Kansas State University


Department of Communications and Agricultural Education

Tag: Alumni Updates

Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Hotchkiss Shike

by Rachel Waggie, agricultural education and communication master’s student

This May will mark 20 years since Jennifer Hotchkiss Shike graduated from Kansas State University’s Agricultural Journalism program – now the Agricultural Communications and Journalism program. Shike transferred to K-State for her final two years of college and was a dual-major in agricultural journalism and animal sciences and industry. During her collegiate career, she was a member of both the horse and livestock judging teams and completed three internships, which she credits as a key part of her educational experience. Shike interned

with the Washington County Extension Office in Washington, Iowa; Seedstock Edge/National Swine Registry in West Lafayette, Ind.; and the Angus Journal in St Joseph, Mo., before graduating in May 2000. She notes that internships “opened doors to opportunities for my future careers, helped me build a network in the industry, allowed me to get real-world experience and maybe most importantly, helped me realize things I did and did not want to do in a future career while having respect for the growth process.”

Before entering her current role as Farm Journal’s PORK editor, Shike served as National Swine Registry director of junior activities. She later went on to work for the University of Illinois as a news writer and then director of communications and marketing.

“Organizing the National Junior Swine Association from the ground up was an amazing opportunity that I still can’t believe I was able to do. Through that I learned so much about communication, organizational development and people – I can’t imagine my perspective at this point of my life without it. Going to work for the University of Illinois…just grew my experience base tenfold,” Shike remarks. “If I would have limited myself to immediately going to work for a livestock magazine as I had dreamed in college, I would have missed out on so much.”

Reflecting on her time at K-State, Shike fondly remembers working with faculty and staff in ag journalism. She says they were very supportive of her as a dual-major and especially appreciates Dr. Boone’s encouragement and support. “I was involved in ACT and she always made that a fun and rewarding experience. She encouraged me to get out in the industry and experience ag communications firsthand,” Shike recalls. Shike also credits her peers from K-State who motivated her to push her boundaries and sharpened her as a writer and communicator. Currently, Shike serves on the Livestock Publications Council board of directors and as a committee co-chair in AAEA – The Ag Communicators Network.

Shike and her husband, Dan, who is also a K-State alum, live near Champaign, Illinois. The Shikes have three children – Olivia, 13; Hunter, 11; and Harper, 6.

“Our kids definitely keep us on the go – we all enjoy showing pigs as a family and the kids pretty much live in the barn in the summer when they aren’t in school,” she says.

Jennifer and Dan originally met at Black Hawk College East Campus while on the livestock judging team. Both continued their judging careers at K-State, and judge at livestock shows still today. Dan judges livestock shows throughout the country and has been fortunate to judge in some amazing places outside of the U.S. like the Sydney Royal Show in Australia and most recently, the Royal Adelaide show in Australia. Jennifer recently judged showmanship at the Arizona National Livestock Show. At the community level, with all three kids involved in 4-H, the Shikes assist with the county 4-H livestock judging team.

When asked what advice she would offer to current students, Shike says, “Be open minded and push yourself to think outside of the box. The very best part of this major is the flexibility – there are so many ways to apply what you are learning and that is exciting! I know I’ve been able to get to where I am today because of that strong base I developed at K-State.”

Agricultural Education: A Major Worth Considering

K-State alumna Alex Walters

Growing up in Plainville, Kansas, Alexandra Walters considered a career in social work, but decided early on to teach about agriculture. A 2018 graduate of K-State, Walters is a first-year agriculture education teacher at Peabody-Burns Middle School-High School in Peabody, Kansas, where she teaches classes in plant science, animal science, food science, agricultural mechanics and others.

“My students enjoy anything they get to design themselves,” she said, adding that her high school food-science students created their own Christmas cookie business.

Walters is teaching in what’s part of a growing trend in middle schools and high schools across the country to offer agricultural education programs, and colleges and universities cannot turn out graduates fast enough to keep up with demand.

“There is a nationwide shortage of agriculture teachers,” said Brandie Disberger, an instructor in Kansas State University’s Department of Communications and Agricultural Education. “Here in Kansas we are currently only graduating about half of the needed agriculture teachers. We have had 100% placement in this major for more than 20 years.”

Students with an interest in agriculture and a passion for working with people make excellent candidates, Disberger said, noting that as of May 2018, average starting salaries in Kansas were more than $40,000. The average salary of agriculture education teachers across the country in 2017 was $43,093, according to the National Association of Agricultural Educators, with averages across the U.S. varying by region.

Disberger, who taught high school agricultural education for 10 years before coming to teach at K-State, said contrary to some perceptions, there are ag education openings in urban and suburban school districts as well as in rural areas.

The breadth of training students receive lends itself to a range of careers, she said. About 80% of K-State’s ag education graduates go on to teach in high school, but some move into careers in extension where they teach adults and youth in less formal settings. Others work in agriculture-related sales or service positions, nonprofit organizations, or pursue advanced academic degrees.

Students study topics such as energy systems, animal science, plant systems, food products and processing, biotechnology in agriculture, power, and structural and technical systems.

“Some individuals think career and technical education programs, including agricultural education, are closing in high schools when it is just the opposite. They are growing rapidly,” Disberger said.

Alumni match doubles scholarship donations

Doug and Sabrina Kruse have given a gift to create 15 matching scholarships in the College of Agriculture as part of the new K-State Family Scholarship Program. Doug graduated in 1988 with a degree in feed science and management.

This match means an individual, group of individuals or an organization can donate $30,000, and it will be matched with $30,000 from the Kruse contribution to form a college scholarship.

The Kruse K-State Family Scholarship will be used to match at least 15 new gifts for student scholarships. New gifts of $30,000 will be matched with $30,000 from the Kruses’ gift. $10,000 will go into an expendable scholarship fund, making $2,000 scholarships immediately available to students for up to five years. The remaining $50,000 will go into the endowment, ensuring future generations of Wildcats will receive scholarships as well. The $30,000 donation can be one lump sum or contributed in five annual contributions of $6,000. 
If you are interested in participating in the K-State Family Scholarship Program, visit www.ksufoundation.org/family for more information or contact John Morris, senior vice president of development, at 785-532-7587.

Alumni Holiday Card Exchange

We wish you a beautiful and bright holiday season! Thank you to everyone who sent us a holiday message and photo. Be sure to send us updates throughout the new year. We love to hear about your families, career milestones and community involvement.

Audrey Vail Sinn

Audrey (Vail) Sinn ACJ ’06 lives in Reynolds, Nebraska, with her husband Brandon Sinn (K-State ASI ’04, DVM ’10) and sons, Ethan (3) and Eli (2). She works full time in the marketing department for Lambert Vet Supply in Fairbury, Nebraska. In her spare time, Audrey likes to cross-stitch, read, watch movies, and chase her boys around.

Mary Soukup

Mary (Geiger) Soukup ‘07 is an ACJ alumna. Soukup lives in Ellsworth, Kansas, with her husband Troy (K-State AGECON and ASI ‘04 alumnus) and their 4-month-old daughter, Sheridan. She works out of her home as an editor for Drovers CattleNetwork. Beyond working and spending time with her family, she enjoys running, working out with friends, cooking, and photography.

Audrey Young Monroe

Audrey Young Monroe

Audrey (Young) Monroe ’06 is an ACJ alumna. She currently lives in Olathe, Kansas, with her husband Billy and their newborn daughter Savanna. Beyond welcoming their daughter and niece into the world this year, Audrey and Billy also adopted a two-year-old lab/golden retriever mix named Kona.

Lana Swendson Barkman

Lana (Swendson) Barkman ‘13 was the first alumna of the Agricultural Education and Communications master’s program. She lives in Wamego, Kansas, with her husband Caleb (K-State ASI ’11) and their dogs Charlie, Gunner, Rex and Ruger. Lana works as the event coordinator for No-till on the Plains, a non-profit educational organization. She enjoys working out and playing with the beloved “Barkman Bunch.”

Maggie Martin Malson

Maggie (Martin) Malson ACJ ‘01 lives in Parma, Idaho, with her husband Josh (K-State ASI ‘01) and their children Mackenzie (11), Emma (8), Jayten (5) and Brynleigh (2). Maggie publishes Idaho Cattle Association’s magazine and is a freelance writer and photographer. Josh and Maggie help manage Malson Angus & Herefords, along with Josh’s family.

Matt and Jana (Culup) Splitter

Matt Splitter ACJ ’09 and Janna (Cullop) Splitter ACJ ’09 live in Lyons, Kansas, with their 15-month-old daughter, Laikyn. Matt is the owner/operator of their fifth generation farm. Janna recently transitioned home from her role in agricultural lending to assist with the farm accounting and payroll and care for their daughter. The Splitters are both very active in community organizations and in their spare time, enjoy traveling, working on their home and spending time with family.

Julia Stoskopf Debes

Julia (Stoskopf) Debes ACJ ‘07 moved home this fall to the family farm in Hoisington, Kansas, where she lives with her husband Josh (K-State Mechanical Engineering ‘06) and their almost-two-year-old daughter, Emaline. Julia started her own freelance company, North Homestead Communications. In addition to helping out on the farm, Josh and Julia are working to restore and expand their over-100-year-old farmhouse. Their card shows all of the places they have lived since graduating from K-State: Florida, Ohio, Washington D.C., and now back to Kansas.

Nichole Ely Gouldie

Nichole (Ely) Gouldie ACJ ‘10 lives in Inman, Kansas, with her husband Jake (K-State agricultural economics ‘09) and their 6-month-old daughter, Harper. Nichole is the communications specialist for MKC. The Gouldie family keeps busy spending time with family and friends and operating their club lamb business, Gouldie Club Lambs.