What we do and why it matters…

Oct 25
Jason Emmert, Associate Director of the Agricultural Education Program

We believe the children are our future, that we should teach them well, and let them lead the way…OK - that might sound a little familiar (and maybe a bit cheesy). But it actually encapsulates the mission of the Agricultural Education Program. Our world depends on teachers and leaders, who are an integral component of our most important and life-sustaining industries: agriculture, food, and natural resources.  

Demand for our graduates far exceeds the number of available students; in fact, the need for agriculture teachers in Illinois is so critical that the Illinois Legislature recently created an Agriculture Education Shortage Task Force. The worldwide need for skilled leaders is also critical. More than 80% of employers surveyed by the National Association for Colleges and Employers (2016) state that leadership is the top attribute they look for in new graduates.

So what are we doing about it? We prepare classroom educators, trainers, supervisors, program administrators, sales representatives, extension professionals, and community leaders. How do we do it? The secret is providing hands-on experience inside and outside the classroom – early and often. Ag Ed students learn from award-winning faculty and are pushed to find their full potential through experiences and internships in the real world. A typical student’s week might include collaborating with industry professionals on a client report, teaching a lesson in front of a classroom of students, leading a team of peers at a board meeting, and touring the local farmer’s market for a research project. Speaking of research, students in Ag Ed can team up with faculty and jump out on the edge of scientific discovery, asking questions like how do teachers remain resilient in the face of stress? How do young adults really develop leadership skills? How can students become more socially aware and ready for the global economy?

And the outcome of their learning? Well, graduates who become educators teach and mentor middle and high school students during a time of critical career interest development, and thus play a crucial role in the agriculture workforce pipeline. Other graduates become industry leaders and are often influential in policy, employee training and development, and public outreach.

Teach them well, and let them lead the way. It’s a good phrase for a song, but it’s an even better mission for a program!

Ag ed

Big Data Analytics – Just another passing fad?

Oct 24
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

ABE professor emeritus Michael Hirsch shares his #ACESstory!

The influence of “big data” is immense, and it is growing.

In agriculture, we have data available on soils, and how weather influences crop growth, yield, and environmental impact, plus, data on machinery performance, and much more, with far more precision than previous generations of growers and engineers.  It’s not a fad - we are using it and depending upon it more and more.  The question is, can the use and precision continue to grow and refine?

Today, radar data is available in near-real-time, so hourly access, tabulation, distribution, analysis, and use is practical and can be used for soil moisture and crop production estimation.  Precipitation, soils, topography, and ground cover data are all available and are georeferenced such that they can be attributed to the same small area on the earth’s surface.  Precipitation also has a time reference for each of those small areas.  One can now know, using software such as Morning Farm Report® (MFR) by Agrible®, for any parcel of ground in the US in any given hour on any given day, whether that ground is too wet to conduct field work, whether the soil is cool enough to apply anhydrous ammonia, whether the soil is warm and dry enough to plant corn, and a myriad of other questions a grower or land manager might wish to ask.

If you’re still not convinced, think about Google Maps for a moment. You bring the application up on your smart phone, enter your location and your destination.  The app suggests a “quickest” route with alternatives having longer travel times.  In order to make that recommendation, the app must have access to the hundreds upon thousands of roads, plus current traffic, pavement conditions, and construction on those roads, plus, data on speed limits on those roads and your preferences as to whether you pay tolls, drive on a freeway, etc.  A generation or two ago, the decisions would be made based on paper maps with no current information on conditions or traffic, except what you might glean as you get closer to broadcast radio traffic reports, or truckers reporting via CB radio (assuming you listen in).  Now, we don’t even think about it; we just open the app.

Big data is here to stay. As we become more and more dependent upon it in many aspects of our everyday lives, it will be less and less obvious and more integrated in what we do each day.


Creating our future “With Illinois”

Oct 18
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

On October 13, 2017, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign launched its most ambitious philanthropic campaign in our history: we will raise $2.25 billion by 2022 to help build the future of this university. As I witnessed the mesmerizing launch of the “With Illinois” campaign in the State Farm Center, my mentor, Dr. John Laughnan father of “super sweet corn,” flashed across the screen. It took my breath away to see the man who sparked my love for plant breeding being honored as one of the most influential contributors in the history of this campus. In that moment, I realized that everything I have accomplished in my career I have done “With Illinois.”

With Illinois validating my potential, I embarked on a journey towards understanding scientific discovery as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. With Illinois as my foundation, I embraced the opportunity to build an incredible wheat breeding program at Washington State University that still sets the standards of excellence for varieties grown in that region. With Illinois in my heart, I embraced the opportunity to return to my alma mater to lead the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) to the next level of excellence, knowing that the essence of extraordinary is alive and well here.

“With Illinois” we all are creating pathways toward living our best lives through the amazing discoveries that we make that transform lives, by inspiring the next generation to be the change they wish to see in the world, and by engaging to better our communities. As part of the “With Illinois” campaign, ACES aspires to raise $200 million to support transformative opportunities within every department and unit across the college. We will use these resources to develop leadership training, to support faculty endowments, to build cutting-edge infrastructure, and to create new programing designed to meet current and future talent needs in our industries. This is our moment to stand shoulder to shoulder with our alumni, donors, friends, and supporters to set the stage for manifesting a vibrant future for our college. 

We have outstanding examples to demonstrate that the College of ACES is investment-worthy: please visit http://aces.illinois.edu/impactful-gifts or click here for a printable PDF. With opportunity, we translate possibility into reality.

With Illinois, and your help, we will ensure a vibrant future for the College of ACES. Please join our ACES Advancement team and myself by embracing the opportunity to contribute time, energy, and/or resources towards making this campaign a success.


Work hard and do great things!

Oct 17
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

ABE Professor, Angela Green, shares her #ACESstory!

Work hard. Pursue your passions. Achieve great things. Follow the lead of Dr. Temple Grandin with respect to animal welfare and autism. The 2017 Inaugural Career Achievement Award from the College of ACES Alumni Association was presented to Dr. Grandin on September 9 at the ACES Connection Event.

I felt humbled to sit at table #1, which included Dr. Grandin, ACES Dean Kim Kidwell, Animal Science Interim Department Head Doug Parrett, and former University President Bob Easter. As the academic toddler at the table, I absolutely relished the opportunity to be amongst such greatness. With Dr. Grandin on one side and Dr. Easter on the other, I couldn’t help but pinch myself.

I was at the grown-up table! But I wondered if I had anything of significance to say, or if I should just smile and nod. Often.  

Before the formal program began, I greeted Dr. Grandin and congratulated her on her achievements. After a very brief exchange of pleasantries and a look at my nametag title “Co-Director of Animal Welfare and Environmental Systems Laboratory,” she asked about my work. In the way that only Dr. Grandin can, she immediately dove into the depths of aerial ammonia impacts on poultry. The conversation flowed from there.  

Chatting is not a word that adequately describes conversation with Dr. Grandin. Every topic was covered with intensity and focus, absent of any fluff or pleasantries. We talked about the current state of animal welfare science, commiserated over the challenges of funding much needed research, and lamented conflicts of interest becoming more pervasive in research. We connected about my daughter’s autism, and I received insightful perspective. I asked if she still teaches classes, and she said absolutely. She also still supports five graduate students. I asked her to reflect on the climate and challenges in animal welfare over the course of her career.

We talked about the recent eclipse, and Dr. Grandin said she was walking on campus after teaching her class and noticed lots of little crescents on the sidewalk beneath the trees as the leaves acted like a collection of pinhole cameras. She pulled out her phone and shared some photos that she took. She marveled that didn’t know that would happen, but more so that there were so few students experiencing the same level of observation and fascination. They were just walking right over it without even seeing it. She was shocked and perplexed.

That is reflective of her approach and influence in animal housing and handling, motivating animal managers to try to see their surroundings and observe the little details that an animal would notice. Dr. Grandin has pushed the conversation of animal welfare and opened the door for others, like myself, to realize opportunities for our own work. According to Dr. Grandin, she worked hard and that was the most important key to her success. So noted.

In her award acceptance, she reflected briefly on her time here at the university and how the influence of her advisor, Dr. Stan Curtis, extended into her professional career. In her final statement, she reflected on the students not paying attention to their surroundings during the eclipse. Her final statement concluded that, for a strong future, we need to solve the grand challenge of getting younger generations to put their phones down and get them back on the land and paying attention to their surroundings.

Well spoken, Dr. Grandin. And well done on a career with meaning and relevance and no signs of slowing down!


women standing, Temple Grandin and Professor Angela Green

The Agriculture in Agricultural Engineering

Oct 13
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

ABE Student, Alex Brockamp, shares his #ACESstory!

Fall is finally here and other than the usual football games, pumpkin spice lattes, and bonfires, it can only mean one thing: harvest season.  This annual, allergy-inducing event is the final step in the yearly cycle for farmers. Although it might be surprising to some, farming and engineering are very similar. 

Engineers and farmers are tied together more than you might think.  Who designed the combine that’s used to harvest the corn? An engineer.  Who helped create the perfect mix of insecticides and herbicides to help the farmer get the most out of their crop? A biological engineer.  Who is mapping the drainage patterns around a farmer’s field to see when and how much fertilizer should be applied? I think you see my point.

Engineers are very concerned with efficiency, and guess what? Farmers are too!  Farmers spend all of harvesting trying to find an efficient use of their time as they manage family conflicts, equipment breakdowns, and the weather. Is the field too wet?  Is my corn dry enough?  Do I have somewhere to put the corn when I get it out of the field?  Is the price of corn high enough for me to make a profit? Farmers are asking themselves these questions all the time to make the decisions that are right for them. 

These decisions echo my own choices I make on a daily basis.  Which assignment is due first? Have the lecture slides been posted yet? When are office hours? Engineers and farmers have to deal with things outside of their control on a daily basis.  And like engineers, a farmer’s success is based on how he or she reacts to these situations.

Farmers have to rely on teamwork to get the job done.  I’ve found that engineering is exactly the same way.  It may not be pretty, and you might get dirty, but eventually you find success.

I know that a lot of the students in Agricultural and Biological Engineering are not from a rural community, so I encourage you to go talk to a farmer!  See where our food comes from and the hard work that goes into producing it.  You might find that farmers are just as concerned with efficiency as we are.  Remember, farmers work out in all sorts of weather when we are sitting in a climate controlled classroom.  No farmers, no food.  

Post Career Fair Aftershock

Oct 12
Jean Drasgow, Director of ACES Career Services

It was an awesome two days of career fair and day after interviews last week. Many students are still feeling the effects of meeting employers and interviewing.

The ACES & Sciences Career Fair was on Thursday, Oct. 5 with more than 1300 students participating including freshman through graduate students. A vast array of employers attended including alumni and seasoned recruiters which makes the event feel like a “family reunion” of sorts. The day after interviews were robust. We had 52 interview schedules running which resulted in 242 unique interviewees and 350 total interviews held at the ARC. Many more interviews are scheduled in the upcoming weeks.

One sophomore told me that she was glad she attended last year because the previous experience made her less nervous. This year, she secured 5 interviews the next day and had two offers by Tuesday, Oct. 10. Because she has to accept or decline one offer before another company’s second round interview is scheduled, she’ll need to decide which one to accept and which one to let go. What a problem to have!

This year, I had a particularly good time at the fair seeing children of colleagues participate for the first time. A friend posted on Facebook the following conversation with her freshman daughter:

Me: How was the career fair?
Oldest: I didn’t realize it was so hard to get a job out here.
Me: Lol! You are just a freshman.

I replied to the friend that I was proud of her freshman daughter for attending the fair. Her response was:

“Me too! I didn’t go to a career fair until my senior year. You guys are doing a good job of getting your freshman involved.”

And that is the crux of it. In ACES we’re motivated to get freshman exposed to career development because career readiness doesn’t happen in a day. Thank you to all of the recruiters who chose to wear the Freshman Friendly badge to help our students grow. I would also like to thank all the many volunteers and staff that made the event a success.

Starr Gibson: My ACES Story

Oct 12
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Starr’Retiece Gibson, FSHN ‘18

When I was accepted into the U of I Research Apprentice Program as an East St. Louis high school student, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived to campus that summer. I assumed I’d learn a little about ACES, agriculture, and scientific experiments. Looking back, I learned so much more. I discovered how science and agriculture affect my world. RAP ignited a passion in my life to play a part in shaping and changing the world. I’m currently majoring in food science and human nutrition with plans to become a dietitian so I can help others identify and appreciate the value of a proper diet.

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Ed McMillan: My ACES Story

Oct 11
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Ed McMillan, B.S. ’69 Agricultural Science

In 1960, I attended a state 4-H livestock judging contest and rubbed shoulders with the judges—U of I Extension livestock specialists. Later, as a college freshman, I served on the Illinois 4-H Livestock Judging Team. I can’t begin to describe what a great learning experience this was for me. I learned about making choices in various species classes and defending my decisions with reasons—a powerful life skill. My U of I education opened so many doors in my life—to positions in marketing, strategic planning, business development, product research and business segment management, and eventually to becoming president of Purina Mills, Inc. Those career opportunities have allowed me to give back by serving on several boards, including the Board of Trustees for U of I. At Illinois, I learned from worldclass faculty, experienced horizon-expanding activities, and met agribusiness leaders who mentored me throughout my career—a career that I could never have imagined at that first livestock judging contest.

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Maria Cattai de Godoy: My ACES Story

Oct 10
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Maria Cattai de Godoy, M.S. ’07 Animal Sciences

In 2004, I left my home in Brazil to journey to the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois, where I could be at the hub of companion animal nutrition research. My adventure abroad started with a few challenges. Living away from my family in a new country with a very different climate and culture was not easy. However, the professional and personal experiences I had far surpassed any challenges I faced. A year later, I began my master’s degree program under the guidance of Dr. George Fahey and was exposed to a variety of research projects, took several courses from world-renowned researchers, and had access to unique cutting-edge technologies. I then completed my Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky before returning to join the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois in 2015 as an assistant professor. My experience has taught me to love what I do and work hard to be good at it. The odds may not always be in your favor, but don’t let them discourage you in following your dreams.

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Keep your options open

Oct 9
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

This week the beef cattle nutrition graduate students have been helping with ANSC 100 labs. ANSC 100 is a course all freshmen in Animal Sciences take their first semester on campus. Each week you learn a new area of study from a different professor within the department. You learn about genetics, poultry, reproduction, meat science, companion animals; the list goes on. This class is meant to showcase the numerous opportunities available to these animal-loving students who might not have any idea what other areas of study can be pursued in this field.

When I was a freshman I really had no idea what path I would take, and this class helped me get started. Each week I learned something new but one week, in particular, sparked my interest. During the “nutrition” week we got hands-on experience at the Stock Pavilion. We learned about the compartments of a cow’s stomach and learned about the microbes that allow ruminants to digest things we can’t. We calculated dry matter percentages and got to stick our hands in the fistulated steer. We also learned about all the different types of feeds we as nutritionists work with to formulate livestock rations. Some of these feeds seemed conventional and some we would typically consider to be waste. When you drink orange juice with no pulp, that pulp doesn’t magically disappear. A majority of it would sit in a landfill, but we can actually feed citrus pulp, in small amounts, to cows. All of these interesting facts led to my genuine interest in beef cattle nutrition. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined that in four years I would be teaching one of these sections.

Freshmen filled into the classroom to learn about silage and get a good whiff of butyric acid (the compound that makes spoiled silage smell “like dirty feet” as one student put it), but before they left I made sure to end my section with a personal message: Keep your options open!

I could have very easily gone into ANSC 100 with tunnel vision. “I like cats and dogs and that is what I am most familiar with so I should find a career path where I only work with those animals.” Someone has to work with the cute puppies… I get it, but someone also has to work with the cute slightly larger, smellier cows! In the end, we as animal scientists are in it for the same reasons. We’re concerned for the well-being of animals and humans, and the interaction between the two, whether we use our research to focus on companion animals or to produce food for the world, we’re making a positive and lasting impact.

By keeping your options open, you’re allowing yourself to be shaped by the new and exciting knowledge you encounter each day, which ultimately could lead to a career path you never thought possible.

Students taking notes about silage
ANSC 100 Students learn about the protein and energy components of livestock rations - and that the compound in spoiled silage (butyric acid) really doesn’t smell too great.