Women in Agribusiness: Jennifer Shike

Jobs in the agriculture industry can take many forms, and Jennifer Shike's is no exception. From judging livestock to building a brand for the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), Jennifer Shike has a wealth of experience in the agriculture industry and wears many hats as the current Director of Communications and Marketing for the College of ACES. 

Growing up on a small, diversified farm operation with corn and hay crops, pigs, sheep, and horses, Shike developed a love for showing and judging livestock. Her 4-H involvement as a youth trained her in various skills like teamwork, analytical thinking, and confidence. 

Because of this, Shike received a full scholarship to judge livestock at Black Hawk College East Campus in Kewanee, IL. 

"Being a part of a livestock judging team has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," she said. "Not only do you grow and develop your ability to evaluate livestock, but you also sharpen your public speaking skills and your ability to make and defend decisions." 

Shike's skills were further developed at Kansas State University, where she majored in ag journalism and animal science. She was involved in National Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow and the livestock and horse judging teams. While in college, she interned with Angus Journal and the National Swine Registry (NSR). 

Her internship at NSR led to the creation of a new position for her when she graduated - overseeing the NSR website and starting up a national junior swine association. As the junior program developed from an idea into one of the fastest growing youth livestock organizations, her title changed to Director of Junior Activities so she could solely focus on the development and organization of the National Junior Swine Association (NJSA). During her leadership, NJSA grew to nearly 13,000 members across the country. 

As a woman, Shike was a minority in the purebred swine industry.

"I had to learn how to respect where they [swine breeders] were coming from, and focus on how I could build bridges with them," she explained.

Shike also learned to set high goals for herself, keep others informed about the organization's process, seek out opinions and ideas, and follow through in order to build trust. 

In 2009, Shike landed a job as a news writer covering animal sciences and crop sciences in the College of ACES. She enjoyed the opportunity to be home more with her young children and work on the same campus as her husband Dan, an assistant professor of animal sciences with a focus on cow-calf nutrition. A few years later, she moved into her current role as Director of Communications and Marketing for the college. 

A typical day for Shike involves meetings with clients in other departments to help create communications and marketing solutions to help them best reach their audiences. She oversees the college's brand identity, and serves as editor of the award-winning ACES @ Illinois magazine. In addition, she is in charge of all web content, supervises a graphic designer, a part-time writer, and three interns, and advises the Illini Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. She is active on several national boards as a representative of the University of Illinois, including the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association (NAADA) and the Livestock Publications Council. 

"I think it's important to serve and give back to the organizations that help you grow in your career and in your personal life," she added. "It's a privilege to be able to work with and meet people from across the country who share similar passions. Professional networking has been absolutely pivotal in my career."

Like many, Shike faces some challenges in her job, stating that "Everyone has an opinion when it comes to marketing, so it can be difficult at times to pull contrasting ideas into one cohesive strategy." 

It's clear that Shike holds all of the aces when it comes to building a brand and leading her team in the College of ACES. This leadership strategy is evident in her work, and she has been honored with several awards, including the Innovation in Marketing Award from the University of Illinois, the Andy Markwart Horizon Award from the American Ag Editors Association, the Ed Bible Distinguished Service Award from the Livestock Publications Council, as well as numerous awards in the NAADA Publications and Projects competition. 

Although it's nice to be recognized for her work, Shike's favorite part of her job is interviewing new and interesting people from all walks of life while researching and writing stories for ACES@Illinois. A story from last fall featured scholarship recipient Dexter Smith, who was the beneficiary of the "Pay It Forward" scholarship, the result of the "first ever student-led philanthropic initiative in the College of ACES," according to the article written by Shike.