Rolling with the Punches

Oct 29
Maggie Sweppy, Senior in Agricultural Education

Let me tell you about my weekend. After competing at a livestock judging contest, (which is an exhausting process, but we’ll talk about that in a later blog post) I stayed the night with my friend who lived in the area. She showed me around her college town and we had a great time. I had homework due the next day, and LOTS of laundry to do, so we planned on leaving early to get back to Illinois on time.

The first sign that this was going to be a challenging day was when her car didn’t start and we had to jump it. No big deal. We were a little behind but got on the road soon enough. Then about 15 minutes into our 2-hour trip, we heard a weird noise and, after sharing a concerned glance when the noise intensified ̶ much louder and much more alarming ̶ we pulled over to find a flat tire. Despite that fact that neither of us has ever changed a tire (I know I know it’s a life skill we need to learn) we were confident we could handle this. We unloaded the spare doughnut tire out of the truck only to discover that the jack was not there. So we had to call her brother. When he arrived, the parts he brought didn’t work, so we had to ride back with him to get the right ones. Finally we got back to her car ̶ with the right parts ̶ and even though the ground was almost too soft for the jack to work, we were able to get the spare tire on and head back to her house where we switched out cars with her mom (who feels confident enough to drive on the interstate with a doughnut? Not us) As we backed out of the drive, she turned a little too sharp and the front end of the truck hit the side of her brother’s car…that he had owned for a day. Don’t worry, we think it should buff out. Needless to say, we drove VERY carefully on the way back. We planned on being back by 2 or 3 and we weren’t back until 7.

Plans rarely work out the way we intend. There’s a reason the saying “Things that can go wrong will go wrong” is so well known. That’s just a part of life and it’s out of our control. But what we can control is our attitude. Throughout this frustrating day, my friend and I laughed way more than we ever huffed and puffed about how life isn’t fair. As the semester continues and the content of your classes intensifies, remember that while work and preparation are crucial, even when you do everything right, things will go wrong. It’s way more fun to laugh it off than it is to huff and puff.

Hands holding a tire with a hole in it

From Emerging to Exceptional

Oct 22
Craig Lemoine, Director, Financial Planning Program and Clinical Associate Professor

For the last nine years, the Financial Planning Association (FPA) has hosted a collegiate competition at their annual conference. The contest gives students the opportunity to showcase what they know on a national stage and win significant scholarships for their schools. Students come out of the competition with stronger résumés and life-long friendships.

Our financial planning program at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana began ten years ago, and last year (2017) was our first time fielding a team. We won second place and turned some heads in the process. After that success, our 2018 team had great ambition.

This competition has three rounds. In the first round, teams submit a written financial plan to a panel of judges. The top eight schools advance in the contest and are invited to the national conference. This year, the FPA national conference was in Chicago. We have nine years of alumni in Chicago; firms recruit out of our program from Chicago. We were thrilled at the idea of competing in the windy city.

Then, on a fortuitous day in July, our team received an email with the subject line “Financial Planning Challenge 2018 Results”. It started with the word unfortunately and went on to share that – UIUC would not be advancing.

The sting was palatable. We had just won second place, and the FPA conference was in Chicago this year! We were mad. We were embarrassed. We felt defeated.

As the corn grew around us, students arrived back to campus. The sun beat down on our tent at Quad Day, and student leaders, including our FPA contest team, shared about the Financial Planning Club and our program. We spoke in classrooms, interviewed students, and grew what had been a club of twenty-five into one of sixty. Our concentration in the ACE major flourished as well, growing from 82 students to 96 this year.

Growth and enthusiasm are contagious. We spent the fall raising money and with the help of alumni, friends, and Financial Planning Association’s generous scholarship program, we sent two dozen students to attend this year’s FPA conference in early October.

Over three days, we networked with more than 1500 financial planners. Our students attended every keynote and dove into discussions, panels, and dinners. We made new friends, interviewed with companies, and connected with mentors. We learned about client behavior, retirement longevity, dreaming big, and the global economy. By the end, our fuses were lit with a passion for this great profession.

But the moment of the conference that will always stay with me: after two days of answering, “Why aren’t you guys competing again?” and, “What happened?”, our students were asked to volunteer to help with the last round of the contest. They all came to watch, cheer, and pitch in.

On the final day of the conference, the Chairman of the Financial Planning Association, Shannon Pike, opened the general session with a picture of our group, chanting ILL (with a robust INI response). Shannon recognized the growth and spirit of our program, then by name, praised the professionalism and character of three of our students: Madison Meridian, Gwendolyn Orr, and Jack Petras. Those were the same three who received the fortuitous email in July, dusted themselves off, and helped build something amazing.

After the last keynote, we took the stage with Shannon – all of us grinning ear to ear. We were on the main stage after all and for something so much greater than winning. Our students had been generous, professional and embodied the spirit of the University of Illinois. They had made an exceptional impression which will pay our alumni, students and program dividends for years to come.

ACE students posing for a picture at the FPA conference

Next Step in my Life

Oct 16
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

By Lupe Cruz, senior in ABE

It is now October in the school year. That, combined with the fact that I am a senior, means I will have to get my game face on and tackle this year hard. It’s ironic that some people think the term “senior-itis” means more of a relaxed year. To me it’s the year where I decide what I want to do with my future, because this is the season of résumé editing, career fairs, and interviewing.

I have just finished my summer with a business management internship, and it was a great learning experience. I went over profit and loss statements, daily operating revenue reports, and there was something new every day because of all the customers to satisfy. However, I don’t plan on going back to the company because I want to pursue something else in the construction industry. Because of that, I went into this school year knowing that I would have to work hard to try and catch the eyes of recruiters, whether it be online or at on-campus career fairs. In the College of ACES, I fully utilize our career resources, and I recommend them to anyone needing advice or assistance. I’m able to get professional opinions on my résumé and see what needs to be edited and how I need to present myself to employers.

I thoroughly enjoy going to career fairs because I am a social person and love meeting new people. I know a face-to-face conversation with a big company might scare some people, but I personally love it. [Side note: it’s beneficial for me to speak with many different companies as well, because the more companies I speak with, the better my “elevator pitch” becomes.] I was able to land a few interviews from the career fair, which is something I was really excited about. Those respective interviews went very well in my opinion; I kept eye contact, sat up straight, and the interviews had a more personal atmosphere rather than an employer-candidate one. Although if I’m being honest, I do need to work on my phone-interviewing capabilities. I had one that was a bit difficult for me because I could not read any body language.

The University of Illinois has treated me very well. These past four years I made life-long friends, unforgettable memories, and significantly enhanced my knowledge and learning. The job hunting and interviewing I have done has set into reality that this is my last year here. I am about to embark on my next journey, and as I take these next steps in my life, I can confidently say I am excited for what the future will bring.

Lupe Cruz in a suit

Falling for ACES

Oct 10
Madalyn Hammel, Graduate Student in Agricultural Education

If you were to ask me about some of my favorite things regarding my time with the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, I would paint you a picture of the university in the fall; full of color, students rushing to class, the leaves crunching under their feet, and the aroma of coffee. The tree foliage on the south quad consists of a pallet of orange, yellows, and reds. The air is crisp, and you are snuggled up in a sweater walking to class with me. I fell in love with the College of ACES during the fall while taking electives to fulfill my degree requirements and discovering ACES in full color. It was through these course requirements that I recognized how much I could learn outside my core classes from the other ACES subjects and professors. Each new class brought a unique color combination to my pallet of classes.

As a prerequisite for my major, I had to take Horticulture 100. I loved the class because the professors brought great knowledge of the horticulture world to the classroom and I still utilize and value this education. Instead of looking at horticulture as a topic few people still access, I embraced it and found enjoyment for myself. Our professors created assignments that sent me out, which helped familiarize me with the south quad and the plants that call the tract of land home. I loved the class so much that I enrolled in Horticulture 106 with two of my previous professors to learn more about how I can be a proper home horticulturist. We learned how to take cuttings of plants so that eventually we can have more houseplants through propagation and not have to buy them. This class also discussed the importance of lawn care, composting and our impact on the environment.

To further find my love for horticulture I signed up for Hort 107: Floral Design. I learned to identify, care and transform simple flowers into elegant designs that make a statement, along with brushing up on my knowledge of colors and design techniques. All of these lessons were taught with the teacher's enthusiasm for horticulture that was contagious. Everyone should know that keeping fresh flowers in the house goes beyond just dumping them in a vase.

To continue my time in the crop sciences department and to learn more about my favorite addiction, I enrolled in CPSC 117: Agriculture and Science of Coffee. In this class, we discovered more about the drink that we rely on so heavily, its diverse history and involved growing/harvesting practices, and the significant impact it has on our economy. We learned how to be informed consumers and demystified the true meaning on the coffee labels and how to know a quality cup of joe.

While enrolled in ACE 231, my teacher sparked my interest in the world outside of academia and provided me with the skills I needed as an adult entering the workforce. My classmates and I learned such things as what to expect at your first job, what a successful company looks like, and how to find a company that is the best fit for you. This teacher was the first educator ever to tell me that while on the job it is okay to stop working and think. He encouraged us to think about what you want your product to look like and to think through a solution, not just work nonstop at trying to find the answer.

The College of ACES fosters learning by allowing students the opportunity to venture out of their program and try new and diverse classes. With the diversity of courses, you can acquire a knowledge about subjects like coffee, plants, or how to find a job. There are even clubs on campus that help you share your ideas and learn more about topics with other students such as Hort Club or AgEd Club. You can contemplate all of the learning opportunities available while walking between classes and enjoying the fall scenery the University of Illinois has to offer.

Keep moving forward

Oct 3
Kelsey Litchfield, ACES Communications & Marketing

One of my favorite Disney movies is “Meet the Robinsons.” From its futuristic storyline to its corny humor, I always change the channel to that movie if I see it on. Throughout each scene, there is one scripted line that is said over and over – “keep moving forward.” I didn’t think much about it until the ending scene when a quote from Walt Disney himself shows up on the screen. It reads:

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

That’s an important life lesson there, friends. It’s a noteworthy message whether you are in college, just starting a new job, or maybe a seasoned veteran in your career. You could summarize that phrase as “don’t be complacent.”

If there’s anything you take out of this blog and my written words, know you are meant to keep learning and exploring in your career. As a young professional, I know there’s so much more for me to learn about. I need to keep moving forward and growing in life and my career. The same goes for you. You never know what you will discover until you try something new. 

Oh, and if you ever see that “Meet the Robinsons” is on TV, flip the channel to it and you’ll be glad you did. For me, it’s a nice reminder to “keep moving forward.”

Applying yourself

Sep 27
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

By John “Brady” Winkler, Senior in ABE

Semester after semester, year after year, we are told the importance of school and learning, but what good is this knowledge if you refuse to use it?  My professors, the faculty, and even my parents have continually stressed this, but I don’t think I truly understood what it meant until I had the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned at this great institution.

This summer I had the privilege to intern as a process engineer within the research and development department at McCain Foods in Appleton, Wisconsin.  This was an absolutely incredible professional experience, and it solidified my belief in and love for this university and the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Without the resources and guidance provided by my professors and other faculty, I would not have had this opportunity to thrive.

However, this is not what I am stressing with this post. We have all of the tools for success here at the University of Illinois, but it means nothing if we do not embrace and utilize them. As students and professionals we must never become complacent. We cannot just be happy with getting good grades because what good is a technical or personal skill if we cannot expand on it and delve into the beauty and complexity of an industry?  Getting a job and hands-on industry experience is truly what it’s all about. I have found this hands-on experience is crucial in setting your career goals and expanding your learning outside of the classroom. I am excited to continue this senior year, and I am excited to dive head first into the real world knowing that I have been prepared to be successful.

ACES + LAS Career Fair

Sep 26
Jean Drasgow, Director of ACES Career Services

Harvest is in full swing for both corn and soybeans as well as student talent. Next week the ACES + LAS Career Fair is hosting 128 organizations from a wide range of disciplines. We have employers who are seeking majors from agricultural biological engineering to psychology. Many of these employers are interviewing the next day. As of this writing, all 65 interview rooms for the day after the fair are reserved.

For a complete list of employers and other information about the event, visit It is recommended that students apply online before the fair so that they can interview the next day. It is not too early to attend a career fair even if students are not looking for a full-time job or internship yet. Employers are building their pipeline for talent. Freshmen and sophomores are encouraged to attend so that when they are looking for an internship or job, they are comfortable with the process.  Additionally, many recruiters remember students from previous years!

To help students prepare, the ACES + LAS Career Fair Prep is set for Oct. 1, from 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm in 213 Greg Hall. A recruiter panel will be answering student questions about preparing for the fair. Check Handshake @ Illinois account under ‘Events’ for more information.  You can also check out: for more tips!

ACES + LAS Career Fair |Thursday, Oct. 4 |1:30 pm  – 6:00 pm| ARC


Sep 25
Maggie Sweppy, Senior in Agricultural Education

My 8th grade graduation was a rather short ceremony. But, to be fair, there were only nine kids in my class. Now I attend a university where the undergraduate student population is triple the population of not my hometown, but the entire county. 

But hang on. There were a few steps in between that I forgot to mention. Quickly after my 8th grade graduation, my sense of accomplishment turned to fear, because it dawned on me that I was going to have to attend a consolidated high school. The horror. And guess what? There were going to be nearly 100 kids in my grade! I was in a tizzy. Little did I know, high school was actually rather enjoyable. I gained new friends, joined clubs, and broadened my horizons. Looking back, I now see that my newly broadened “horizon” was still rather narrow, but the change felt profound at the time.

Since then, I’ve been faced with change after change. New schools, teams, challenges, frustrations, and opportunities have all come my way. And every time they do, I have that same instinctive reaction to root my feet in the ground and stay exactly where I am. It’s like I’m back in the post 8th grade graduation gloom.

So I force myself to think back to how monumental the change from 8th grade to high school felt. I think about how much my perspective changed. I think about horizons. If each step that I have taken has resulted in such a broadening of my horizons, I wonder how much horizon is still left out there that my eyes can’t see? Finally, I understand, my scope is still too narrow. There is a whole lot of “horizon” out there waiting for me.

And for you.

Make the most of your time at the University of Illinois in the College of ACES. If you’re ready to embrace change, there isn’t a better place to be. So when your professors, advisors, mentors or anyone else in the ACES family tries to show you how much more there is out there, go ahead and open your eyes. You won’t regret it.

Campus landmarks that have a history with ACES

Sep 19
Angie Boesche, Web Content Strategist

The University of Illinois has a rich history that dates back to its establishment in 1867. Looking around campus today, it’s easy to see the history of ACES interwoven into the U of I campus. So I decided to share with you my three favorite campus landmarks that have a history with our college. We’ll start with the obvious one.

Morrow Plots

The Morrow Plots are named after the first dean of the College of Agriculture (the previous title of the College of ACES), Professor George Espy Morrow. Established in 1876, the plots are the oldest experimental crop field in America and the second oldest in the world after the Rothamsted research station, which was established in 1843.

The Morrow Plots is one of two National Historic Landmarks on campus, achieving the status in 1968. The plots are the famous reason our undergraduate library was built underground. University a cappella group, The Other Guys, even have a song about this. Here is a 1978 version and 2017 holiday version.

Dairy Round Barns

Added to the National Register of Historic places in 1994 as part of the “University of Illinois Experimental Dairy Farm Historic District,” the Round Barns have both architectural and agricultural significance.

The first head of the Department of Dairy Husbandry, Wilbur J. Fraser, was a huge proponent of round barns believing them to be more economical than conventional barns. Built in 1907 and 1910, the barns helped Fraser popularize the round structures in Illinois

The Round Barns still stand proudly just south of campus, in sight of the current university dairy farm.

Illini Grove

This often passed and often used grove of pine trees has lesser known history than the other items on this list, despite being the oldest. That’s right, even older than the Morrow Plots. According to university library archives:

“Trees were first planted in 1871, and additional plantings were made for the next 40 years. The purpose was to show farmers of the prairie state the benefits of trees as sources of firewood and fence posts and of shelter.”

Located on the corner of Lincoln and Pennsylvania Avenue, the grove began to lose land to building development, making room for the Lincoln Avenue Residence hall and McKinley Health Center. In an effort to preserve what was left of the grove, ownership was transferred from the College of Agriculture to the School of Physical Education to be turned into a designated picnic area in 1951.

Today the grove has a picnic area, tennis courts, a sand volleyball court, and a basketball court that you can reserve through Campus Recreation.

 Did we miss your favorite ACES-related landmark? Tweet this article at @ACESIllinois with your favorite campus landmark to let us know!

My ultimate fangirl moment

Sep 17
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

I listen to podcasts all the time – while I’m cooking dinner, cleaning up around the house, or walking around the neighborhood. I tend to favor the NPR podcasts, including This American Life, Embedded, and Up First. But one of my all-time favorites is NPR’s Hidden Brain. The show focuses on social sciences research and reveals, in an engaging and relatable style, the “whys” behind common human behaviors. I’ve found nearly every episode to be simply fascinating. And I’ve heard them all.

So, you can imagine my reaction when an email arrived a few months ago from one of the producers on Hidden Brain. He and the show’s host, Shankar Vedantam, had learned about the work of ACES researcher Ming Kuo, and they wanted to set up an interview with her for a future show. The producer, Thomas Lu, was having a hard time reaching Ming and hoped I could help.

I may have screamed a little bit from my office.

Immediately, I got in touch with Ming, who studies the effects of nature and urban greening on human health and behavior in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. It turned out she was just getting back to Thomas herself and was happy to do the interview. Thomas set up a remote link to WILL studios, and the interview was set.

As a public information officer at ACES, part of my job is serving as a liaison between media and our researchers. Technically, by putting Thomas and Ming together, my job here was done. But, being a massive fangirl, I weaseled my way into accompanying Ming to the studio and listening in from an adjacent sound booth.

It was everything I hoped it would be. Ming gave a great interview about her incredible work – she has empirically demonstrated that urban green space increases health outcomes and decreases crime and violence rates – and I got to hear Shankar unscripted. I was in heaven. And of course I got the selfie to prove it!

Please go listen and share with friends.