Jennifer Schuder

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Jennifer SchuderMy Dallas Story

The state capital may be Austin, but the state fair – a 24-day celebration of Texas traditions that draws people from as far away as New Zealand and presided over by a fifty-five-foot talking cowboy named Big Tex® – is in Dallas-Fort Worth. It debuted in 1886 — when horses were the fastest way to travel and Dallas’ first streetcar was still a few years off. Since the 19th century, the fair has been cancelled only three times: twice during World War II, and again in 2020. The Covid pandemic mandated that people social distance rather than share a Fletcher’s Corny dog, but attendance has bounced back. 

“You look at a three-year rolling average and we’ve definitely grown the numbers,” says Jennifer Schuder, SVP marketing at the Texas State Fair.


During the past decade more than 22 million people have visited the fair – that’s about twice the population of Georgia. That would be impressive at any age, but as one of the country’s oldest state fairs, keeping it fresh and new is always top of mind. Yes, Schuder wants people to come out every season, but she also wants them to visit multiple times each year. 

“When you’re out here on a weekend with hundreds of thousands of your closest friends, the experience is totally different from the one you have during the week or in the evenings.” 

To keep people coming back for more, the fair offers a variety of discounts and hosts the North Texas Food Bank on Wednesday as one of their largest food drives. Military appreciation runs the length of the fair and 2023 saw more than 54-thousand veterans and their families attend. First responders are also a celebrated group – more than 17-thousand said ‘howdy’ to Big Tex last year. People over the age of 60 are also given a break on the entry fee … and one person held their 75th birthday celebration at Fair Park. The DRC’s Executive Women’s Roundtable, has also made an appearance more than once. All of these group and individual visits added up to more than 2.3 million people visiting last year.  

Some other numbers to consider:  

  • $2.2 million – the amount raised for youth livestock exhibitors and the Big Tex Scholarship Program; 
  • 268 – the number of shopping locations for fairgoers to buy a little happy; 
  • 518-thousand – the approximate number of Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs sold; 
  • Nearly 218-thousand– the pounds of canned food donated during the Feed the Need promotion.* 

Although the part of the fair that people see is the three-week stretch starting in September, the organizing, vendor-vetting, and planning is year-round. Consider that for this city-within-a-city to pop up in Fair Park, organizers need: governance — state and federal regulations need to be followed to avoid food and safety violations; public safety – the fair contracts with the city to provide emergency services; and financial services — millions of dollars in cash and credit card transactions are logged for food and mementos.  

“It always cracks us up when people ask what we do during the other 11 months,” says Schuder. 

She grew up in Allen when it had “a Dairy Queen and a stoplight,” and earned her B.A. in management information systems at Texas Tech. She had been planning to be a consultant but realized that was a career that didn’t play to her strengths. 

“I’m not sure I really knew what it meant to be a consultant in computer programming, but it was obvious pretty quickly that I was not going to be the one to find the missing period in a line of code,” says Schuder. 

But she was great at project management and decided to lean into that, earning her master’s degree in public relations. She used her writing and people skills at communications agencies and The Dallas Opera, all the while keeping her network “warm.” She chatted with people about ideas and opportunities that might better align with her skills and interests. But the State Fair of Texas? That wasn’t on her bingo card. 

“I was writing thank you notes to people I had worked with and keeping them posted on what I wanted to do next … and one happened to be the man who ran Music Hall. He told me there might be an opening at the fair.” 

After a few more twists and turns, and a lot of support from her professional network, she got the call that led straight to the job of her dreams. Her advice to people in Dallas-Fort Worth just starting their careers or pivoting midstream? 

“The culture of Dallas-Fort Worth is supportive – people want to help each other succeed. Find something in your industry that you want to be a part of, that you want to be engaged with, and give it time. If I hadn’t done that, those people who made those phone calls for me to come to the fair — they wouldn’t have happened.” 

She shares reminders informed by a lifetime of lessons, the power of simple recognition, and The Gambler. 

Professional life lessons: 

  1. 80/20 — plan for what you can and allow wiggle room for the rest; 
  2. Delegate – your way might not be the best way and delegating some jobs helps others grow; 
  3. Don’t forget to recognize – thank your team frequently with things like coffee, donuts, and happy-hours; 
  4. Find a mentor – someone who can offer advice and be a sounding board; 
  5. Know when to fold ‘em — live your principles and learn to walk away gracefully; 
  6. Avoid the ick – work with people you admire and respect.