First visit to campus

May 25
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

Do you remember your first visit to campus? Sure you do. There’s something about walking on the quad for the first time that stays with a person.

Illinois 4-H wants to be that ‘first look at campus’ for Illinois young people, and we do it through our Illini Summer Academies. This year we set a new record … 310 kids in 16 different academies of study. We’re just about evenly split between incoming high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

They arrive June 26, and we need your help showing off U of I for four days. We need tour guides on June 26 and 29. We need overnight chaperones (financial compensation available) from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday.

During the day, you’re free to be on your own or attend any of these 16 academies: Aerospace Engineering, Ag Mechanization, Animal Science, Anthropology, Astrobiology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Creative Writing, Digital Fabrication and Informatics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Entomology, Human Development & Family Studies, Molecular & Cellular Biology, Plant Science & Ag Business, and Vet Med.

Be the person who gives these students their first look at the campus you love so much.

The Quad at Illinois

Dedicating the Agricultural Education and Leadership Learning Space

May 9
Debra Korte, Teaching Associate, Agricultural Education
Recently, the Agricultural Education Program was honored to welcome Linda Tank, Senior Vice President, CHS Communications and Public Affairs, to the dedication ceremony of the Agricultural Education and Leadership Learning Space. Because of the generous donation from the CHS Foundation, Inc., the Agricultural Education Program classroom transitioned from “out-of-date” to “state-of-the-art”. Students no longer use a VCR and overhead projector for workshops and demonstrations; instead, they utilize touchscreen technology on large, high definition televisions to navigate websites, watch instructional videos, or display presentations.

Perhaps most importantly, the new learning space allows our online graduate students to feel more engaged in the classroom environment. The technology provides an enriched learning experience for both the on-campus graduate students (present in the classroom) and online students (joining via online software and webcams). Moreover, the new technology allows students from around the world to join classes and interact with other students.

Aside from the classroom experience, students use the learning space to engage with industry professionals in networking opportunities, collaborate with agriculture partners, and develop their skills for utilizing a variety of technologies in traditional and non-traditional education settings.

Thanks to the CHS Foundation, the Agricultural Education Program has a learning environment that is welcoming for future students and upholds the standards of excellence set forth by the University of Illinois as a leader in research and education. Regardless of their specific career paths, students who use this learning space will be leaders in their communities and the agriculture industry.

Many thanks to the CHS Foundation for their significant contributions to the agriculture industry, the agricultural education profession, and the University of Illinois.
Ag Ed Classroom

Tell the world you’re 4-H proud

May 2
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

The national #4HGrowsHere campaign is reminding the world that 4-H is alive and growing in this country. Many 4-H alums lose contact with their 4-H roots when they start new careers and move to new areas. The campaign is intended to find those former members and spread the word that 4-H is thriving in every community, from rural farms to urban cities.

Illinois made a concentrated effort to expand our 4-H programs to metro areas several years ago. At the time, some worried that we would lose our strong agricultural foundation for 4-H. I hope by now we’ve proved that more means better for everyone.

Illinois 4-H’s efforts in metro areas have allowed us to tell the important agricultural story to a whole new audience who is far removed from where their food is grown. And, those urban supporters have helped strengthened the base of programming for our traditional audiences too, bringing science and technology programs to the new generation of rural American innovators and engineers.

Everyone wins when we grow 4-H. Who can’t get excited about thousands of kids finding out about 4-H for the first time! Remember your first blue ribbon? Don’t you want that same excitement for every kid? (I see your head nodding.)

“Sows, cows and plows” are still important to 4-H because agriculture will always be important to our growing world, and so is robotics, engineering, computers, and videography. It’s not an “either-or” situation. It’s never been “either-or” in 4-H. 4-H has always been where everyone can find their own path to success. Join us in spreading the word. Register your 4-H membership online @

More than 450 youth from 65 teams were on campus April 23 for the state 4-H Robotics Competition. Robotics is the fastest growing 4-H project in the state. Many U of I students served as judges for the contest.


Opportunities to thrive

Apr 28
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

The education one gains in the classrooms of the College of ACES is top-notch However, it’s coupling that classroom instruction with experiences outside the classroom that prepare ACES students to truly thrive after graduation.

Last month during Explore ACES, several panelists shared their perspectives on how taking advantage of individualized advising, experiential learning, and professional development opportunities can best position students for exciting and dynamic careers in food and agriculture. Tom Frey, professor emeritus of agricultural and consumer economics (ACE), and alumnus Dave Shockey were members of the panel that encouraged potential Department of ACE students to choose ACES for the value of education both in-and-outside of the classroom.

Individualized advising
“Students appreciate a trusting and sharing relationship, focused on someone listening to them,” Frey said. When Frey served as an advisor, he encouraged students to identify their goals, and then choose courses to accomplish those goals. It is important for advisors to help students get excited about job and career options, and guide them toward opportunities to explore their interests, he explained. This approach requires advisors specially trained and dedicated to providing one-on-one advising.

Experiential learning
As a student, Shockey was involved in organizing spring break trips to the financial center in New York and Washington, D.C. “There is a world out there that can impact your perspective,” he said. “The college was giving an education beyond the classroom.” Frey added that the prestige of the University of Illinois often opens doors to allow students experiences that would otherwise not be available.

Professional development
“Student clubs provide students a chance to meet and interact with individuals from the real world, often recent graduates who are especially understanding of their challenges of bridging the gap from college to career, “ Frey noted. Students also build leadership skills and learn from guest speakers on campus.

Individualized advising, experiential learning and professional development opportunities require financial support. The Department of ACE Student Advising and Enrichment (SAEC) fund supports these four purposes to distinguish ACE as a leader in student service. Additionally, those who benefitted from Frey’s guidance, along with Frey and his wife Bev, have formed the Tom Frey fund, which furthers the SAEC. To learn more about supporting the ACE Student Advising and Enrichment Center or Tom Frey fund, visit

Panel in ACE

The Ripple Effect

Apr 18
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

In the pond of life, we don’t always realize the long-term ripple effects of what we might see as a simple, small gesture. In fact, it may be years before we see the actual impact on someone else or realize someone dropped a stone in our personal pond that made all the difference. 

Earlier this week, the College of ACES Alumni Association honored four outstanding alumni with the Award of Merit. During the awards luncheon they each shared comments about their achievements, personal perspectives, and those who impacted them. 

Although Donna Greene, Robert Gustafson, Scott McAdam and James Shearl all come from varied backgrounds, I noticed a commonality as they spoke. They each noted a particular person or event that they still credit with influencing their success. For one, it dated back to attending a presentation by Roscoe Pershing to high school students about agricultural engineering. Another noted Warren Wessels’ strong advice to change majors. (Side note – I think many credit Warren Wessels with dropping a stone in their pond!) A graduate school scholarship, made possible from the gift of a farm to the University of Illinois, was a critical opportunity for one individual. Finally, an instructor, Mildred Briggs, was mentioned by one other. 

At what is sometimes considered a big University, it’s the pebbles that are dropped in ponds that start the ripples of success for College of ACES graduates. What ripple will you start today? Will you reach out to a fellow student with an opportunity to lead a registered student organization? Will you open a research project to an undergraduate student? Will you give a gift that will provide a scholarship or other funding for many years to come? Or will you find your own special way of creating a ripple that can change lives?

A heart for helping

Apr 13
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences junior

Making money makes some people happy (and money buys pizza, which makes us all happy). Climbing the corporate ladder and getting to the top makes other people happy. Making a name for yourself can be a source of happiness and these are all fine motives, but the College of ACES family tends to go a different route.

I don’t know exactly what I want to be when I grow up. I like too many subjects and have so many interests. I try to do all things to the best of my abilities to make professors and employers happy, so much so that I convince myself that I enjoy those things, even when I sometimes don’t. This has made it tough for me to nail down a specific path to that “dream job.” It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that it’s ok not to know that path and it’s ok not to know your “dream job.” What’s important is knowing the things that make you happy and then pursuing those things.

I’ve noticed that the faculty, staff, and students in the College of ACES have a heart for helping. Helping makes us happy. There’s a sense of selflessness dispersed throughout each major in this college, and I was reminded of that this past Monday night at the College of ACES and Paul A. Funk Recognition Awards. (I was also reminded of how much I enjoy food wrapped in bacon, but that’s just a side note.) Whether we’re traveling abroad to help developing countries grow food more efficiently or coming up with solutions to keep our water sources clean or guiding students like me during our time here and beyond, we’re all finding ways to shrink ourselves and increase others.

I’m humbled to be a part of a college that uses research and outreach and teaching to make a difference in this world. Sometimes you feel like just a number here, especially when you get lost, and you’re not sure where your path is, but I’ve realized that it’s less important to stand out, and it’s more important to help out. It’s ok not to know what you want to do, but I encourage you to find the things that make you happy, and if you have a heart for helping then you’re in the right place.

Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons

Apr 7
Nicole Chance, Sophomore in Agricultural Communications

Grain merchandising isn’t exactly what I have always wanted to do. But after I heard about the Scoular job shadow, I knew that grain merchandising was something that I definitely was interested in learning more about. I love to write. There is nothing that I enjoy more than having the ability to share or tell a story through words. But I also know that I cannot tell a good story if I am not well educated about the industry I want to represent. The Scoular job shadow provided me with this opportunity.

Boarding a private plane to fly to Overland Park, Missouri, was a bit intimidating at first. It was nice to know there were people on the plane with me who seemed to feel the same way at first. After our landing, we drove to the hotel and then to dinner where we met with Scoular employees to talk about what having a career at Scoular is like. It’s interesting to learn about the different dynamics of grain companies. Scoular has three corporate offices located in Minneapolis, Omaha, and Overland Park with approximately 1,200 employees. Compared to Cargill or ADM, this is a smaller company, but it was so neat to hear people say they knew the CEO or the Vice President of their company on a first-name basis.

The next day we had the opportunity to visit the corporate office at Overland Park, as well as tour an elevator in Adriane, Missouri. We shadowed merchandisers to learn how they handle buying and selling grain via rail, freight, etc.  It was interesting to see how they must solve problems and communicate with customers on a daily basis. For instance, they may have to deal with a load of grain getting rejected at an elevator or a late or early arrival of a rail car. Problem-solving skills are necessary in this profession as problems must be handled quickly and properly.

This experience taught me more than just how to buy and sell grain. It taught me about the diversity and the complexity of the agriculture industry. There are both smaller and larger businesses contributing to the production, processing, and the distribution of what is grown across the globe on a daily basis. Having the ability to see what one part of such a vast and complex industry does really teaches you a lot.

Don’t be afraid of the ability to step out of your comfort zone and learn something new. You may not have the same amount of experience that others ahead of you do, but don’t hesitate to ask questions to get it right. Experience and communication is key in a complex industry like agriculture, and gaining a deeper understanding for what you want to talk about is beneficial to you and the industry you represent.


How to get a great letter of recommendation

Apr 1
Theresa Miller, Academic Advisor, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics

I get asked to write a LOT of letters of recommendation. A LOT. As I write letters of recommendation I’d like to suggest some items for thought before you, as a high school or college student, ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation:

-Be sure to inform the letter writer exactly what this scholarship is for, and what qualifications they are seeking in their candidate. Do not just copy the website in, but go the extra mile to write one to two sentences that highlight the purpose of the scholarship or award you are seeking.

-Be very clear about your career goals, major in college and college choice to the recommender. If you’re not sure what you want to do, write down something to them anyway that reflects generally your direction. Scholarship app readers and recommendation writers want to see a goal oriented person with a purpose in life. That goal may change over time and that’s okay, but a career direction saying that you don’t know what you want to do in life doesn’t speak well to someone who you are asking to invest in you.

-Remind the writer of how you know them, and any special anecdotes about your relationship. “I was the person that created a fundraiser for the local food bank with your help and I was so glad to get to know you better through that process.”

-Think about the best person to write each letter, not just two or three people to write all your letters. This is an undue burden on the recommender, and doesn’t do you any favors either. I am much better suited to some industry letters of recommendation than others, and to evaluate certain traits than others (for example if I didn’t have a student in my class, and the scholarship wants letters to speak to their academic ability, then I’m not the right writer. This IS going to put a burden on YOU to go above and beyond and think about each application and the best person for that application specifically.

-Be sure you are asking someone to write you a letter that will give you a great recommendation. So that means going the extra mile to get to know your teachers, advisors, and others in circumstances other than the norm. Just sitting in a class, and never engaging with the teacher is not going to create a relationship or impress anything on that person that will create a great letter.

-Give TIME allocated for each letter to be written and submitted. Trust me, even though you don’t think it will take long for multiple letters to be sent, they do. Better letters are personalized to the scholarship, and each scholarship in this electronic submission world we live in has its own system that I must use to log in, answer questions, and then submit using their specific requirements. This takes time, so please respect that.

A letter of recommendation is a privilege, not a right.  It should be a reflection and extension of your resume or application, not a regurgitation of it. Making those kinds of letters happen is a result of what you do during high school or college to make you different. Be sure to engage with different people, employers, teachers and others during high school and college that will help you have those types of people that will write you GREAT letters, not lukewarm ones. The worst for me is to receive an email request for a letter of recommendation from someone I can’t bring to mind right away. That’s not going to be a great letter from me, and that’s a disservice to the student.

Happy scholarship season!

typing a letter

It's time

Mar 31
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Guest blog from Caitlin McClure, Junior in Agricultural Communications

It’s time again, ACES! It’s time for what?
Now on its third year, the annual I Pay It Forward (PIF) campaign is back, and aiming to be better than before. The PIF campaign embodies the phrase “students helping students”. Each April, the Student Advancement Committee leads a massive fundraiser to create scholarships for students who may not be able to stay at the university for financial reasons. In 2015, twenty $1,000 scholarships were distributed to College of ACES students.

Okay, cool. But why should I donate?
It’s easy to say donate because it’s the right thing to do, or maybe because it makes you feel like a good person. However, unlike other fundraisers, PIF is about so much more than you donating to a cause you’ll never see actual returns from. Students affected by this scholarship aren’t just a face you might pass on the quad. These are our friends and fellow ACES family. The return from your donation is immediate, and makes a visible difference in the college. With the funding of MAP grants still up in the air, these scholarships are more important than ever!

Get excited!
Not only is Pay It Forward for a good cause, it’s a blast, too! There will be events hosted all month long that give you a chance to get more out of the campaign than just a sense of pride.

Pay It Forward kicks off tonight, March 31, at 5:30 PM in the Stock Pavilion. Come join us for dinner and a celebration of students helping students. Plus, we will be introducing you to a few thankful scholarship recipients.

Later this month, SAC will be hosting a volleyball tournament. Sigma Alpha and 4-H House will be hosting their annual date auction, Save the Date, and SAC will be visiting classrooms and RSO meetings.

How do I donate if I don’t go to an event?
Donate here:

How do I find out about events or what’s going on with the campaign?
Like us on Facebook here:

It’s time to step up, ACES. As College of ACES students, we are the best of the best. I truly believe we’re the most elite students at the university, not just because we’re smart and accomplished, but because we care. We truly understand the meaning of teamwork and friendship. So get excited ACES, it’s time to once again, show the world who we are.

I Pay It Forward crew

Women Celebrating their Face in Agriculture

Mar 24
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to attend the “Women Changing the Face of Agriculture” conference held at Illinois State University. It was amazing to see so many high school girls interested in learning about the many different careers and organizations related to agriculture. On my way home, I began to think about my personal perception of the Face of Ag. If you asked me 15 years ago what does ag look like to me, I’d say it would be my father working in the fields while my mom manages and balances the books. NOW (after being exposed to many opportunities and people- I’m old!) I’d say it is Kathy Novotney working hard to support ag instructors across the state-- Dr. Christine Cord teaching meat and food science in the college classroom-- Jean Drasgow connecting students to careers in agriculture -- Ellen Gregg helping farm families achieve their financial goals (shameless plug to the mother-in-law!). Heck, I would even say it is Diana Gray who was inspired to become an obstetrician by assisting in the birth of a calf when she was little. This is just a minuscule sample of my perception of ag today. So while the Face of Agriculture is ever changing, I believe another great name for the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture conference would be “Women Celebrating their Face in Agriculture.”

Women in Ag Facts