It all began with agriculture

Jun 14
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

As the University of Illinois brings its celebration of 150 years (since its founding in 1867) as a land-grant institution to an end, it is important to look back on why it all began. The University of Illinois was created out of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, defined as at least one college per state to support the learning of agriculture and the mechanical arts, but not excluding military tactics or classical studies for the industrial class ("Land-grant tradition," 1995).

A large misconception is that there was a high demand for agricultural education in the late 1800s, but when looking at the enrollment numbers in these particular programs, the supply was available long before the demand was apparent. This is reasonable because many in the agricultural industry learned by doing and typically did not go past the 8th grade in their education. The need for higher education, let alone a high school degree, was not a priority and allowed for such phrases as ‘educated idiot’ to become well-known because of the perceived disconnect between learning in the classroom to practice in the field.

The land grants were established out of an idea, not necessity. In 1890, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana had zero agricultural students enrolled in the agricultural related programs (Johnson, 1981). A student's major choice was much more conventional than expected at the land-grant colleges. They went to these schools in the beginning for a liberal education and then moved into common professions. The agricultural departments did not take off until 30 to 50 years after they were established, well into the early 1900’s. In fact, the head of the agricultural department at the University of Missouri was a botanist, whose focus was to make farms look attractive (Cain, 2013). While aesthetics are important, that is not commonly the number one priority of the agriculture industry.

The purpose or interpretation of the land grants over the course of time has changed, even within their first 30 years of existence. Senator Morrill goes on to describe that the land grants are not for every mechanic and farmer, but for those that are interested in continuing their education, not excluding the classics. Senator Morrill continues to refine his definition by saying the fundamental idea behind the land-grant was to offer an opportunity to all persons in a state a liberal and industrial education “to those much needing higher instruction for the world’s business for the industrial pursuits and professions of life” ("Land-grant tradition," 1995).

Overtime the University of Illinois expanded its colleges and degree programs to become more encompassing of more areas of study, from the agricultural sciences to the fine arts and beyond. The University of Illinois has made some wonderful findings over the last 150 years. Through all of the discovery and learning at the University of Illinois, it is important to remember that it all began with agriculture, an essential cornerstone of society.



Cain, T. (2013, February 21). lecture notes, Age of the university?.

Johnson, Eldon L. “Misconceptions about the Early Land Grant Colleges.” Journal of Higher Education 52, no. 4 (1981)

Land-grant tradition. (1995). National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges


An indelible mark in animal sciences

Jun 13
Rodney Johnson , Department of Animal Sciences

It is a thrill for me to announce the Keith W. and Sara M. Kelley Professorship of Immunophysiology.  The endowed professorship established by a generous gift from the Kelleys is the first to be housed in the Department of Animal Sciences and will recognize and reward a talented and accomplished faculty member conducting research in the area of immunophysiology.  This gift to the Department of Animal Sciences will encourage interdisciplinary activity.  

The Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois, to my best knowledge, is the only animal science department in the world to maintain a concentration of faculty doing research in the immunology space. The emergence of immunophysiology as a discipline within animal sciences traces back to 1984 when Dr. Kelley was hired by department head D. E. Becker.  At the time, the immune system was considered only to protect against infectious disease and there was little to no consideration for how it might engage with other physiological systems.  Dr. Kelley did not accept this notion and ultimately created an entirely new field that has helped us understand important issues concerning stress and disease resistance, immune regulation of growth, infection and changes in behavior, and chronic inflammation and the emergence of affective disorders like depression.   

This professorship is especially meaningful to me, because I earned my M.S. with Dr. Stanley E. Curtis in 1989 and my Ph.D. with Dr. Kelley in 1992.  Incidentally, Keith Kelley earned his Ph.D. with Dr. Curtis and it was the strength of Dr. Curtis’ recommendation (or more likely an arm twist) that landed me a place in the Kelley lab.  Thus, I have been a mentee and friend of Keith’s for nearly 30 years. Sara, who had a long successful tenure as Assistant Dean for Advancement in the College of Applied Health Sciences, certainly played a key role in this exemplary gift!  Her perspective on philanthropy and how it impacts students and faculty made this professorship possible. 

This endowed professorship will help the Department of Animal Sciences attract the best and brightest scholars. The Kelleys have created an indelible mark.

Memories to last a lifetime

May 21
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

 By Lucia Dunderman

The number of study abroad opportunities available to students in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the College of ACES is second to none! Over my college career, I have participated in four study abroad programs.

My first trip took place during the winter break of my freshman year. After a project-based engineering class in the fall, I had the opportunity to work on the project in another country. Our project focused on wildlife control, indoor air quality, and women empowerment with the Maasai tribe in Tanzania. The Maasai women worked with us to build chimneys in their huts and living fences around their villages. As a sign of gratitude, the Maasai tribe slaughtered a goat in front of us and cooked it. While it was the best meat I’ve ever had, I haven’t been able to look at a goat the same since! Getting to learn and work side-by-side, even though we didn’t speak the same language, with women from a very different culture was an extremely rewarding experience.

During my second program, I studied the effect of climate change on the Swedish Arctic region and environment during the summer of 2015. I spent three weeks at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm before traveling north to the Swedish Arctic for the remainder of the program. We studied glaciers at the Tarfala Research Station and visited various mining operations. The most shocking part of the trip was seeing multiple towns that were going to disappear due to collapsing mines. I fully witnessed the effects of the human impact on the environment and how we can affect our way of life.

The third program I participated in was during the summer of 2016 in Hangzhou, China. I worked with a post-graduate level research team at Zhejiang University, looking at the effects of non-point source pollution on drinking water quality. I traveled to many different areas of China, and often my Illini peers and I were the only internationals in the area. Getting to work with my research team bred lifelong friendships. They taught me Mandarin, aspects of Chinese culture, their hometown culture, and much about the surrounding environmental issues. I learned how my major can positively impact millions of people and how to work together with people from the other side of the world.

The last program was during the spring 2017 semester of my junior year. I was a student at University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. Living and studying abroad for a semester allowed me to experience what it was like to be a student at UCD. I traveled around Ireland and to many countries in Europe. The great thing about studying at UCD was meeting more than just American students. My group of friends ranged from from Austria, The Netherlands, Italy, Singapore, Germany, Norway, Spain, and many more. It made me appreciate not just my time in Ireland, but also my home and my home university.

Experiencing different cultures and countries in my college career has helped shape me not just as a person, but also academically and for my future career. I have been able to make lifelong relationships out of these programs and the perspective that I gained about the world is something that can’t be taught from a textbook. My international experiences have already shaped my post-college career; I will be the Continuous Improvement Specialist in the U.S. Virgin Islands for my first year rotation at Diageo. I would not be where I am today without my travels and the support from ACES study abroad, IPENG, and the Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering.

Life advice from Ron Swanson

May 17
Kelsey Litchfield, ACES Communications & Marketing

How has it been a year since I graduated college? It was a weird feeling to watch this year’s graduating class turn their tassels and become members of the alumni club. And this time of year always has me thinking—what’s next?

After I graduated, I did not go the traditional path of taking a new job and moving to a new city. I actually did the reverse – I moved back to my hometown and worked from there. But one thing has stayed with me from the moment I graduated until now. Nick Offerman was the 2017 commencement speaker (who notably played Ron Swanson on the television show Parks & Recreation) and he offered the biggest piece of advice which has stuck with me for the past year, and still remains true for our new graduates.    

Maintain the attitude of a student.

We go through the education system for a long time – elementary, junior high, and high school plus four years of college. That’s 17 years of schooling. All we know is the school system. But if there’s anything school (and Nick Offerman) has taught me is to keep learning, no matter the subject.

Seems a little cliché, right? You’re probably thinking….”Kelsey, I’m done with school. Learning is no longer in my vocabulary.”

I get it – you’re all done with your school work and your classes and now you’re off to the real world. But if you don’t continue to learn at your new job and your career, you won’t evolve and grow. There are people 30 years into their careers who still make mistakes, but also learn from them. This is how we get better. Nick Offerman also said in his speech if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not living.

And even if you haven’t graduated, this also applies to you. Whether you are starting an internship or taking summer classes, take the initiative to learn wherever you are.

From one recent graduate to another – if there’s anything you should take away from college, it’s this lesson: keep learning. You may not have a quiz on the material, but what you learn can be the foundation of your career and how you just might change the world.

You can watch Offerman’s full commencement speech here or a highlight video.

Using words to inspire science

May 15
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

Earlier this month, I attended the Fourth Annual Food Security Symposium, an event coordinated by our office. Presenters and attendees shared their visions for avoiding a world food crisis through plant breeding.

As a “word person” and not a scientist, some of the presentations were a bit technical for me, so not surprisingly the inspirational words are what stuck with me personally from the event.

Professor of Crop Sciences Jack Juvik shared this gem from Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president and agronomist:  

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture…”

The President of the Borlaug Training Foundation Fred Cholick shared a wonderful quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug:

“We cannot build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.”

And in the keynote address, an alumnus of the U of I, Dr. Robert Zeigler who spent much of his career at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said to future plant breeders:

“I commend you for being in agricultural sciences. We are still so early on in understanding the manipulation of our crops. You have so much to look forward to that I am jealous. One thing I will tell you about this line of work and having a career like the one I had at IRRI is that when you go to bed at night you will not worry about wasting your life.”

I for one didn’t expect this type of inspiration during a presentation titled “What it takes to access germplasm.”

In the audience were several students who are gaining education and experience here at the U of I – many of them presented posters of their work at the symposium – and no doubt they were inspired by these words as well as from all the groundbreaking scientific information they were exposed to at this event.

A more detailed summary of the symposium can be found here:
Dr. Robert Zeigler, an Illinois alumnus inspires future plant breeders at the recent food security symposium

Don’t be a stranger

May 10
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

It’s begun. All the goodbyes and transitions that inevitably take place every May are happening.

In our office, we are saying goodbye to interns, some for the summer, but others as they are graduating and moving on. I have congratulated grad students whose research work I have been fortunate to write about over the years and are now moving on to faculty or post doc positions elsewhere. It’s what we want as a college, for our students to move on, well-equipped, to do big and amazing things. But still, the goodbyes aren’t always the fun part.

And in my own family, I will watch my high school senior graduate next week. He is attending University of Illinois next year, so he won’t be too far away. But still, the sense of transition, of moving on, is felt everyday lately.

What I want to say to all of you who are moving on; don’t be a stranger. You will always be part of the ACES family.  Our Alumni Relations staff wants to keep connected with you over the years. And those of us in the communications department are always looking for great stories to tell about what our alumni are doing after they’ve left campus. So keep in touch! We can’t wait to see how you change the world.

Best wishes to all the ACES 2018 graduates!

A Common Thread

May 8
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Walking through the ACES Library, Information and Alumni Center, one can’t help but be drawn to a new feature in the Wright Family display case - a quilt featuring 12 portraits of the Allen Family. Eleven of those pictured attended the University of Illinois. The quilt was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the family’s arrival in Illinois in 1867, the same year the University of Illinois was founded. The Spring issue of ACES@Illinois includes a story sharing more about their Illinois roots and ties to the University of Illinois.

In 2014, the descendants of Corbly and Mary Melcena Wright provided a gift for a display case in the atrium in the ACES Library, Information, and Alumni Center. The case provides a venue to share historical memorabilia and keepsakes, while sharing the stories of ACES families. It was a true pleasure to help the Allen family tell theirs.

Dietetic internships, grad schools, and dietetics seniors: matched again!

May 7
Justine Karduck, Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics

Dietetics seniors from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition have done it again!  Nationally, an average of only 50% of dietetic students match with a dietetic internship, however, the UIUC class of 2018 achieved a match rate of 100%, meaning that every senior that applied for a dietetic internship or graduate school was matched with one or accepted. 

Graduating seniors will be spending the next 8-24 months completing their Dietetic Internships (DI) and master’s degrees.  The students have already completed their first steps to becoming Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) by completing the Didactic Program in Dietetics within the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at UIUC.  The DI is the second step in the process of becoming a RDN and requires a minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised practice in an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Internship.  Many DIs are combined with master’s degrees including degree programs in dietetics, nutritional sciences, exercise science, public health, or business administration. Upon completion of the DI, a student must then pass the comprehensive CDR RDN Exam, which is the final step to becoming a RDN. 

The DI matching process takes place biannually in April.  Students prepare extensive application materials including a list of preferred DI sites. After the students submit, the DI sites evaluate the applicants and rank them. A computerized program then matches applicants to internships so that both parties have a choice in the outcome. The first round of match results is then released to students, and they are allowed 24 hours to either accept or decline the offer to the DI to which they are matched. If students chose to decline, that spot is open for the second round of matching.

The UIUC matched seniors will be spread all across the United States from as far north as University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, to far south at the University of North Florida and as far east as New York University.  Congratulations class of 2018; best of luck to you in your future careers as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists.  You are one big step closer to becoming future RDNs, the true food and nutrition experts!

For more information about UIUC’s Didactic Program in Dietetics within the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, please visit:

Nature screens

May 4
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

When I’m stressed or need some perspective to solve a problem, I go outside. Well, theoretically that’s what I do. Too often, I forget about the healing power of nature and end up staring at a screen, which definitely doesn’t help. That’s because I spend most of my time online scrolling through social media, reading email, and staring at Netflix. But if I’d just cue up photos of my favorite nature scenes, researchers say, my stress levels would go down.

Because I know the end of the semester and the start of finals is a tough time for many, I thought I’d share some photos I snapped earlier today as I wandered through the Turner Hall greenhouses and the Conservatory in the Plant Sciences Annex.

Breathe. Enjoy. And then, if you have time, turn off your screen and go take a walk. You might just be ready for that exam by the time you get back.

Preventing unwanted salad surprises

May 2
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

by Matthew Niewiara

A few weeks ago, right before spring break, our senior design team, known as “Team Frog Fence” had the opportunity to travel to California.  Our task is quite unique: come up with a suggested fence design to keep frogs out of lettuce fields.  The team consists of myself, Lucia Dunderman, Noor Farahmandpour, and Brandon Spencer.  Our advisors are Dr. Paul Davidson, Dr. Michelle Green, and Dr. Jonathan Warner.  Additionally, Dr. Daniel Hughes is our team’s herpetologist, our resident expert on the Pacific Tree Frog, the species that is causing the problem.   

Designing a fence to keep frogs out of lettuce fields seems like a simple task at first. However, due to the Pacific Tree Frog’s agile climbing ability, the task is quite complex.  These frogs have been known to climb vertical (or even steeper) surfaces.  The presumed reason they end up in the lettuce fields is that it is an ideal habitat for them.  Once the frogs breed in any source of nearby water, the moist leafy greens provide a haven from the hot, sunny, and windy environment of the Salinas Valley.

One might not think that a tiny frog, about the size of a golf ball, could cause a severe problem on these huge ranches of spinach, lettuce, and other greens.  However, due to potential food safety risks, any foreign animal entering the field could cause contamination.  Moreover, most consumers aren’t too happy when they find a frog (dead or alive) inside their bag of pre-packaged greens.  Despite the free added protein, it’s not the most appetizing sight!

Our team definitely made the most of our short trip to California.  We met up with a knowledgeable group of leafy green stakeholders to discuss the problem and potential solutions.  We were able to visit various farms in the area to see first-hand where the fence might be installed.  This was an invaluable portion of the trip because we were able to get a much better sense of the scale of the problem.

Our team has just recently finished conducting materials tests in the ABE wind tunnel to test durability.  The Salinas Valley has extreme wind conditions that can easily rip apart some materials, so it’s essential that the material is durable.  We have been considering multiple aspects of the design including the size and asperity of the mesh, as well as top lip designs.  Because we currently do not have live frogs to test with, these design components will be suggested for experimentation in the future. 

Even though our team project is coming to a close, this study originated with Drs. Green and Davidson, and their grant has a total duration of two years.  Therefore further material testing, along with testing of other deterrent methods and live frog testing, will need to be conducted.  By the end of this project, our team will have played a critical role in the development of a novel method to keep frogs out of lettuce fields - and prevent unwanted salad surprises!

[Matthew Niewiara is a senior in Agricultural and Biological Engineering]