ACES Researchers Providing Options for Organic Corn Growers

Jan 22
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

As a former plant scientist, I understand how chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides work to enhance crop performance and yield, and I know that those chemicals are rigorously tested and strictly regulated to ensure consumer and environmental safety. But I’ll admit I still reach for organic products at the grocery store whenever I can.

Organic options are in demand across the board, and a common thread is corn. If you didn’t grow up on a farm or in a farming community, you might not realize just how many ways corn is used in our food supply. Aside from feeding livestock, it shows up on ingredient labels as corn starch, corn oil, corn meal, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and a host of ingredients the average person can’t pronounce. So to make organic versions of processed products such as tortilla chips, Cocoa Puffs, or almost any food you can think of (seriously, corn is in everything), manufacturers need a source of organic corn.

The problem is, not very many U.S. farmers grow organic corn. There just aren’t that many seed companies offering organic options. But a group of ACES scientists is testing a set of hybrids with potential for the organic sector in collaboration with farmers across the Midwest. They aren’t just interested in agronomic traits, either. They’re taking their promising lines all the way through the supply chain, working with the FSHN pilot plant to make sure their options hold up to processing and taste good.  

The project is only a year old, but it’s an exciting venture that could ultimately change both growing and buying options for organic lovers everywhere.

Read more about the project on the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service website.
man in a corn field with a shovel

Inspiring Students

Dec 20
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

In early December, our office had the great honor of hosting the Director General of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) Ruben G. Echeverría to present the 2018 ACES Distinguished International Lecture.

It was great to see so many students taking advantage of the opportunity to hear Dr. Echeverría speak about “Magical Realism…How to Achieve a Sustainable Food Future” because he was speaking directly to them.

If you missed the lecture, it is now posted for viewing.

Even with all the work that CIAT, the other research centers within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and many others all over the world are doing towards food security, he implied that a sustainable food future is only possible if the younger people in the room (and many more like them) decide to put their degrees to work “in the agricultural field to save humanity.”

He put a positive spin on this daunting task by saying that this next generation has so many more opportunities than his generation did and emphasizing the untapped potential of technology, which younger people love.   

Echeverría noted he initially joined a CGIAR center to do his thesis work but ended up staying on and that students should look at opportunities to use their degrees within these centers.

“No matter your field or topic of interest, we [CGIAR] have a center for you,” he said.

Learn more about CGIAR centers here.

Read the full article on Dr. Echeverría’s presentation.
Students watching a lecture
Illinois students and others listen to Dr. Echeverría talk about the untapped potential of technology to feed the world.

Telling the research story for ACES

Dec 19
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

As one of the writers on the marketing and communications team for the College of ACES, I get to learn new things about science every single day and then use a bit of creativity to explain it to the public. I don’t just want my writing to make sense and be scientifically accurate, although those things are key; I also want to write in a way that captures readers’ attention and describes how they can use the information in their lives.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes the research relates to a huge portion of the public, like Ming Kuo’s work on schoolyard greening, but often, I find myself tackling more esoteric stuff, like statistical tools used by bioinformaticians to improve genetic screening capabilities. Those stories may be inherently more interesting to fellow scientists, but I do my best to pull out bits and pieces that are relevant to the public. That’s my job, and I love the challenge.

With the vast array of scientific expertise in the college, I can guarantee I’ll never get bored. And I’ll keep trying, with every story, to keep you from getting bored, too. Want to follow along? Subscribe to ACES News at a Glance for a weekly delivery of all our stories, not only showcasing the breadth of science happening in our college but also how we writers meet the challenge of telling complex stories to the world. We’d love your feedback!
A laptop on a desk

Good-bye and best wishes!

Dec 18
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Seven years ago, Marise Robbins-Forbes joined the College of ACES Office of Advancement. On December 21, she will retire and the impacts of her contributions to the college will continue for decades.

During Marise’s first week on the job, she was tasked with fundraising for the Turner Hall transformation. Collaborating with departmental and college colleagues, Marise secured numerous private gifts for this much-needed renovation. Initial fundraising success and securing campus resources allowed this project to expand far beyond the original vision. The renovation culminated earlier this year and it is certain that Marise’s expertise enabled its success. If you haven’t been in Turner Hall recently, take a look at this video tour of the ACES Facilities Open House, which included Turner Hall.

Marise’s accomplishments also include securing the largest gift ever made to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, an endowment in support of work related to sustainable agriculture. She has also secured funding for updates to the Stock Pavilion and University of Illinois Arboretum, and numerous gifts in support of scholarships, fellowships, and endowed programs.

Marise will be missed in the College of ACES. We wish her well as she assumes a new role at Virginia Tech University.

Marise Robbins Forbes with Jo Downey, donor of the Sesquicentennial Garden
Marise Robbins Forbes (right) with Jo Downey, donor of the Sesquicentennial Garden located at the U of I Arboretum

"Comfort is overrated"

Dec 17
Maggie Sweppy, Senior in Agricultural Education

For most of us, standing at the edge of a precipice is downright scary. There’s no other way to put it. Peering over the edge of a cliff, right into the eye of uncertainty, is not at all comfortable, but Luvvie Ajayi is right, “comfort is overrated.”

I did my fair share of being comfortable - currently typing this while wrapped up in a blanket with Family Feud playing on the T.V. (so I obviously still have a rather strong attachment to the feeling of comfort). And while there is certainly nothing wrong with comfort and security, it often comes at a cost – opportunity loss.

This past summer, I decided to break from the norm and took an impromptu trip out west with my sister. To seasoned travelers, this may seem like no big deal, but to me, it was quite the adventure. I was privileged to earn the money to make this happen, but it took more than funds to turn this idea into action. It took some risks.

We’ve all heard it before, “risk equals reward.” But don’t get me wrong, sometimes risk equals failure. Sometimes it equals embarrassment and sometimes it equals set-backs. But it always equals movement. And nothing extraordinary happens while standing still.

On our trip, my sister and I may have squabbled a time or two and certainly experienced a few mishaps, but we also got to see breathtaking views, visit with family, and make life-long friendships with strangers from across the world.

As a senior considering grad school, many choices lie ahead of me, some safe and some scary. And while I’m not sure what I’ll choose, I know that to grow, I’ve got to embrace change. And so do you.

Now, I want to be clear, I’m not proposing that we chase after all things scary. As a child, I was scared by the movie Jaws, so if one of my choices happens to involve scuba-diving in shark-infested waters, I’m probably going to skirt. But if the risk you are scared to take is rooted in the fear that you just can’t do it, I promise you that you can. And even if a door does close (or slam) in your face, that just means another door is waiting to be opened.

Embracing all of this is a work in progress. I’m still working on Luvvie’s mantra of getting “comfortable being uncomfortable.” But I’m sure taking more chances than I used to. And yes it has led me to a few stumbles, but it’s also guided me to the most truly rewarding experiences of my life.

Take not just one chance, but many “chances.” Take risks. Takes leaps. Whatever you do – don’t stand still.

Looking to Lead

Dec 13
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

By J.C. Campbell, sophomore in TSM

“Who wants to make a tackle? Who wants to make a play? Who wants to be a leader?” I can still hear my high school football coach yelling these questions at the 40 men who had their helmets off and were taking a knee during halftime. I can still smell the grass and the hot dogs, and I remember – no matter what the score was – how our coach was able to bring our team together with each halftime speech.

With football season in full swing I have been reflecting on the time I spent wearing that black United helmet. As much fun as I had playing football, I was able to learn so much more than just plays and footwork. That football team was the first team I had ever been a part of. It was where I learned what it means to step up, why it’s important to hold yourself accountable, and how each individual must do their job in order to have group success. These are the things I love. They shaped my life and my systems of belief.

I hated walking away from football to pursue other interests, but I’m glad I did. I began investing my time in agriculture and began to seek out other ways to lead. This involved doubling down on my involvement in FFA, and I eventually had the opportunity to become a part of another team, a State FFA Officer Team.

When I came to college one of my greatest concerns was missing out on using the skills I had been working on for the majority of my high school career. However, I quickly learned that the traits of stepping up, holding myself accountable, and understanding everyone has a job to do, have never been more relevant in my life.

Stepping up is a skill one quickly learns in college. Taking on responsibilities leads to more and more opportunities. For example, a decision to attend an informational meeting and being selected as an ABE Ambassador allowed me the chance to speak with a Fortune 500 company and the chance to interview. Being willing to take the lead in a group project scenario resulted in friendships being forged and connections that provided me with a network in my future career field.

A key component to survival in college is remaining accountable to yourself. Within the department people ensure you are fully prepared to embrace this all-important skill. There are several processes in place that help students develop a level of self-sufficiency, and there are plenty of opportunities to receive any help a student might need. For me, developing this skill involves setting up study groups for my classes. It is a great way hold myself and others accountable and it can make studying a lot more fun.

An all-important component of being a part of a team is understanding if you fail, the team fails. Within the classroom this can be seen in laboratory activities. When your group is counting on you to do your best. you had better deliver. Whether it is constructing a truss, mixing concrete, or surveying the South Quad, groups of students strengthen each other’s skills all the while practicing the very trait that sets them apart from the competition. Being instructed in an environment that doesn’t just reward individual effort, but requires it, prepares students for more than just an average career.

Leadership is a process. It is something that must be continually tweaked and exercised. College is where students learn who they are and who they are going to be. ABE takes strides to ensure students are stepping up, holding themselves accountable, and making sure they do their job. Employers are looking to hire leaders and ABE students are looking to lead.

Collage of John Campbell at a networking event, in his FFA jacket, and a football

How many doors can you open?

Nov 28
Maggie Sweppy, Senior in Agricultural Education

You’ve heard it 1,000 times already, but I’m going to say it again. The opportunities available to you on this campus and within the college of ACES are limitless. There are over 1,600 organizations to be a part of, but for me, there was one that stood apart from the rest.

Being a part of the livestock judging team opened doors for me that I didn’t even know were closed.

Getting to travel the country to compete at national contests provided an outlet for my competitive nature, but livestock judging never felt like a “cut-throat” environment. Yes, everyone competed to win, but there is an undeniable spirit of camaraderie within the livestock judging community. The relationships I have formed with fellow collegiate judgers will be life-long friendships and if not for livestock judging, I would never have met many of them. The livestock breeders, coaches, and other people connected to collegiate livestock judging that I had the pleasure of meeting are now valuable connections who have respect for the commitment livestock judging requires and the skills it teaches.

During my time on the livestock judging team, I not only strengthened my ability to evaluate livestock, but I also gained invaluable time-management, public speaking, decision making, stress management, and communication skills. These competencies will prove beneficial throughout my professional career. And while I feel that livestock judging is truly unparalleled in the development it provides to young people and cannot understate the impact it had on my life, livestock judging does not have a monopoly on the development of real-world skills.

Despite my unwavering support of the experience that gave me so much, I am not writing to recruit for the livestock judging team (although who am I kidding, go ahead and join.) However, I do want to encourage anyone reading to go find YOUR “livestock judging team” whatever organization, club, or team that may be for YOU. There is not going to be another time in your life when opportunities are so readily available.

My collegiate livestock judging career was the most meaningful experience of my life and has prepared me for success, so to the college of ACES, and all who made such an experience possible, thank you.

It's waiting just a bit farther up the road

Nov 26
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

I’ve been to a lot of county fairgrounds over the years, but had never been to the Lawrence County grounds. Scheduled to judge, I called the Extension office to get directions. I scribbled some notes and headed north. I turned west as the directions indicated when I realized my notes were a little fuzzy about just how far I was supposed to go. Surely I can't miss a fairgrounds, I thought, so I kept going. . . and going . . . and going, until I thought apparently you can miss a fairgrounds, so I turned around.

I watched both sides of the road, certain I would find a fairgrounds this time, and had faith until I drove all the way back into Lawrenceville.

I turned around again. And, again I started off and went as far as I thought I needed to go and stopped. With no fairgrounds in sight, I called a coworker who gave me directions. Armed with knowledge, I returned to the path until I got to the point where my coworker said "if you get to here, you've gone too far." Somehow, I had missed it again.

Late beyond repair, I stopped at a house where a man was mowing his yard, and I asked for directions.

"You have to keep going," he said. "You've stopped too soon. The fairgrounds is farther down the road."

It was then I realized that the directions from my coworker were from HER house. I was coming from the opposite direction, so what was "too far" for her was only the beginning for me.

I had to keep going.

I stopped too soon.

How often do we do that? Stop too soon. Fail to take one more step. Fail to do the one last thing that will put us where we need to be. Fail to plot our course. We misinterpret signs and take the advice of friends who aren't where we are and aren't who we are, and we miss the place where we're supposed to be.

I got back in the car and drove, and then drove more, past the point where I had stopped before, and there, just a little bit farther down the road, was the fairgrounds. It was there all the time just waiting for me to find it, claim it, enjoy it.

What is waiting for you, just a bit farther down the road?

Building 'Mile-long' Bridges in ACES

Nov 20
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

Remember George Bailey—rather the young George Bailey—in the beloved holiday movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life?” He thought he had life all figured out. The sky was the limit for him. George Bailey “lassos the moon” and all!

Remember this great line: “I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long...”

If you know the movie well, you know that his life didn’t really turn out that way. It’s a sentimental movie about appreciating the life, family, and friends you have. But I especially like the takeaway of finding meaning in what you do and what you have in life, and discovering what really matters most to you.

Like young George Bailey, we have lots of young people who come to the University of Illinois with great big dreams to kick the dust of the towns they come from off their feet and build their own “mile-long bridges.” The good news is they have endless opportunities in the College of ACES to make those dreams come true. Hands-on learning opportunities, adventurous study abroad experiences, access to world-class research facilities, etc., all waiting for them when they arrive.

But there’s even more good news. When some of those students discover that the dreams they were chasing aren’t really what they wanted after all, ACES has resources to help them find a new direction. There are academic advisors and staff in the ACES Career Services office waiting to help students find the right path. I have met several ACES alumni, who started in one major, but discovered another field of study in ACES that excited them even more and led to rewarding careers.

Like George Bailey in the movie, it’s never too late to figure it out.

Whether you’re a student, the parent of a student, or a friend of the college, here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season of finding happiness and what matters most to you in life. 

What difference will you make?

Nov 19
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Giving Tuesday is just around the corner, as we slide head-on in to the holiday season! Inboxes and the more traditional snail-mailboxes will fill with financial appeals from many different organizations and causes. All these requests for gifts may cause one to ask, “What difference will my gift make?”

This question is particularly common when someone is being asked to support a general or unrestricted fund, one that could be used for any purpose within an organization. But, those gifts, collectively are making a large impact! Last year, more than 1,000 donors contributed nearly $300,000 to the College of ACES Annual Fund. This collaborative effort of generous donors provides for student experiential learning and professional development opportunities, supports alumni and external relations, and helps meet the essential needs of the college.

There are similar funds to support in each of the individual departments, divisions, and programs in the college. These funds are often used to ensure we continue to fulfill the land-grant mission of learning, research, and outreach. They provide for the replacement or unexpected repair of lab or teaching equipment. They cover student attendance at a professional meeting or are used to bring a speaker to campus.

Gifts to the College of ACES Annual Fund, and others like it, allow leadership to respond to the changing needs of researchers, students, and communities across the state.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we extend gratitude to all those who have supported the college with their time, talents, and gifts throughout the last year. As Giving Tuesday approaches, consider what your part can be in the collective impact of donors and friends to the College of ACES.
grateful written in artistic text