March Gladness

Apr 2
Jason Emmert, Assistant Dean, Academic Programs

OK, I know it’s April. But as I look back on March, it was quite a month. From a scheduling standpoint I guess you could say it was madness, but from my perspective it was March Gladness. Beginning with a leadership event in Washington, D.C., and including dozens of meetings with prospective and admitted students, presentations at admitted student events on and off campus, chatting with visiting students during Orange and Blue Days, the conclusion of the JBT scholarship interview process, and the selection of the winners for a couple of our top ACES awards for juniors and seniors (no, I’m not releasing the names of the winners yet!), March was an extraordinary month. But there are two events in particular about which I’d like to discuss more.

March is always ExplorACES month, and that is one of the most enjoyable events of the year. A full year of preparation goes into the event, and I’m fortunate to be one of the advisors who works with the student steering committee (did you know ExplorACES is a student-run event!?!). To see their hard work come to fruition in the form of an organized, highly attended event is very rewarding. As always, ExplorACES was visited by hundreds and hundreds of prospective students and their families who witnessed firsthand what our students experience every day: a close-knit, family atmosphere with a tremendous number of opportunities inside and outside the classroom. Thanks to all who helped with and attended ExplorACES – let’s do it again next year!

We also hosted a scholarship reception for College of ACES scholarship recipients and their donors. We cannot do enough to show our appreciation to our donors, and I know they enjoy the opportunity to visit with their recipients. As part of the event, Rod Stoll, Vice President of Public Relations for Farm Credit Services of Illinois and ACES alumnus, shared a wonderful message on behalf of the donors. He spoke about the establishment of scholarships being grounded in three P’s:  a specific purpose, a passion, and the intent to pay back. What a beautiful and inspiring message for all of us, regardless of our ability to finance a scholarship. We each are passionate about something, and from that passion can develop a purpose and an intent to pay back through sharing our time, knowledge, or other resources. I I’m blessed in my job to have the opportunity to do something I’m passionate about, and I hope you are as well. Best wishes for a wonderful spring!

ExplorACES 2013

Commitment to Innovation

Apr 1
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications
On March 11, Food Science and Human Nutrition students traveled north for Chicago Institute of Food Technologists Student Night. This year, students had the opportunity to tour the Griffith Laboratories to learn about their commitment to innovation, participate in resume building workshops and speed networking activities, and attend a dinner. During the dinner, attendees heard Griffith Laboratories’ own Chris Carr discuss “global trends and their impact today on innovation, responding to the needs of the market, and exploring our responsibilities aligned with global technical citizenship.” The students would like to thank the Chicago Section IFT and their affiliated companies and Griffith Laboratories for their planning of this event and continued support.

Alumni Make A Difference

Mar 21
Tina Veal, Director of Alumni Relations

The College of ACES Alumni Association will soon be honoring five outstanding alumni with the ACES Award of Merit recognition on April 15, 2013, which is the highest honor given by the alumni association. I continually am inspired by their stories and how they “give back” to their alma mater and beyond.

When you graduated from the University of Illinois, did you think about how you can “give back” to the college or university? Giving back can mean a number of things from volunteering to speak to a class, serving on an departmental advisory board, providing internships or job shadowing opportunities for students, serving on the ACES Alumni Board of Directors and yes of course, giving financially for scholarships or programs to benefit our  students.

Our ACES Award of Merit winners including Mr. Jim Fraley, Mr. Doug Hixon, Mrs. Lynette Marshall, Mrs. Tami Craig Schilling and Mr. David Shockey have all “given back” in some way. Whether it was to the College of ACES or University of Illinois or in their hometown areas they live in, they are leaders in their communities.

I hope you will join me as we recognize five outstanding alumni for their time, talent and treasure contributions as they continue to “give back” as graduates of the College of ACES at the University of Illinois! The ACES Award of Merit Luncheon will be held on Monday, April 15 from 11:30-1:30 p.m. at the I-Hotel. Reservations are being accepted online at through April 1.

Once an Illini, Always an Illini!

Paying it Forward

Mar 19
Marise Robbins-Forbes, ACES Director of Development, Crop Science and NRES

Never underestimate the power of a scholarship! I was reminded of this recently while attending the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA) Awards Night during which ACES alum Leo Kelly  humbly accepted the ILCA 2012 Man of the Year award. Leo (an ornamental horticulture alum ’80) richly deserves this award. Here on campus, we know Leo as a highly accomplished and well respected professional (owner of Kellygreen Design, Inc.), and a dedicated ACES volunteer—serving on the ACES Alumni Board and in a key role on the McFarland Carillon Garden team (among other projects). It was no surprise to learn that Leo has also has been an active, unflagging supporter of ILCA for decades (serving on the Education & Design Committees, and as ILCA President in 2000-2001). As Leo accepted his award we did learn something surprising—that Leo’s first connection with ILCA stemmed from a single horticulture scholarship awarded by ILCA during his senior year at University of Illinois, more than 30 years ago. 

“The work Leo does is second to none.  Everybody raves about the quality of his craftsmanship,” says ILCA Executive Director Scott Grams. “He puts that same amount of time and effort into his volunteer efforts, too.”

Blue Coats Invade Springfield

Mar 18
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development
Every year, the blue coats of Illinois FFA members swarm the Illinois State House in Springfield to drive home messages to our legislators about the importance of agriculture in this state. On Thursday, the FFA students delivered tangible reminders in a package of commodity food products and other items to each legislator and constitutional officer.  The new 98th General Assembly is the first to be elected following the 2011 redistricting, and there are many new faces in the House and in the Senate. The blue coats are the most visible symbol of the vitality of Illinois agriculture during the annual Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day, which brings together leaders from agricultural interest organizations across Illinois to highlight policy issues that are critical to the well-being of agriculture in the state and speak directly to lawmakers in Springfield. ACES very own Amelia Martens, senior in agricultural communications, is the reigning Miss Illinois County Fair from Rock Island County. Amelia eloquently addressed the gathering and represented county fair to senators and representatives at the Capitol. The common theme throughout the day was that the future is bright for the agricultural sector and that we need a new generation of educated agricultural professionals to lead us there.

Career Lessons from Dad’s Pecans

Mar 18
Jean Drasgow, Director of Career Services

In my kitchen cabinet is a jar labeled “Dad’s Pecans.”  The jar of pecans is not from a mass-produced operation rather, from my father’s hard work.  Nearing 90, my father’s days of baling hay and castrating pigs are behind him but his strong work ethic still persists.  He often says, “I can’t do what I used to but I can do this.” 

Over 20 years ago, my father planted a few pecan trees.  According to my dad, it takes 17 years for pecan trees to mature to bear fruit.  Two of the three trees are great producers so in late fall, my father picks pecans and spends the winter shelling the pecans.  His fingers, now stiff and swollen from arthritis strain to place each pecan in the nut cracker.  Then my father uses his remaining might to pound away on the cracker breaking the shell.  Once broken, Dad carefully removes the perfectly shaped nut with a pick and adds the nut to a jar to be later gifted to his children or friends.  If a nut is stubborn, it may splinter into smaller pieces.  The broken bits are placed in another jar—those are the ones he keeps for himself.

What lessons have I learned from my father?  I have learned too many lessons to include in a short post but from my dad’s pecans, I have learned,

1) It is wise to plant seeds for your future, even wiser to plant more than you need because some will not bear fruit.
2) Even if you have set backs or challenges, you can still contribute something of value to those around you.
3) Hard work isn’t easy (Hint: that is why it is called hard).
4) Always, give your best to others.

Be a game changer

Mar 14
Claire Benjamin, Senior in ACES

At the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture Conference on March 8, I interviewed many young women who aspired to agricultural careers. That’s when I heard it – agricultural communications. One student was considering a career in my chosen field. Half an hour later, after I described the classes, the people and the opportunities, I had sold her on our program here at the University of Illinois. She said this conversation made all the difference because it touched on many questions her guidance counselor couldn’t answer. All it took was a little conversation.

I don’t think we realize how much power we have to impact the lives of others in such simplistic ways. Because of that brief conversation, she may go on to find a university that suits her and an education that equips her for a bright career that she loves. I implore each and every one of you take the initiative to spark these conversations because you never know how far the impact of that discussion will reach.

ACES alums awarded for innovation

Mar 14
Kathryn Martensen, Assistant Dean and Director of Advising
Congratulations to ACES graduates Cassie Carroll (NRES, 2008), Anthony Santarelli (ACE, 2011), and Mara Eisenstein (NRES, 2011) and the continued success of their venture, the Illinois Green Business Association. IGBA won the Social Entrepreneurship Award at Champaign County’s annual Innovation Celebration ceremony last month. We’re proud of our creative, successful alumni as they continue their work truly making a difference in our community!

Seeing the problem

Mar 13
Walt Hurley, Professor of Animal Sciences

A while back, I had introduced an activity in the Lactation Biology class that took place at the Dairy Farm (2-7-13). During the following week, student groups continued their discussions and solved several additional mastitis case studies. They were challenged to develop their case solutions and address several specific tasks, including developing a description of each case, identifying the primary risk factors contributing to the problem, identifying the most likely type of mastitis and the most likely pathogen causing the problem, and making recommendations to fix the problem and prevent future problems.

To report their findings, we used a visual method I call a mosaic. Student groups draw pictures that represent their findings and conclusions. The pictures are posted around the classroom walls. Drawings from several groups for each case illustrate the collective vision of those students about the cases and their solutions to the cases. Students from each group then go to the wall and explain a part of their case solution to the rest of the class. At the end, I provide the original findings and final conclusions about the cases from Dr. Morin.

Such a report allows for a broader, more creative means of communicating the students’ findings and conclusions compared to a written report. The approach also provides an efficient means for each group to share their findings with the rest of the class. It allows me to respond to their visual report in a manner where all students can gain from my comments. And, it provides an environment conducive to creativity and fun.

Walt Hurley's Class

Learning by design

Mar 7
K.C. Ting, Head, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

On February 13 and 14, I participated in a review of industry-linked capstone design projects. The capstone design is a required course offered every spring semester for the B.S. degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) at Illinois. Most ABE seniors take it right before graduation in May. The course provides students practical learning experience in engineering design. Every team of five to six students works on a “real-world” project identified by a sponsoring organization.

This spring, the sponsors include an off-road equipment manufacturer, an agricultural chemical company, a waste water treatment plant, a grain postharvest loss research institute, and a non-governmental organization. The sponsors present challenging problems and the student teams respond with engineering solutions within approximately 15 weeks. The students are required to work as professional engineers and engineering project managers. They take systems approaches that integrate the knowledge and skills acquired from their previous courses to solve the problems. The deliverables are quantitative analyses, engineering designs, prototype evaluation, a high quality written report, and an oral presentation. Most projects have staff engineers from the sponsoring organizations acting as technical resource persons for the student teams. Many projects also have faculty members serving as their academic advisors. Steve Zahos is the instructor for the course and Dr. Alan Hansen is the faculty member overseeing the development of the course.

The purpose of the February review was to assess the progress of all nine projects. Every project team presented its analyses of the problem scope, alternative solutions, potential design concepts, and cost estimations. The design projects cover a wide range of engineering problems. Examples include devices for pollen sample screening, sensors for grain storage conditions, improved mechanical parts and operations for large agricultural machineries, and processes for water treatment. Several projects are working to improve the quality of life in developing countries.

It is always delightful for me to watch how our students creatively apply their knowledge to solve open-ended problems. The effective ways they connect their educational experience to “professional” practices are clearly demonstrated in their independent contributions and team work in conducting their projects. The capstone design provides an opportunity for students to use what they have learned and learn how to develop professionally. The course is truly designed to bring together the learning partnership of the students, teachers, and industry/business.