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Nebraska Tourism Commission

301 Centennial Mall South
PO Box 98907
Lincoln, NE 68509-8907
Email: [email protected]

Phone: (402) 471-3796


For local convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), or chambers of commerce, and visitor centers please go here.


Nebraska Tourism Staff:

John Ricks, Executive Director

(402) 471-1558 or [email protected]

John Ricks is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission. He joined the Commission in January of 2017.

John is architect of the state’s new award-winning marketing campaign, “Nebraska. Honestly. It’s not for everyone.” The new campaign garnered press worth over $7.1 million in the month after its unveiling and is already setting records for visitor spending and tax revenue this summer.

John has spent more than 25 years working in tourism destination marketing for a number of different states. As an advertising agency executive, he led marketing efforts for Wisconsin and Wyoming. Working with Wyoming, he led strategy efforts that created the award-winning “Forever West” campaign. Previously he was Associate Director of the Colorado Tourism Office where he launched the very successful “Come to Life” marketing strategy that resulted in five consecutive years of record-setting results in terms of visitation, visitor spending, tax revenue generated and marketing ROI.

Son of an Army officer, he was born in the Philippines and has lived in destinations around the world including Hawaii, Japan and Okinawa, where he graduated from high school. He’s also an adventure traveler having trekked on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the wide open spaces of Patagonia and in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in Bhutan.

shirley wichman, office Assistant

(402) 471-3796 or [email protected]

Shirley assists with organization of  schedules, operational needs, visitor inquiries, workshop registrations and follows legislative bills related to tourism. She also serves as a liaison with local and state organizations and other entities. Shirley worked for the Tourism Division previously for over 15 years and returned to share her passion for Nebraska with whoever will listen. She and her husband Willie, both native Nebraskans, love to travel the back roads, visit with the locals and cheer on Nebraska athletics. 

Callie Austad, Industry Relations and Education Coordinator

(402) 471-7755 or [email protected]

Callie joined the Commission in November of 2018 as the team’s Industry Relations & Education Coordinator. She is responsible for all aspects of the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference, producing webinar content, planning National Travel & Tourism Week events, and developing programs in response to Nebraska’s tourism industry needs. She works closely with industry partners across the state, serving as a resource to help them better promote their destinations.

Callie received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Hospitality, Restaurant, & Tourism Management Program in May of 2018. She lives happily in Lincoln with her fiancé Grant and adorable pup Murray. In her free time, Callie enjoys live music, traveling to visit friends and family, collecting antiques, listening to true crime podcasts, and all things relating to charcuterie boards.  

Jenna Bartja, Adventure Travel Specialist

(402) 471-3767 or [email protected]

In her role as Adventure Travel Specialist, Jenna consults with and provides support for nature-based tourism businesses throughout the state. This involves helping communities and individuals identify, develop and promote new ventures, as well as fostering regional partnerships between existing assets. Among other projects, she spearheads the pursuit of establishing International Dark Sky Places and assisting ecotourism and adventure travel businesses in implementing stargazing activities to better elevate Nebraska as an astrotourism destination. Jenna hopes to, over time, better develop the Great Plains as a region of interest for travelers.

Jenna received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Georgia College & State University. Prior to moving to Nebraska in 2018, she worked for the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute at Grand Canyon National Park, where she helped coordinate and lead the organization’s educational day tours. As her job title implies, Jenna has a love of travel and a strong adventurous streak. She enjoys pretty much any activity outside, but can most often be found tending to her garden and playing with her two perfect dogs.

Micheal Collins, Group Tour Coordinator

(402) 471-3795 or [email protected]

Micheal oversees the Nebraska Travel Counselor program and supervises 30–40 seasonal summer staff in various rest areas along Interstate 80. He is also the group travel manager for the state and is looking forward to expanding the group tour market in Nebraska and drawing more bus tours to the state.

Micheal received his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in urban studies from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1995. In 1997, he received his master’s degree in planning from the School of Planning at the University of Tennessee. His first job in Nebraska was with the Panhandle Area Development District in Scottsbluff, where one of his primary duties was serving as coordinator of the Nebraska Panhandle Tourism Coalition (now Western Nebraska Tourism Coalition).

When he moved to Scottsbluff in 1997, Micheal planned on living in Nebraska for no more than two years. He found that he really liked living in the state, however, so he applied for a position with the Nebraska Tourism Commission in 2000. He remained in Scottsbluff until relocating to Lincoln in 2002, where he now owns his own home and lives with his cats, Seamus and Stella, and dogs, Sasha and Charlie.

Jenn Gjerde, Marketing Manager

(402) 471-3768 or [email protected]

As Marketing Manager for the Nebraska Tourism Commission, Jenn oversees the development of marketing, public relations and advertising strategies, seasonal marketing plans, coordinates the creative development, tracks the marketing budget and reports campaign goals and metrics. The former TV news reporter previously worked for TV stations in North Platte and Lincoln. Her experiences across Nebraska have helped her gain a great appreciation for the state, which she is excited to now be promoting.

Jenn graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a Journalism degree. While in college she was an active member of the University’s club rowing team. She also worked for Husker Vision, where she spent football game days on the field and worked behind the scenes at many other sporting events. She currently lives in the capital city with her husband, son, daughter and their adorable pug. Gjerde is a lifelong Girl Scout, currently serving on the Spirit of Nebraska council board.

Heather Hogue, Deputy Director/Grant Administrator

(402) 471-3774 or [email protected]

Heather oversees the Commission’s grant opportunities including the Tourism Marketing Grant and Community Impact Grant programs, funding assistance programs that encourage Nebraska communities to work together to promote their destinations and events. Heather also manages administrative and program operations for the Commission in relation to state government policies, supervises the internship program, and performs program support for the agency director.

Heather grew up on a family farm outside of Minden, Nebraska and is a graduate of the Lincoln School of Commerce Travel and Tourism Program. Heather has worked for the state tourism office since May of 2000 and enjoys the challenges involved with the continuously changing world of the tourism industry. Prior to joining the Commission, Heather’s career path included being a customer service representative at Walt Disney World, working as an accredited IATA travel agent, and serving as a Quality Control Operator at a travel agency. Heather lives in Lincoln with her husband, Mike and their daughter, Maggie.

Karen Kollars, Agri-Tourism Consultant

(308) 249-3220 or [email protected]

Karen works as the Nebraska Tourism Commission's Agritourism Consultant, assisting tourism entities and helps encourage more rural residents to reach out to travelers wanting to take vacations that involve immersing themselves in ranching or farming experiences. She also plans the Commission's annual Agritourism & Adventure Travel Workshop.  She is actively involved with the North American Direct Farmers Market Association, an international networking association for farm direct marketing and agritourism.  

Karen grew up on a family farm outside of Fordyce, Nebraska and is a graduate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organizational Management. She formerly worked for the Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce as the executive director and handled tourism and main street responsibilities.  Karen has worked with Nebraska Tourism since 2004.  She is a native of Nebraska and has her office in Kearney. 

Erin Lenz, Marketing and communications specialist

(402) 471-3797 or [email protected]

In collaboration with the agency's Marketing Manager, Erin keeps agency staff and tourism industry members informed and ensures that agency public information priorities and goals are achieved. Erin is the Commission's social media and web specialist, coordinating with external vendors, contracted agencies and marketing partners to ensure status of projects and continued communication efforts. Erin also assists in writing, designing, editing, research, and copy/layout for informational and administrative publications, audio-visual material, media releases, displays, and newsletters.

Erin received her bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations with minors in Business and Communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While in college, Erin spent two years as the Public Relations Intern for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. Erin is a Lincoln native with family ties to Western Nebraska.

Madison Johnson, Passport program coordinator

(402) 471-3789 or [email protected]

Madison serves as the Passport Program Coordinator where she focuses on participation, program development and implementation, as well as training and educating selected program applicants regarding the benefits of the program. She compiles and analyzes data to prepare reports in regards to program statistics, impact, and participation. Madison also builds partnerships with state and local officials, visitor bureau staff and managers, civic and tourism industry leaders.

Madison received her bachelor's degree in Hospitality, Restaurant, and Tourism Management with minors in Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Fairbury, Nebraska, Madison grew up on an acreage outside of town and has a passion for Nebraska and rural communities. 

lilly uhlmann, Communications Intern

(402) 471-3791 [email protected]

Lilly assists in the writing of press releases and newsletters, as well as content management and creation for the Visit Nebraska website. She is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln majoring in History and Global Studies and minoring in Archaeology and Math. Lilly is from Lincoln, but enjoys traveling to other parts of the state to visit family. She is also involved in her sorority, Delta Gamma, and helps to represent them as Alternate Panhellenic Delegate.

Kyle hauder, Communications Intern

(402) 471-3744 [email protected]

Kyle’s primary responsibility is managing the day-to-day activities of the Nebraska Tourism Commission social media accounts. With the guidance of both the Public Information Officer and the Marketing Manager, he works to maintain the agency’s positive public image through a combination of strategic planning, research, and writing. Kyle is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln working toward majors in journalism and advertising and public relations. He is also working toward minors in business administration and environmental studies. Kyle is from Gurnee, Illinois, but loves finding new locations in Nebraska. In his free time, Kyle likes to bake and travel.

Alisha Simonson, Accountant II

(402) 471-3776 or [email protected]

Alisha serves as the primary finance agent for the Nebraska Tourism Commission, managing the agency’s accounting operations, policies, and processes. Alisha consults with agency administrators regarding financial matters and performs a wide variety of accounting and related financial tasks including reconciliations of accounts of incoming and outgoing monies, and processing of accounting batches. She also serves as a liaison with members of the public including coordination and interaction with employees and clients of the Commission.