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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
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.
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 master’s degree in planning and bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in urban studies from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 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 Sophie.
Schuylar Craig, Administrative Programs Officer
Phone: (402) 471-3796 or [email protected]
Schuylar serves as the the Nebraska Tourism Commission's office coordinator, assists with workshop and conference registrations, organizes and attends commission meetings, oversees agency rules and regulation development, tracks agency-related legislation, assists with accounting and provides program support for agency staff and management.
Schuylar grew up on a farm outside of Beatrice, participated in high school and college rodeo, and has a degree in Business Marketing/Business Administration from Southeast Community College. She enjoys true crime podcasts and has a horse named Chico and a cat named Mira.
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. The former TV news reporter previously worked for TV stations in North Platte and Lincoln. Her experiences across Nebraska 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 and daughter, Margaret.
ben jones, Marketing content specialist
(402) 471-3797 or [email protected]
Ben's job is to deliver information to travelers and Nebraska tourism members via email, social media, travel guides and VisitNebraska.com. He also assists with media relations, helps arrange and conduct press trips and coordinates in the creation of the agency's marketing publications.
A native Nebraskan, Ben has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree in Professional Communication from Southern Utah University. He previously worked as a journalist and as a marketing communications specialist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He lives in Lincoln and, away from work, he enjoys reading, writing, hiking and hosts a podcast.
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.
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.
Riley johnson, Communications Intern
(402) 471-3744 [email protected]
Riley assists in the writing of press releases and newsletters, as well as content management and creation for the Visit Nebraska website. She is a senior at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, majoring in Business Management with an Entrepreneurial focus and minoring in Hospitality, Restaurant, and Tourism Management. Riley is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and spent her spring semester exploring Europe while she studied abroad in Florence, Italy.
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.
jeannine akamba, Communications Intern
(402) 471-3791 or [email protected]
Jeannine assists in the writing of press releases and newsletters, as well as content management and creation for the Visit Nebraska website. She is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln majoring in Advertising and Public Relations and minoring in Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Originally from Cameroon, she enjoys traveling and discovering the specifics of the regions in US. She likes to visit family and friends in France and to do outdoor activities. She also volunteers at the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights working on community outreach projects.
shirley wichman, Industry Relations and Education Coordinator
(402) 471-7755 or [email protected]
As the Tourism Industry Relations and Education Coordinator, Shirley plans and oversees all aspects of the annual Travel Conference. She will serve as the commission's representative at community educational events, coordinate monthly educational webinars for industry partners, plan annual Travel and Tourism week events, host hospitality training sessions across the state, and develop new programs and happenings in response to the interests of the Nebraska Tourism Industry.
She is excited to help develop new ways to "spotlight" the industry to various stakeholder groups.
For now, Shirley will also assist with organization of schedules, operational needs, visitor inquiries, workshop registrations and follow legislative bills related to tourism.
Shirley and her husband Willie, both native Nebraskans, love to travel the back roads, visit with the locals and cheer on Nebraska athletics.