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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.

AGCM 220 students explore drones, apples, and greenhouses during Fun Fridays
 In one Fun Friday activity, Ag Comm alumna Abby Coers, who serves as Marketing Coordinator for Central Illinois Ag, demonstrated how a drone captures content for her company’s social media outlets, website, and other communications purposes. Students volunteered to fly the drone around the classroom.

By Katie Zelechowski

What do drones, apples, and greenhouses have in common? They have all been the subjects of Fun Friday activities in AGCM 220, Communicating about Agriculture and the Environment. 

AGCM 220 is a course designed to introduce students to good writing, astute presentation skills, and communication strategies. Open to students across the campus, it fosters greater appreciation for agriculture among students who know little about agriculture and the environment. This semester, students visited a greenhouse on campus, taste-tested different popcorn varieties, studied the U.S. and Illinois apple industries, and learned more about ag and environmental photography, agroforestry, and the story-telling capability of drones. In addition to being exposed to these agricultural topics, students applied their writing skills through various communication mediums. 

Next 500 Challenge raises more than $50,000

More than 60 alumni and friends contributed to the Agricultural Communications Next 500 Scholarship Campaign. The Next 500 Scholarship Campaign emphasized raising scholarship funds to bring the next decade of agricultural communications students to the University of Illinois.

In fall 2015, the challenge was issued for each decade of agricultural communications graduates to donate to the agricultural communications scholarship fund. The 1960s and 1970s were successful in winning the challenge, which concluded in fall 2016 with more than $50,000 raised. Thank you to all those who contributed to the Next 500 Scholarship Campaign and made an investment that will reap the next crop of agricultural communications students. Special thanks to those who gave leadership to the Next 500 Scholarship Committee and served as decade captains.

Doyle Karr

Lyle Orwig

Ken Rinkenberger

Lulu Rodriguez, Program Director

Jim Evans, Professor Emeritus

Kimberly Meenen, Sr. Director of Development

1960s – John Volk

1970s – Becky Doyle

1980s – Diane Martin

1990s – Holly Spangler

2000s – Josh St. Peters

Although the decade challenge has concluded, the need for scholarships for agricultural communications students remains. Availability of scholarships is a significant deciding factor in students selecting where to attend school and a field of study. Learn more about supporting agricultural communications scholarships.

Evans, Brooks survey fine arts photography exhibit
 Photo by Billy Hatfield

Chicago fine art photographer and Ag Comm alumnus Richard E. Brooks (right) shows his mentor, Ag Comm emeritus professor Jim Evans, his array of photographs showcasing 50 years of work. His select array of pictures went on display at the Illini Union Gallery November 3-28.

Brooks’ exhibit is another example of the photographer’s ability to plan and carry out complex projects and his great spirit of openness and generosity, Evans notes. He lauded Brooks’ creative career as an example of enterprise, innovation, and resilience.


In 2014, Brooks endowed an ag journalism/photography scholarship. This scholarship was established to support Ag Comm students who have an interest in photography or photojournalism. Brooks joined the Ag Comm staff at the University of Illinois as the first-appointed teaching assistant to Dr. James F. Evans in 1967 while taking graduate level coursework in advertising. Dr. Evans was his 1964 academic adviser and has remained a close friend and supporter. The Richard E. Brooks Ag Journalism/Photography Scholarship honors Professor Richard L. Hildwein, who dedicated more than 35 years of his life to the then College of Communications and Illini Media.

Alums, faculty, students, staff, friends gathered for the 2016 Ag Comm Homecoming Huddle
 Ag Comm interns and student ambassadors Katie Zelechowski and Christy Allen, alumnus Greg Lepper, and ag and environmental photography instructor Rick Danzl shared stories and posed for winning smiles during October’s Ag Comm Huddle.

Ag Communications alumni, students, friends, and faculty “huddled” once again in October as part of the University of Illinois Homecoming festivities. Alumni, faculty, friends, and current and potential students attended the affair.

A slideshow presentation highlighted the gathering, projecting photos of students, faculty, and staff throughout the decades. The presentation was created by interns Christy Allen and Katie Zelechowski. Gathered from the library archives and the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center (ACDC) collection, the photos were digitized from slide film for the first time. They included snapshots of classes, ACT trips and activities, faculty and student activities, and more.  Heather Miller (AGCM ’97, MS ’04) was also announced as the program’s new faculty member.

As part of the gathering, alums from the 1960s and 1970s were named winners of the Next 500 Decade Challenge. The Next 500 campaign raised scholarship funds to support the next generation of Ag Comm students who otherwise may not have the financial capacity to attend the University of Illinois. Gifts and tokens of appreciation were presented to the members of the winning decades present at the event. 

 From left, 1960s alumnus “captain” John Volk and wife Marcia, prospective student Ashley Ochoa, alumnus Greg Lepper, and Ag Comm Program Director Lulu Rodriguez show off that orange glow at this year’s Ag Comm Huddle.

As part of the gathering, alums from the 1960s and 1970s were named winners of the Next500 Decade Challenge. The Next 500 campaign raised scholarship funds to support the next generation of Ag Comm students who otherwise may not have the financial capacity to attend the University of Illinois. Gifts and tokens of appreciation were presented to the members of the winning decades present at the event.

New Agricultural Communications Instructor
Heather Miller - Photo by L. Brian Stauffer 

Heather A. Miller is the new full-time instructor in the Agricultural Communications Program. She joined the faculty on August 8, 2016 to teach courses that strengthen journalism and communications involving the food complex, natural resources, rural-urban interactions, and other dimensions of agriculture and the environment. She will also aid in coordinating student service activities such as advising, career services, profession relations, and others.

“We are delighted that Heather is joining us,” says Program Director Dr. Lulu Rodriguez. “She brings a passion for teaching and demonstrated excellence in helping students learn. She is very familiar with this career field and has exceptional credentials in both communications and agriculture.”

With an undergraduate degree in agricultural communications (1997), Miller also completed a master’s degree in crop sciences (2004) at the University of Illinois. She is pursuing a doctorate in the human dimensions aspect of the environmental sciences under the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, also at Illinois. Her professional experience ranges across agri-marketing and food industry communications; a photography enterprise; as well as work within Fortune 100 and smaller companies in crops, horticulture, landscape design and other agricultural sciences. Her writing and communications experience has involved a variety of activities utilizing multiple media platforms.

She has more than 15 years of adjunct and other teaching experience in agricultural communications, agricultural science, and other topics in face-to-face and online settings. She has been recognized multiple times on the University of Illinois list of faculty members rated excellent by their students. In a previous role as program coordinator at the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, she helped University of Illinois teachers improve their online and distance education delivery efforts.

“I believe it is increasingly important that agricultural communications programs cultivate effective and knowledgeable communicators,” Miller says. “They will advance agricultural and rural development, as well as keep our society properly informed about agriculture and natural resource issues.”

Since 1962, the University of Illinois has offered one of the nation’s flagship programs of teaching, research, and service in agricultural journalism and communications. It is offered jointly by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the College of Media.

Ag Comm junior named "Agent of Change"
 Krista Temple

The Illinois Agri-Women (IAW), in conjunction with the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture (WCFA) Conference, awards three Agent of Change Scholarships each year. This year, one of the winners is Ag Comm major Krista Temple. Krista is a graduate of Fulton High School and was a ten-year member of the Garden Plain Ripsnorters 4-H Club. At the University of Illinois, Krista is involved in the 4-H House, the Illini Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, and Explore ACES Committee. She credits her participation in WCFA with helping her build a network in the agriculture industry, as well as allowing her to gain hands-on experience in photography and videography.

IAW is an organization of farm and agri-businesswomen promoting a better understanding of agriculture and the family farm system. The Women Changing the Face of Agriculture Conference is designed for young women in high school and college who are interested in a career in agriculture.

IAW and WCFA see change agents as leaders, instigators, or examples for change in cultural, social, or human behavior. They initiate change, assist others in understanding the need for change and what it entails, recruit support, manage the change process and/or assist in resolving conflict. The Agent of Change Scholarships are awarded directly to the college or university to be used toward tuition, room and/or board, and other fees associated with being a student.

Student Spotlight - John Bruns
Not your Average Aggie
 John Bruns

By Katie Zelechowski 

Sophomore John Bruns may not be the typical Ag Comm student, but he certainly has a passion for this field of study. He has chosen journalism as his area of concentration, a decision that stems from his passion for writing short stories. John also believes a career in agricultural broadcasting or journalism would be a good fit for his talents.

Growing up in suburban Glencoe, Ill., John did not have much exposure to agriculture. In fact, when he began the process of selecting a major, he considered education, history, and English. There was something about agriculture, however, that pulled in John.

“Even as someone who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, the reality and necessity of sustaining our planet through agriculture, as well as the importance [it] has in the United States economy and the world economy is tangible.”

Earlier this semester, John confessed he experienced a pivotal moment in his studies. While enrolled in AGCM 315 (Emerging media), he had the opportunity to work closely with Visit Champaign County to help launch their social media campaign and advertising presence. John found interacting with the group “invigorating,” opening his eyes to even more potential careers in agricultural communications.

John enjoys writing short stories, reading fiction novels, and has recently reignited an interest in reading comic books. He also enjoys video games and is actively involved in the Carpe Noctem (seize the night) club on campus.

Alumni Spotlight - Colleen Callahan
USDA Illinois State Director for Rural Development
 Colleen Callahan, USDA Illinois State Director for Rural Development. Photo by USDA.

By Christy Allen

Colleen Callahan has worn several hats. After earning her Ag Comm degree in 1973, she served as agribusiness director for WMBD Radio and TV in Peoria for 32 years before setting up Colleen Callahan Communications in 2003. In 2008, she ran for Congress before being named Illinois Director for Rural Development with the USDA in July 2009. Originally from Milford, she now resides on a farm in Kickapoo.

Among its responsibilities, USDA Rural Development is a financial facilitator, offering loans, grants and loan guarantees to support essential services such as housing, economic development, health care, first responder services and equipment, and water, electric and communications infrastructure. With a loan and grant portfolio of $4.9 billion, it invests, on average, $1.2 million into rural communities every day.

In her current role, Callahan oversees 93 employees in 11 offices statewide. She travels the entire state to track the progress of these projects and to see how funding is best utilized. She also travels extensively beyond the state to gain insights from other state directors in the Midwest on how to provide technical assistance so that communities can undertake empowerment programs.

“Our office has become very efficient because when I started in 2009, we had 125 employees; now we have 93. The administrative costs for delivering our programs is about 1.7 cents per dollar. We work hard to meet the mission despite a downsized staff,” said Callahan. “We make a difference everyday in rural Illinois. Not a day goes by when we don’t help someone, somewhere, in some way in rural Illinois through our programs, especially with these loans and grants. We make the possibilities possible,” she explained.

Callahan quotes Abraham Lincoln, who, when he founded the USDA in 1862, believed that “the legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people what they cannot do so well or at all in their separate or individual capacities.” She translates that to mean that “government does not just show and tell people what to do. Rather, government is there when it is needed. And who knows what is needed best than those who reside in their own communities? I think Lincoln would be proud of our work. He would be glad we have not forgotten our roots,” she elaborated.

Callahan has an impressive record of service, including a previous term as president of the College of ACES Alumni Association. Due to an ethics pledge, she had to remove herself from many non-USDA roles during the last eight years, but looks forward to returning to those activities at the conclusion of her responsibilities with the USDA.

Of her many accomplishments, Callahan singles out being “most proud of making Jim Evans proud.” She explains: “Those of us who were fortunate to know Dr. Evans are very much aware of the incredible impact he has had in our careers. Those who weren’t so fortunate regrettably missed being acquainted with a man who is genuinely interested in people, especially his students. Even after retiring from the University, he still comes to campus and meets with students. Dr. Evans still sends me notes and sometimes calls. He never fails to remind me that good work is the ultimate compliment.”

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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