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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.

Join us for Homecoming Huddle!
The Next 500: The homestretch before Homecoming

As we near Homecoming week here on campus, the pressure is on to raise funds for the Next 500 campaign. This initiative, launched during the Ag Comm Homecoming Huddle last year, aims to support the next decade of agricultural communicators.

The winner of the decade challenge will be announced at Homecoming Huddle on October 29. Have you helped your decade by participating? 

Learn more about the Next 500 Scholarship campaign.


Don't miss

Bay Area – Oct. 19-20, 2016

Chicago – Nov. 15-16, 2016

Join the University of Illinois for a variety of events in Silicon Valley and the greater Chicago area! Events include lunches, talks by campus leaders and alumni, receptions, and a Marching Illini concert.

Visit for a full list of activities and to learn how you can participate!

Illini ACT named Chapter of the Year
Illini ACT members Michelle Van Cleave, Katie Zelechowski, Paige Jones, Krista Temple, Christy Allen, advisor Jennifer Shike, Kelsey Litchfield, and Kendall Herren are pictured left to right with the plaque awarded to them for being named National ACT Chapter of the Year. 

For the second year in a row, the University of Illinois’ Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT) chapter won the honor of being the National ACT Chapter of the Year. The award was presented during Ag Media Summit held in St. Louis, July 23-27. This is the third time in the past four years the organization has won the title. Ag Comm students also won additional national awards in the areas of leadership and fundraising.

Students Paige Jones, Nicole Chance, Kelsey Litchfield, Michelle Van Cleave, Christy Allen, Katie Zelechowski, Krista Temple, and Kendall Herren attended the national gathering of agricultural communicators. The Illinois delegation was headed by Jennifer Shike, Illinois ACT advisor.

 The University of Illinois was well represented at Ag Media Summit by both past and present Ag Comm Illini.

Kelsey Litchfield, a senior, was elected National ACT president. Her election marks the first time the University of Illinois is home to the national president.

Sessions throughout the week helped students improve communication skills and network with industry professionals. Workshop topics included photography basics and an exploration of Adobe’s Creative Cloud to communicate about GMOs and stories of rural life. The InfoExpo provided students with the opportunity to speak with representatives from various companies within the agricultural communications industry. Students also visited Osborn Barr, a fully integrated marketing and communications company with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Kelsey Litchfield, senior in Agricultural Communications at the University of Illinois, was elected President of National Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. 
Orwig, Wilson inducted into the inaugural class of AAEA fellows

The American Agricultural Editors Association (AAEA) recently included Ag Comm alumni Lyle Orwig (’74) and Mike Wilson (’81) in its inaugural class of 17 fellows in ceremonies held at the 2016 Ag Media Summit in St. Louis in July. Wilson was also named the next president of AAEA.

The AAEA Fellows Program recognizes members for their excellent service to the organization. Many have held multiple leadership positions, and all have received awards and recognition for applying their communication skills and talents to their demanding careers.

“These 17 fellows represent but a small percentage of the more than 470 members of the association,” said Elaine Shein, AAEA outgoing president and deputy managing editor of DTN/The Progressive Farmer. “However, our entire membership has benefitted from their dedication and long-term contributions to make our organization the best it can be. They are among the best in the business on many levels, and they have spent years taking time from their busy schedules to serve our professional organization,” she added.

Orwig co-founded Charleston|Orwig, a strategic communications consulting firm based in Milwaukee, in 1992. He has maintained a passion for agriculture, marketing communications, reputation management and corporate social responsibility that continues to earn him national recognition. In 1999, the National Agri-Marketing Association named Orwig its “National Communicator of the Year,” while the National Association of Farm Broadcasters honored him with the Dix Harper Meritorious Service Award in 2006, the group’s highest recognition for a non-broadcaster. A member of The Farm Journal Foundation Board since 2010, where he provides counsel for the organization’s Farmers Feeding the World initiative, Orwig was one of the two inaugural inductees into the Ag Relations Council’s Public Relations Hall of Fame.


Wilson serves as executive editor for Penton Farm Progress Company and was former president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ). He credits his unique training in agricultural communications as instrumental in his work, which involves learning what farmer-readers need to know, and working with editors, writers, and designers to address those needs. “A natural curiosity for professional service paired with being able to change with the times has allowed me to excel in my career,” he says.

As newly installed president of AAEA, Wilson looks forward to implementing a new strategic plan that aims, among others, to engage more young professionals who will serve as future leaders of the ag communications industry. Also afoot are plans to re-brand the 96-year-old organization to enable broader access, and evolve a comprehensive professional ag communications network.

Summer activities expose high school students, alumni to what ag communicators do
 Chicago high school students Amelia Barboza, Vanessa Colin, Gabriela Iturralde, and Melanie Range, members of the RAP Ag Communications team, present their research findings in a RAP research forum.

This summer, the Ag Comm Program participated in a spate of activities sponsored by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) that showcased what ag communicators do.  

Research Apprentice Program

Chicago high school students Amelia Barboza, Vanessa Colin, Gabriela Iturralde, and Melanie Range formed the Ag Comm team that participated in the annual Research Apprentice Program (RAP).

Team members were introduced to the history of agricultural communications, learned about the major skills needed to be an ag communications professional, explored newsworthy agricultural and environmental issues through social media, and conducted a research project that examined consumers’ perceptions of the credibility of food labels.

This research experience saw them preparing a questionnaire for an online survey that aimed to uncover how consumers use food labels and the benefits they derive from examining them. The results of their analysis were presented in a forum attended by fellow RAP participants, designated team leaders, and guests.   

The Ag Comm team visited the Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Public Radio, the Idea Garden, Unit 13 University of Illinois Extension office, and campus media facilities. On top of that, they woke up early to give consumers tips on how to get the most out of watermelons for a live television broadcast of Ag Answers on WCIA-3.

Each summer, ACES selects high school sophomores and juniors of under-served, economically-disadvantaged groups, and urban residents to participate in RAP, which opens with a two-week session that involves a number of special hands-on mini-laboratory and science exercises developed to help them understand the application of math and science in various areas related to food and the environment. Sessions on math enrichment, micro-computer applications, writing, photography, and other communication skills are also offered.

Students are assigned into teams that develop presentations based on a set of special learning activities. A series of visits and seminars held at various businesses serve as a resource base for the information necessary to successfully complete this exercise. All RAP activities emphasize teamwork, problem-solving, computer skills and presentation skills. At the end of the program, each team presents the outcomes of their assigned project activities.

ACES alumni and young family members edit the videos they shot in a Family Academies session on “Lights, Camera, Action: Telling Your ACES Story with Movie-Making Magic.” 

ACES Family Academies

Each July, the ACES Alumni Association invites alumni to return to campus with their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to participate in a 1.5-day educational program of hands-on classes. Participants enjoy the college experience living in a new residence hall, taking meals in dining facilities, tailgating, and engaging in sessions that hone practical skills.

This year, Ag Comm led a session on “Lights, Camera, Action: Telling Your ACES Story with Movie-Making Magic”. Alumni and their brood in this session learned how to take great pictures and video footage, and then turn their results into a visual story to be shared with family and friends.

 Chicago high school students capture images of the famed Morrow Plots in a photography workshop led by Ag Comm Instructor Rick Danzl as part of Imagine ACES.

Imagine ACES

Every summer, ACES invites high school students to Imagine ACES. This one-week affair is designed to expose participants to the wide range of ACES majors that lead to careers in the fields of animal sciences, communications, crop sciences, economics, education, engineering, environmental sciences, food science and human nutrition, human development and family studies, and technology.

Students are selected based on their performance in their high school courses as demonstrated by their transcripts and statements of interest.

The social sciences component of Imagine ACES allows students to explore their interests and talent in the field of communications and media. As part of this program, Ag Comm instructor Rick Danzl led a group of 20 Chicago high school students in a photography workshop.

Brooks to exhibit 50 years of fine art photography

Chicago fine art photographer, designer, and marketing consultant Richard E. Brooks was selected to exhibit photographs showcasing 50 years of his work. Fifty of Brooks' photographs will be on display at the Illini Union Gallery November 3-28.

Graduating with a B.S. degree in Agricultural Communications from the University of Illinois in 1967, Brooks received numerous prestigious photo commissions from the University of Illinois Foundation. He served as principal photographer for a coffee table book by John E. Corbally, president of the University of Illinois, 1971-1979. He was also executive producer of Country/USA, which documented rural America through the lenses of 102 photographers on a single day, October 1, 1988.

In 2014, Brooks endowed the Richard E. Brooks Ag Journalism/Photography Scholarship honoring professor Richard Hilwein within the University of Illinois Ag Communications curriculum.

He has been documenting nature's finest for over 50 years, capturing images—from the pristine Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in Holland to the spectacular dual Allerton estates in Kauai, Hawaii and Monticello, Illinois. His images, which include those of the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, are popular with collectors worldwide.

An informal public reception will be held at 4:30 pm on November 3 at the Illini Union Gallery.

Recruitment video shares expected and unexpected

Some agricultural communications graduates may find themselves exactly where they intended when they entered the University of Illinois. Others may discover a path they had never before considered. A video produced by Rhea + Kaiser is promoting both those expected and unexpected opportunities that await students and graduates of the University of Illinois Agricultural Communications Program.

The goal of the video is to increase agricultural communications applicants by creating an improved awareness and understanding of the educational experience and professional pathways in agricultural communications, says Diane Martin, agricultural communications alumna and President/CEO at Rhea + Kaiser.

“The demand for graduates to serve the increasingly complicated and diverse agriculture only continues to grow,” Martin says. “The University of Illinois has a history of producing talented professionals and we need even more Illini Ag Comm alumni influencing agriculture.”

Rhea + Kaiser gifted their services to produce the video. Martin notes that the project aligned with their support of efforts centered on agriculture, education, and local communities.

“Several of our team members have deep emotional ties to the agricultural communications program,” Martin says. “We want other young people, both from farm and non-farm backgrounds, to gain the same education and opportunities we had with one foot rooted in agriculture and the other planted in communications.”

The new recruitment video has been a valuable resource for the Agricultural Communications Program, says Lulu Rodriguez, program director. It has been particularly useful in addressing large crowds, such as the Illinois State FFA Convention. The video is also a great way to explain the program to undergraduates on campus who have yet to decide on a major area of study..

"It’s also a useful tool for high school and college career fairs," Rodriguez adds. The program also features the video in emails to potential students, on the program website, and on social media.

View The Video

I am an agricultural communicator
By Kelsey Litchfield
 Kelsey Litchfield

Choosing a college major did not come easy to me. As a high school sophomore, I had aspirations to be a meteorologist. That plan fell through when I realized I had to be fluent in physics and calculus. No thank you. So I had to ask myself, now what?

During the next year, I visited the University of Illinois (U of I) Urbana-Champaign. My dad pointed out a brochure about the agricultural communications program. He told me to check it out because I talk a lot. Thanks, Dad! Flash forward five years, and I will be a senior this fall at U of I. I could not imagine taking another path. (So really, thanks, Dad!)

When I tell people what my major is, I get asked a lot of questions. What is agricultural communications? What kind of classes do you take? Do you stand there and talk to corn and soybeans? I wish I was joking on the last question, but yes, I’ve been asked that. I’ve realized that agricultural communications is definitely what you make of it and so much more.

If you were to ask someone who majored in agricultural communications about their job, I’m sure you would receive many diverse responses. From advertising to journalism, there are so many different jobs one can have. Agricultural communicators can work for John Deere, U of I, American Farm Bureau Federation or even have their own communications business. The wonderful folks that write for, FarmWeek and broadcast on RFD Radio Network are agricultural communicators. The possibilities are endless!

Every company and organization needs a communicator. They all need someone to help connect their message to their audience. Farmers are communicators, too. In today’s society, consumers want to know where their food comes from. Farmers and agricultural communicators work together to spread their messages. We must communicate together as one industry. I have reflected on this thought many times while taking a class, interning at an organization, or being a member of Collegiate Farm Bureau and Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow.

The questions still come when I mention my major. But now, going into my senior year, they have changed. Where do you see yourself in five years after graduating in May? Who do you want to work for? Do you have a job offer? A lot of people assume I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.

I do not know where I will work, whom I will work for, or have even started applying for that matter (don’t worry, Mom and Dad). But one thing is for sure, I want to help others achieve their potential of being the best communicator they can be.

Editorial note: Originally from Rio, Kelsey Litchfield entered her senior year at the U of I this Fall. She was recently elected President of the National Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She served as Illinois Farm Bureau News and Communications intern during the summers of 2015 and 2016. She wrote this piece as part of that internship. (Reprinted with permission from FarmWeek.) 

AgComm 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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