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Voices of ACES Blog

Building careers in ag: ALEC students help unveil new James F. Evans Center at AgRally

Erica Johnson and Jersey Hesse
Erica Johnson and Jersey Hesse

One thing the College of ACES is never short on is hands-on experience. Last week, Jersey Hesse and Erica Johnson, both Agricultural Communications program students, were invited to Fort Worth, Texas, to attend AgRally 2024 -- a celebration of National Ag Day -- to participate in the launch of the new James F. Evans Global Center for Food and Agricultural Communications, live on RFD-TV.  

AgRally, now in its fourth year, celebrates America's farmers and ranchers through a live national TV broadcast while delivering features of a traditional farm show – such as new product reveals, live concerts, field demonstrations, and even visits from pro rodeo athletes.

One of the main organizers of AgRally is Lyle Orwig, one of America's most successful agri-marketers and a UIUC agricultural communications graduate. He facilitated the Evans Center announcement at AgRally with assistance from Dr. Anna Ball, ACES Associate Dean for Academic Programs.

The Agricultural, Leadership, Education, & Communications (ALEC) team in front of RDF TV studio area.
Jersey Hesse, Erica Johnson, Kimberly Bishop, Owen Roberts, Anna Ball, & Amanda Shoemaker.

Jumpstarting this venture and sharing it nationally with the public has lit a fire under ag comm enthusiasts nationwide. And it's just the beginning. 

"It's a remarkable feeling to know that the center will be around to bridge several gaps-- those between producers and consumers, and those between college students and professionals," says Johnson. "As a soon-to-be alum, I will be entering the working world with a wealth of experiences from the agricultural communications program." 

Adds Hesse: "I plan to apply for graduate studies here, and the new center will create research and project opportunities for not only me but companies and other motivated individuals who seek professional development and higher education." 

At the AgRally, students had an opportunity to meet with numerous communications and business professionals. It made an impact. 

"The options in agricultural communications are tremendous," says Hesse. "In fact, there are so many choices that it's sometimes confusing. Meeting with professionals in the industry always helps me define my career path. In Texas, I was challenged as a student to be professional and speak passionately about the sector. My education in the ALEC program gave me those skills." 

In agricultural communications, students are motivated by the growing gap between consumers and producers. They learn how to help close the gap in class, and the Evans Center offers more opportunities to help accomplish that goal. 

"AgRally encompassed everything that this new center for global food and agricultural communications is about," says Johnson. "We hope that the center will be a place for people to gather for years to come."