree from the College of Media. Alternatively, they can switch to the ACES administration and advising structure, receiving a BS degree from the College of ACES. Whichever option students choose, the dual nature of the program will continue, allowing them access to opportunities and resources from both colleges. 

Alumni and Friends invest in ag comm scholarships

Contributing more than $130,000 over the past two years, agricultural communications alumni and friends have significantly invested in scholarships to attract outstanding students.

During the Next 500 Scholarship Campaign, donors contributed more than $50,000 to the agricultural communications scholarship fund. These current use gifts are used directly to provide scholarships. Loyal donors continue to make gifts to this fund.

Since spring 2015, gifts to the Hadley Read scholarship fund totaled more than $80,000, bringing the balance for this endowment fund to $109,225. The principal of this fund is invested and the resulting income provides scholarships. Further gifts, including income from sales of The Awakening of a Country Boy, continue to benefit this fund.

Our scholars speak

Christy Allen - Hadley Read Memorial Scholarship
I am a sophomore from Arthur, Illinois who has elected a journalism concentration. Because I am interested in a career path that ties together communications and ag policy, I decided to pursue another minor in food and agribusiness management. I am actively involved in the Illini Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, receiving the ACT sophomore activator award this year. I am also a member of the Collegiate Farm Bureau, Student Advancement Committee, Illini Pride, ACES Council, and 4-H House Cooperative Sorority. I enjoy photography and traveling. This is why I look forward to spending eight weeks studying and interning in Rome, Italy, this summer.
I am extremely thankful for and humbled by the scholarships I have received while attending the University of Illinois. The generosity of our alumni opens many doors, including study abroad opportunities. My scholarships have helped tremendously in easing the financial burden of college education.


Gina Giamalva - Jonathan Baldwin Turner Scholarship
I'm from McHenry, Illinois. My area of concentration is advertising and I also have a minor in Spanish. After college, I plan to work in the advertising or marketing field. During my time at the university, I have been involved in a choir and discovered a love for traveling. 
The scholarships I received greatly relieved the financial stress of college education for me. Thus, I was able to focus more on my studies, which made my four years in college most enjoyable. A highlight of my college career was being able to use my scholarships toward a study abroad trip to Rome. This was a life-changing experience, which would not have been possible without this support. 


Joanna Gross - Kenneth and Vesta Stark Scholarship
I am from Jacksonville, Illinois. I chose advertising as my area of concentration, and because of my passion for persuasive communication, I also worked toward a minor in public relations. I enjoy reading and playing intermural sports during my free time. After college, I plan to work in a communication and marketing firm that focuses on agriculture.
The scholarships I have received not only provided financial support; it also enabled me to make the most of my career here at Urbana-Champaign.


Kelsey Litchfield - William Famulener Foundation Scholarship
I grew up in a small town in west central Illinois where there are more stray cats than people. I have called Rio my hometown for over 22 years. I was a member of my local 4-H Club and FFA in high school. I credit these organizations for igniting my interests and laying the foundation of my career in the agriculture industry.
I discovered my passion for communications when I decided to major in agricultural communications because my dad declared that I had the “gift of gab.” During my time at U of I, I was heavily involved in Ag Communicators of Tomorrow. I am currently finishing up my term as national ACT president. I lived at 4-H House Cooperative Sorority and completed internships with the Illinois Farm Bureau, National FFA, and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.
I will forever look fondly at my experience at Illinois. Every time I do so, I know that these wonderful four years would not have been possible without our scholarship donors. The Agricultural Communications Program has given me many resources to jumpstart my career. My student debt is less because of our ag comm family. I am very thankful for the alumni and friends that have supported my peers and me to follow our dreams.
Upon graduation, I plan to focus on ag journalism. I want to be the source of credible information to farmers through farm broadcasting, and help tell the American farmer’s story. I do intend to pay it forward and give back to students when I become an alumna.


Kelsey Pugh - Robert L. Zimmer Memorial Scholarship
Growing up in Northbrook, Illinois, my two main hobbies were cooking and dancing. A high school environmental science class showed me how broad and influential the world of agriculture is. I studied at the University of Illinois for three semesters before declaring my major in agricultural communications.
I like my journalism concentration because of the research and storytelling skills I'm learning. Right now, my dreams include writing about the food culture for a magazine, seeing some national parks, growing peaches, and throwing pottery. 
This is an exciting part of my life! I'm so grateful to our alumni, friends, and benefactors for the support I received. Scholarships give me peace of mind and the opportunity to find experiences outside of the classroom, whether it's studying abroad, working off campus, or researching on campus. Scholarships enabled me to make the most of my time at the University of Illinois. 


Emily Scott - Wilmer Hellenthal Scholarship; Robert L. Zimmer Memorial Scholarship; Reynolds Award for Excellence in Ag Journalism
I am from Bethany, Illinois, and I grew up dreaming about attending the University of Illinois. I have elected a concentration in journalism because I hope to be a science writer, covering topics such as agriculture, technology, and the environment. A fun fact about me is that I'm a fifth generation Illini! 
My scholarships have made a tremendous impact on my college experience. They have allowed me to continue my studies at this university, and for that I am incredibly grateful.


Krista Temple - Richard McFarland Scholarship
I grew up on a family grain farm near Fulton, Illinois, which inspired my passion for agriculture. I love communicating and advocating for the people in agriculture. I hope to use my journalism concentration and public relations minor to do just that.
On campus, I enjoy being involved in the 4-H House Cooperative Sorority, Illini ACT, the Explore ACES Steering Committee, and Campus Crusade. I am excited to be graduating in December and getting married in January. After graduation, I will be moving to Lake Forest, Illinois (north of Chicago), and looking for a job in agricultural communications or public relations there. Scholarships have been a huge blessing for my college career. Because of them, I will be able to graduate debt-free in December!

Illini ACT marks another year of career development activities
 Nicole Chance, an Ag Comm junior, is president of the Illini ACT. This year, Nicole is the recipient of the Illini ACT Activator Award for her “exemplary leadership skills and active participation in the organization’s activities that enhanced programs of communication support for those in the fields of food, agriculture, energy, the environment, and national development.” She hails from Lebanon, Indiana.

by Nicole Chance

The Illinois chapter of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT), the flagship student organization of the Agricultural Communications Program, wrapped up a year of philanthropic and career development activities, all intended to shape us into strong agricultural communicators.

In early March, we hosted collegiate groups, FFA chapters, and 4-H clubs who arrived on campus for this year’s Women Changing the Face of Agriculture (WCFA) conference. WCFA is designed for young women in high school and college who are interested in a career in agriculture. ACT members captured conference events in photos, created social media content, designed brochures, and interviewed attendees about their conference experience.

We have kept elementary schools equipped with children’s books about agriculture by selling beef sticks all around campus. This year, we used the proceeds to purchase books for the first graders at the Unity West Elementary School. Our members enjoyed reading those books to Mrs. Gaines’ first grade class.

The Illinois chapter of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT) was named National Chapter of the Year in 2013, 2015, and 2016. 

In January, three of our members attended the National ACT Professional Development Conference held in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M. The professional development conference, conducted annually, provides ACT members professional growth and networking opportunities with leaders in the field. These conferences connect the ACT chapters, which senior Kelsey Litchfield, National ACT president, tries to strengthen.

This July, we look forward to joining ag communications students and professionals for the annual Ag Media Summit, which will be held in Snowbird, Utah. The Ag Media Summit is the largest meeting of the agriculture industry’s top writers, editors, photographers, publishers, and ag communication specialists in the United States. We have had tremendous success in earning top awards in Ag Media Summit competitions. We hope to come home again with some of those!

Making connections, spreading the word
 Karen Jones, Youth and Cooperative Education Specialist at GROWMARK, Inc., leads the alumni ag communications awareness group that speaks to high school and community college students across the state about opportunities that await those who pursue an ag comm major.

By Karen Jones, Ag Comm, 2004

The older I get, the more I realize that so much of life is about making and maintaining connections. I am often amazed that when I go to meetings or other events I find myself knowing at least one other person in attendance because of a connection made during my time at the university, or even further back through 4-H or FFA.

For the last two years, the Ag Comm Awareness Group has been working to make connections with potential ag communications students at the high school and community college levels. By taking advantage of opportunities to speak at FFA events like the annual Ag Comm Summit and working with community college agriculture and communications professors to visit classes, career fairs, and club meetings, we have shared the benefits of an ag comm degree with many potential students!

We are always looking for alumni who could spare a few hours to help make these visits, especially if individuals have a connection to the community college in the area. We have a PowerPoint slide deck ready to go with current information about curriculum options and graduate job placement. This can be coupled with sharing individual experiences to easily fill a class period. There is also an informational video, It’s not what you expected; more than you thought ( available. The Ag Comm Program also provides brochures to leave with students that include contact information about appropriate admissions and transfer personnel in the College of ACES.

Now more than ever, it’s critical for agriculture to have knowledgeable, talented communicators telling our story and making connections between farmers, agribusinesses, and the general public. By bringing awareness about the ag comm program to students looking for a place to make an impact in agriculture, we can work together to help the program thrive at Illinois.

Meenen named ACES Advancement lead

Ag Comm alumna and senior director of advancement Kimberly Meenen assumed the role of Advancement team lead for the College of ACES this spring.

“As a two-time Illinois alumna and a long-standing member of our advancement team, Kim brings the experience and expertise needed to successfully lead us through this transition,” said ACES Dean Kimberlee Kidwell. “She is well respected by staff, faculty, donors and alumni, and she has outstanding experience as a senior director of development. She is well positioned to make tremendous contributions in this interim role,” Dean Kidwell added.

Meenen recently completed the Leading Forward Fellows Program, a yearlong leadership academy for campus advancement professionals sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement.

Dean Kidwell lauded the efforts of the dedicated, enthusiastic, and talented individuals in the ACES Advancement team. “I am grateful to these people for the tireless efforts they make to advocate for the college. We also have tremendously loyal donors and alumni who are eager to partner with us to create a brilliant future for the college,” she said.

Rhea + Kaiser earns collegiate advertising award for Univ. of Illinois agricultural communications video

Reprinted from Bulldog Reporter, April 24, 2017  

Rhea + Kaiser (R+K) and the Agricultural Communications Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have received the gold award from the Collegiate Advertising Awards for a video created to compliment the university’s recruitment efforts.

R+K’s new Video Production Unit produced the video about the university’s Agricultural Communications Program, a program with a combined curriculum from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and the College of Media. The university uses the video to promote the program through social and digital channels, during recruitment meetings at high schools and community colleges, and at other events. The video features candid interviews with University of Illinois Agricultural Communications students and alumni to help tell the story about the program.

“The video has made it a lot easier to tell the Agricultural Communications story,” said Lulu Rodriguez, Director of Agricultural Communications at the university. “It’s been a real conversation starter. When we use it, we are able to expand on its message, which schools really appreciate. We have a lot more inquiries coming in. Our recruiting efforts are paying off in large part to the video that R+K created for us.”

The Collegiate Advertising Awards program honors marketing professionals for outstanding excellence in all forms of advertising, marketing and promotion specific to higher education products and services. The annual awards competition recognizes U.S. colleges, universities and other educational organizations across a wide range of categories including branding, social media, recruiting, fund-raising, multimedia campaigns and educational fairs.

A panel of design and education marketing professionals judged the more than 900 entries on creativity, layout and design, typography, production, quality and overall effectiveness.

“We are thrilled to have received this recognition for the Ag Communications video. It was definitely a passion project for several of us at R+K who are Illinois graduates, including several Agricultural Communications grads,” said R+K Senior Account Supervisor Laura Findling, who was project lead on the video. “Lulu and her team were great partners in this initiative. We’re proud to be able to tell their story and encourage prospective students to consider the program. This was also the first major video project to come out of R+K’s new Video Production unit, so there’s a bit of R+K pride in there, too.”

Ag Comm alumni - send us an update!

Ag Comm alumni are all over—in Illinois and beyond. Won’t you let us know what you’ve been up to lately? Your fellow alumni and friends would like to know. Our eager current students would like to know. And the Ag Comm Program certainly would like to keep in touch.

Make, keep, and strengthen connections by giving us updates. Feel free to forward them to the ACES Office of Advancement.  We’d love to hear from you!


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