March being Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting glass ceiling-shattering UI alumnae. Today: the Class of 1973’s COLLEEN CALLAHAN, a pioneering ag reporter who last year was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Back when Colleen Callahan graduated from high school, there was no such thing as a female agricultural reporter.
It was 1969, a different media world in every way.
“But it’s always what I wanted to do and what I studied at the University of Illinois,” says the Iroquois County native, who grew up on a hog, cattle and grain farm near Milford.
“By the time I graduated” with an ag communications degree in 1973, “the landscape had changed — Jane Pauley had been hired on the ‘Today’ show — and I was lucky enough to get an interview at Channel 3 in Champaign, even though the job was in Peoria.
“During the interview, I was asked one question I’d anticipated: What will farmers think when they hear a woman talking about agriculture?
“I said I’d use my dad as my model listener. I already know what he expects — if I can present the material in a clear, concise manner, it shouldn’t make any difference whether it’s a man, a woman or a dog barking out the information.
“They took a chance, and it worked out well for Midwest Television and me for 32 years.”
Callahan would go on to become the first female president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting, director of the state's Champaign-based USDA Rural Development office during the Obama administration and, in 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pick for director at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.