TSM - The intersection of business and technology

Oct 4
Alan Hansen, Interim Head, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

My understanding and appreciation of our Technical Systems Management (TSM) program has grown considerably since I joined the ABE department in 1999. Originally called Agricultural Mechanization, this program evolved to provide a more visible and deliberate effort to bridge technology and business. Traditionally, people at colleges are able to gain in-depth education related to engineering and business, but education in the middle ground is potentially lacking.  The value of our TSM program is demonstrated when our department often boasts 100% job placement for our graduating students.

In my travels to a number of developing countries and from my experience in my southern African home countries, I have not come across any university level educational programs similar to TSM.  And yet, from my observations, such a program would be very beneficial.  This viewpoint has been enforced recently as a result of my involvement in a USAID project, which targets appropriate scale mechanization in four developing countries to improve land and labor productivity in a sustainable manner.

An important aspect of this project is tertiary, or university level, capacity building.  Providing local tertiary level students with an education that addresses the combination of technology and business would have a significant impact on the deployment of technologies within each developing country. Our team (engineers, economists, gender specialists, and one animal nutritionist) works to develop activities in each country that promote the investigation, development and deployment of technologies coupled with conservation agricultural practices. However, the important aspect of scaling up and out needs to be addressed.  For this to happen, business models need to provide economic incentives and create sustainable enterprises for the envisioned technologies.  In my mind this once again emphasizes the value of our TSM program both locally and globally. As Akinwumi Adesina, the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, said, “Farming needs to be a business.”

A recent publication of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers was designed to showcase and encourage opportunities in agricultural technology and systems management.  This issue includes a description of the experience of one of our TSM graduates, Tim Rendall. Tim is project manager of the afore-mentioned USAID project. His TSM degree makes him ideally qualified to address the technology-business continuum in those developing countries, and his experience exemplifies the difference a TSM degree can make around the world.


Life lessons are everywhere, even at the race track

Oct 4
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

BRANDT believes so much in the future of agriculture, the Illinois Ag company put the icons of the two greatest youth development organizations, 4-H and FFA, on the hood of its race car. Early September was the unveiling of the 4-H clover-adorned racecar, and Illinois 4-H was at Chicagoland Speedway, courtesy of BRANDT and company founder Evelyn Brandt Thomas, to see it all happen.

I soaked it all in, the sounds (OMG), the excitement, the hype, and the reality of life and death in the millisecond of a moment. My plan for the day was to make my three-minute speech, thank our kind sponsors, and drive home. But, the lure of the track drew me in. I'm glad it did, because I would have missed the greater lessons to come that day, and they had nothing, yet everything, to do with racing.

Imagine being in a fire-resistant suit, harnessed in a car where the temperatures can easily reach 120 degrees, traveling, on average, 150 mph for nearly two hours going round and round circling over the same 1.5 mile stretch of road. The only, only, only human contact you have is one voice in your ear.

That Voice. Imagine your bff, your biggest cheerleader, your trusted mentor, and the smartest person on the planet all rolled up into one person, and his voice is the only thing you hear and the only thing keeping you alive. That is The Voice in Justin's ear.

BRANDT provided their guests with headphones which not only blocked out the deafening sound of the engines, but also allowed you to listen to the driver's communication with his pit crew. The Voice was the driver's spotter, positioned way up on top of the racetrack, helping the driver make those millisecond decisions. What I heard that day from The Voice reminded me of life's important lessons.

Surround yourself with people you trust

I had no idea that drivers can't see to the side in those racecars. When our driver, Illinois native Justin Allgaier, passed someone, he relied on The Voice to tell him when it was clear to move over. "Bumper, door, clear" are the verbal cues Justin hears to know when it's safe to move back over. To be able to give the best advice, The Voice not only knew Justin's ability and patterns, he knew what to expect from the other drivers. It's important to know not only your talent, but understand the habits of your colleagues traveling the same path. Sometimes others have a better view of the road ahead. Choose your mentors carefully.

Not everyone is going your speed

Although the cars all started at the same spot, it didn't take long for the pack to spread out, and soon the lead cars were lapping slower competitors. That happens every day in life. Not everyone will work as fast as you, or be as driven as you. Not everyone is going your speed, but you can't just plow over them. You must respect their place on the track and wait for your moment to pass.

Be patient

At Lap 35, The Voice said "Don't overdo it." It was good advice. The race was just starting, more of the race was ahead of us than behind. When you're in the middle of a pack of cars going 150 mph, there's nothing you can do but wait for an opening. Wait. You must have patience in the middle. Work your plan.

Trust others to do their job

After a slower-than-desired pit stop, Justin challenged his team to work faster, adding it was easier to pass people in the pit than on the racetrack. He was right, and his team heard him. The Voice reassured him, "we've got your back, buddy." It was unspoken reassurance; your job is to drive the car, and ours is to keep the car ready for you to do that. Challenge your colleagues to always do their best, and trust that they will.

Sometimes life isn't fair

After a caution flag, all the drivers regroup to restart the race in the order they were when the caution flag came out. Regardless the distance a driver may have gained earlier in the race, on a restart, the drivers are once again bumper to bumper. In essence, the slower cars gain an advantage they didn't earn. Sometimes life isn't fair. You can complain about it, or you can deal with it and get back to work. You passed them once; go pass them again.Consistently doing the right thing over and over wins the day.

Re-evaluate and adjust

It doesn't take many laps for drivers to find their "sweet spot" of the track. With each lap, though, conditions changed. In the pre-race reception, one of the speakers said, "The moment the engines start, the conditions have changed." The rubber on the tires. The condition of the track. The amount of fuel in the car. What may have worked at the beginning of the race may no longer be the fastest route later. Take stock of where you are in any situation, constantly re-evaluate during the journey, find your new sweet spot and accelerate. Don't be afraid to change tactics and go a new direction toward your dream.

Take risks at the right time

With 18 laps left in the race, Justin took the lead on a restart and never gave it up. Three-wide, he bolted for the bottom of the track and whipped from third to first place on a gutsy move. He did it because he knew he could; because he had practiced it before. Bold moves look terrifying to everyone, but you've practiced for that very moment. There is no such thing as luck at 150 mph … luck is merely a plan you hide from everyone else until it's time to act on it.When you've practiced enough, it isn't a risk as much as a calculated move forward.

Stay focused

"We're racing the car in front of us, not behind," The Voice said. With each lap, The Voice called out the number of the car Justin was chasing. That one goal was the only thing that mattered; not two cars ahead and not the cars behind. Systematically, it was one car, then one car, then one car, until there were no cars left to chase. Fight the urge to let distraction keep you from the next step toward your goal.

Choose how you lead

I wish I had the Voice in my ear. He was calming and supportive throughout the race. "Good job, buddy. Perfect. Just like that. Way to stay in this race to the end." This guy was my hero by the end of the race.

It's all good advice, for race car drivers and for life's drivers. And it works, because perhaps the coolest thing about the day was winning the race and seeing the 4-H clover in Victory Lane!

Cheers to the Green and White

Sep 28
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

October 1 starts the biggest week in 4-H, National 4-H Week. 4-H membership is 6 million strong across the country, with more than 25 million alumni.

Last year, more than 25,000 youth were 4-H club members in Illinois; another 170,000 youth were involved in 4-H through camps, after school programs, and school enrichment programs.

National 4-H Week is a big deal, especially to the dedicated members who get to display what 4-H means to them during this national celebration. It is a time for window displays in local businesses, 4-H t-shirts at school, science experiments, and recruitment parties, lots of parties!

I left 4-H before I had time to truly appreciate what 4-H could mean to me and my future. When I went to work for 4-H, I was determined to keep other kids from making the same mistake I did. Each year at the annual achievement program, I’d call every child on stage as a group by their year in 4-H.

After the applause ended, I had the first, second, and third year members turn around to look at the older kids, those fifth year and older kids standing in the back row. And, I said this to the youngest members; “You’re just getting started, and though you’ve had a good time and learned lots of stuff this year, the AMAZING stuff in 4-H happens when you get to the back row!”

And, it’s true. The trips, the awards, the internships, the international travel, the national conferences all take time to experience. The more you learn and the older you get, the more the 4-H world opens up to you.

Unless. Unless you quit before you’re a backrower.

My challenge was simple… year in and year out. Be a back row 4-H member. It was a simple idea that stuck with them. Without fail, every achievement night, at least one of those kids who made it to the back row came up to me and announced themselves as a “backrow” 4-H member.

I have lots of dreams for Illinois 4-H members. Health. Success. Friendship. Service. Most of all, I hope they will all be backrowers and discover the wonderful treasures awaiting you in 4-H.

Cheers to all ACES students and alum who share this special week as an Illinois 4-H alum. I hope your 4-H memories make you smile.

4H Week

Tami Craig Schilling: My ACES Story

Sep 27
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Tami Craig Schilling, B.S., '90 Agricultural Communications

From the time I was a little girl, the Illinois logo came into my house each month on 4-H and Extension letters. Then, on a beautiful spring day, I set foot on campus for the state 4-H livestock judging contest, and my life was never the same. I later met ACES leaders Dean Chuck Olson and Dr. Jim Evans during State FFA Convention at Assembly Hall, where they introduced me to my future major: agricultural communications.

Later that year, the most important U of I envelope arrived at my house confirming my college acceptance, and it literally changed my life’s trajectory in ways I never imagined. I just celebrated my 27th year at Monsanto, and I can directly link my ACES Illini experience with providing me an opportunity I never knew existed.

My U of I and ACES experiences have enabled a future I could’ve only dreamed of as a child. From 4-H demonstrations to farmer meetings and field days, from Student Advancement Committee to sales team leadership, from Extension’s agronomy short course to leading Knowledge Transfer Agronomy, from Ag Communications campaign class to leading corporate communications, my Illini roots have kept me connected to my alma mater. I was recently back in Mumford Hall for my final Agricultural and Consumer Economics Advisory Board meeting. Before I left, I passed along my appreciation for the important work they do and for the opportunity to serve the university and college.

No matter how many hours or dollars I give to this fine institution, I will never be able to repay what it has given me. As a 4-Her, an undergrad, a JBT scholar, a student worker, an alumnus, and a contributor, I am part of a 150-year legacy of heritage, excellence, and opportunity. As a small-town farm girl with an Illini dream, I will be forever grateful for the Block I logo and all it represents.


We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Honoring Our Farmland Legacy

Sep 21
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

Land, one of the earth’s most precious resources, is sacred to a farmer. Its soils tell the history of generations of family members who tended it with great care, determination and dedication, producing food and feedstuffs year after year over the course of decades. Farming families consider land to be part of their legacy; parting with it is not a trivial decision. Over the years, the university has been the grateful beneficiary of donations of land from numerous families. Today, the University of Illinois owns over 10,000 acres of farmland, all donated by folks who share our commitment to preservation, expanding research, providing educational opportunities and strengthening Extension. 

A majority of this land remains in crop production through operating agreements that most recently were awarded through a cash bidding process. Soon after stepping into the role of Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), I learned of the concerns of many within the agricultural industry about the operator selection process for University farms. We investigated the situation, and I was delighted to learn that a review committee was in place and a recommendation had been made to transition the process to a “best candidate” approach, an approach also supported by Chancellor Jones and President Killeen. In this revised selection process, applicants will be considered based on a wide range of factors such as farming experience, demonstrated land stewardship, educational background, and utilization of best management practices including access to modern agricultural technology. The most qualified applicant will be offered an operating agreement at a predetermined rate based on local market conditions, and as long as farms are meeting the U of I’s objectives, the farms typically will only be opened up based on retirements or other  natural “transitions” in management.

By focusing on selecting the most qualified operator instead of the highest bidder, we will better align our processes with current farm management practices, as well as traditions within farming communities throughout the state. This change also will align the University operator selection criteria with the long-held practices of the University of Illinois Foundation.   

Although maintaining a profit is essential for long-term success of any agricultural production system, farming also is deeply rooted in relationships within the local communities where the land is located. To be good stewards of the land, we also must be good stewards of our agricultural relationships. The revised operator selection process will allow the University to ensure sustainability as well as the long-term value of the endowment, manage the land responsibly, and support our local farming communities while continuing to honor the intentions of donors’ gifts of farmland to advance University of Illinois’ land-grant mission. For more information on University of Illinois Foundation farmland gifts, click here.


Warren Endowment Farm
Soybean field on the Warren Endowment Farm, in Piatt County, Illinois – for support of Illinois 4-H.

Kleenex and all the other things your academic advisor can give you

Sep 20
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

The first few weeks of school can come with some unplanned questions or circumstances. A Western culture course isn’t all that the course description implied. The Spanish class you planned to take at the local community college has been canceled. You decided over the summer that you really do want to have a study abroad experience, but are worried that it won’t fit in your schedule.

All of these scenarios should involve a visit with an academic advisor. Not only are they the most familiar with the information you need to resolve academic challenges, they are also committed to making the student experience a positive one!

Academic advisors are often the individuals who will meet you at the door of their office with the box of Kleenex, like Del Dahl did for me 15 years ago. They also might be the person who provides the “tough love” that you need to push through a situation when you are ready to give up!

What’s my point? Make the appointment! Send the e-mail! Your academic advisor will likely be able to help you out in less time than it takes you to post about the challenge on social media!

And because I probably didn’t say it 15 years ago, “Del, thanks for the Kleenex!”

How did you get here?

Sep 19
Lucas Neira, Animal Sciences graduate student

Whenever I meet some, they always ask me, “How did you get here?” I enjoy answering this question. I’m honored to talk about the path I’ve traveled the last few years, the path that always keeps pushing me forward. I have an amazing family that I have always been able to count on for back-up, and I’ve gotten to know so many people with such amazing stories who have supported me and strengthen me to keep following my dreams.

I realized early in my life that I was passionate about cattle production. I was born in a region of Brazil known for its production of oranges and sugarcane. My parents worked in culinary and construction fields, so where did this passion for beef cattle production come from?

When I was 14, I went to a rural school, and because my parents were not involved in my desired field, I started to travel all over Brazil, either as an intern or as a seasonal worker, to experience cattle production. These experiences gave me the chance to learn amazing things, and 13 years later, I’m still working in beef cattle, proof that I took the right way.

Four years ago, I graduated in veterinary medicine and began to travel around the world to work for great companies in Africa and in South America. But my greatest decision yet happened two years ago when I left my stable career to come to the United States to learn from one of the finest beef cattle producers in the world.

I arrived in Montana without knowing how to speak a single English word.  The amazing Norby family hosted me, and I spent a year learning basic cattle operations and the exciting English language. I soon connected with Dr. Dan Shike, a beef cattle researcher at the University of Illinois, who offered me the opportunity to learn from him. I joined the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center’s Research Farm, an experience that awakened in me a strong desire to learn even more.

Today, I am writing as a Graduate Student at the University of Illinois. Looking back at my path so far, I’m encouraged to put all of my efforts into this new experience. I plan to do my best as I learn and develop projects as part of the ACES family.

Lucas and his friends in Africa, 2007

Gionté Mason: My ACES Story

Sep 18
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Gionté Mason, FSHN ’19

I love sports. Growing up, I pictured myself moving far away from my home in Bourbonnais to play college football. But things didn’t exactly work that way. I’ll be honest that I didn’t consider the University of Illinois because it was so close to home. However, my dad, an Army war veteran, insisted that I apply for the Children of War Veterans tuition waiver at U of I. I didn’t expect anything to come of it because the award goes to only one student per county each year, and there are a lot of veterans in Kankakee County. When I found out the good news that my U of I tuition would be completely covered by this waiver, I called my dad, knowing that it would be a huge weight off of his shoulders to hear that I would be going to college without any financial burdens. I went to the U of I that fall majoring in biology, with my heart set on medical school. If I wasn’t going to play sports as a career, I wanted to stay connected to athletics through sports medicine. I loved the Illinois campus—it felt like home.

But my love for my studies wasn’t as strong. I struggled to connect with the material in my biology classes. It’s not that the material was too tough, and I wasn’t afraid of working hard. But it just wasn’t clicking. I couldn’t relate to the content or apply it to my own life. A friend in my honors fraternity encouraged me to try a nutrition class in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. My first class, FSHN 101, was like a breath of fresh air. I could apply the class to my life. I began incorporating the things I was learning and uncovered a passion for dietetics. Now I’m working in a dietetics research lab. Things look a lot different than I thought they would my senior year of high school, but I’ve found my groove. Finding my passion has allowed me to grab opportunities and to move forward, full speed ahead. And there’s no other school in the world where I’d choose to live out this process.

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Say Hello to Handshake

Sep 18
Jean Drasgow, Director of ACES Career Services

“Hello… Is it me you’re looking for? Cause I wonder where you are and what you do...”

In 1983, Lionel Richie probably didn’t know that he was predicting the exciting new things happening at ACES Career Services in 2017. As a campus, the University of Illinois has adopted a new career services platform called Handshake @ Illinois. Handshake was selected for its likeness to social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Additionally employers only need a single login to recruit at multiple schools – eliminating the need for multiple accounts and passwords!

Replacing I-Link, Handshake is the new portal to find jobs and internships, on-campus interviews, workshops, career coaching appointments, and much more.  Handshake is used at more than 400 schools nationwide and by 230,000 employers around the globe, providing ACES students with more opportunities than ever before.

This new platform makes it easier for students and employers to find exactly “who they’re looking for” by providing job recommendations based on more than just a student’s major. Students complete a profile in Handshake that includes “where they are and what they do.” Adding interests, skills, and location preferences to a Handshake profile enhances job recommendations based on the student’s profile. Similar to finding the right tune on Spotify or movie on Netflix, the more profile information provided to Handshake, the more targeted the job recommendations are for the user.

ACES Career Services is excited to be launching this new platform and hope you will join us in discovering how it can help both our students and employers.

What We Do and Why It Matters

Sep 14
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

It is an incredible honor to serve as the Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, where we walk the talk of the land-grant mission. I often wish that other people could see what I see every day: 185 faculty and over 1,500 staff members statewide doing their best to improve the quality of life of people in the state of Illinois, across the nation, and around the world. I am proud of the ACES community, and continually marvel at the quality of our faculty, staff, and students. We embrace challenge with resiliency and persistence, knowing that the outcome is worth even the most difficult of journeys because what we do matters to people.  

In order to better share the value of our work, I issued a challenge to members of our academic departments several months ago: create a 2- to 3-sentence statement that reflects what you do and why it matters so that anyone who reads it can understand the importance of your contributions. I am truly thrilled to share with you the outcome of that effort. Thanks to the talented efforts of our Director of Communications and Marketing, Jennifer Shike, we have a complete set of “What We Do and Why It Matters” statements for each of our departments and academic programs, which can be found here. The document can be searched for keywords using Ctrl+F. The department/program statements are also linked below for your convenience.

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Agricultural Education

Agricultural Communications

Animal Sciences

Crop Sciences

Food Science and Human Nutrition

Human Development and Family Studies

Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences  

You may find a colleague from a different department with an area of interest that would complement your work by reading through these statements. A prospective graduate student may find their ideal advisor by looking at these descriptions. An industry partnership might evolve when people realize the capacity of our research portfolio. At the very least, people will be very impressed with the quality of the faculty and staff that create the essence of this college. We will distribute this information broadly to bring awareness to the talent base within the college and to help you connect to colleagues with common interests. 

By the way, if you are wondering what I do and why it matters …

I set the strategic priorities for the college and help generate resources to support our efforts while managing faculty, staff, and students to promote excellence in the three legs of our land-grant mission: teaching, research, and extension. I empower people to be transformational change agents that address the world’s biggest challenges to improve the quality of life and well-being of people around the globe.

Kim and Brandon