Larry Fisher: My ACES Story

Sep 13
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 Larry Fischer, M.S. ’74 Agricultural Education

Once ACES is in your blood, it’s hard to let it go. I guess that’s why I found myself serving on the College of Agriculture Alumni Association Board and subsequent ACES Alumni Association Board, the Illinois 4-H Foundation Board, and the Chancellor’s Commission on Extension. One of my favorite “board” stories surrounded the construction of the ACES library. Lynette Marshall spoke at one of our alumni meetings about how the college needed a new library. She explained that John Campbell, the previous dean, was instrumental in kicking off the fundraising campaign, successfully soliciting $1 million from the Funk family. The campaign was nearing the 10-year mark; almost $10 million had been raised privately, but it was still not enough to construct the library. After hearing these reports over and over, I was getting tired of them.

As board president I finally said, “Why don’t we follow the old model of the PTA organization and ask the state legislature to provide 50 percent of the money for the project if we can raise the other half? It’s time we get this project done!” I offered to write each Illinois senator and representative in the General Assembly to request an appropriation for the half of the funds we did not have, since we knew it would be a $20-million project. Thankfully, Warren Wessels said, “By gosh, let’s do it! I’ll even write the letter for you to sign, Larry.” I sent the letter on behalf of the ACES Alumni Association. The rest is history, and the library construction was completed in 2001.


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

Sweet potato fries and selfies

Sep 13
Jennifer Shike, Director for Communications and Marketing

There’s no doubt about it, we know how to have fun in the College of ACES. It’s been a whirlwind of activities around here – activities that have drawn me closer to my ACES family. From eating sweet potato fries with the Chancellor at the Illinois State Fair to taking selfies with Dean Kidwell at the Farm Progress Show, I feel fortunate to be a part of a college where people really do matter. And we just don’t say that to lure people here. We live it out each and every day. The connections we have allow us to collaborate in an effective and meaningful way in order to do amazing things that make a difference in people’s lives.

Tomorrow night, we’re bringing our ACES family together for our first ACES Fall Festival. This event is going to be an awesome opportunity to meet the people who make up the College of ACES. From freshmen to emeriti professors, we welcome you to join us this Thursday, Sept. 14, from 4 to 6 p.m. on the North Lawn by the Stock Pavilion for a free BBQ dinner, the chance to win great prizes, and most importantly, time to network and get to know your ACES family better.

Farm Progress Show

Holding on

Sep 12
Ariel Majewski, ACES Marketing Intern & junior in journalism with a minor in music

It’s good to be back at school.

I’m refreshed. I’m no longer sleep-deprived. I’m sick of watching YouTube videos all day (ok that’s a lie). But most importantly, I’m ready to apply some summer life lessons to my junior year on campus.

Have you ever heard of the quote, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education”? Well, I would like to add my own spin to that phrase: “Carry your outside education to your schooling.” Because I truly believe the insights I learned this summer while traveling will help me succeed at this learning institution.

In early August, my mom and I visited Zion National Park in Utah. Although we’re avid hikers, I admit that we were not prepared for the steep incline. At least, not on our first day of acclimating to high altitudes and 96-degree heat. So we slowly marched our way up, steering away from the constant drop-offs to our right.

But that’s not even the challenging part of the story. The trail spur we wanted to explore was farther up ahead, called Angel’s Landing.

On this peak, there were short strips of chains mounted to the red, wrinkled stones. If there was ever a time you didn’t want to look down, it was while climbing up this hour-long journey. One misstep and you could become one of the trail’s “fallen angels,” so to speak.

I fell forward as my sweaty palm grasped the first chain. Surprisingly I could tug it farther away from mountain side than I thought possible. Now comfortable with the chain’s sturdiness, I started to swing from one to another, letting my inner-Tarzan take control.

Ten minutes later, the vertical grade rose sharply. A narrow ledge was the only way to cross to the next safe resting point.

Getting across was thrilling and frightening at the same time.

Groups of people from all over the world were clinging to this one large chain. Since it was being pulled from different directions, it strapped itself to the wall rather than loosely dangling like the others.

Here I was, holding on to the same metallic lifeline with everyone else. I couldn’t understand anyone. Foreign languages echoed off the walls. We had come from different directions of life, but at this moment we were all cultures and backgrounds were linked together, stepping forward with a common goal.

Even though I was 1,600 miles away, I felt closer to school than ever. At U of I, we’re all climbing the heights of education and employment opportunities at our own pace. We didn’t put ourselves in this position just to survive--we enjoy the thrill of accomplishments, the thrill of finding the path that we want to succeed on.

When you’re looking up, you wonder how on earth you’re going to get to the top. And then you remember there are those chains. There are mentors there to guide you along the way. Some may be there for short periods of time. You may hold on to others throughout your entire college career and beyond.

And when I climbed forward through Angel’s Landing, I didn’t care what type or size of chain it was--I grabbed onto it wholeheartedly. Even if someone’s links of experience through life are smaller than mine, they can still be a mentor. As a junior, I have to remember that. I’m not only to serve as a role model, but to always learn from my peers and underclassmen. Your fellow peers’ work ethic, personality, and character can motivate and inspire the way you live your life.

You may be a mentor for someone--even someone that you look up to--and not know it.

Throughout my life, no matter how much experience I gain, I always hope to have a wide selection of mentors of all cultures and ages on my journey. I intend to keep climbing--I don’t know where exactly, but as long as I hold on, I’ll find myself along the way.




ACES Film Festival Wows Moviegoers

Sep 7
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

I don’t often find myself settling in for a film screening – complete with a bag of freshly popped popcorn – in the Heritage Room of the ACES Library. But there I was last Friday, along with 80 or so ACES faculty members, staff, and students. We were there to take in the launch of a series of new videos geared to undergraduate study opportunities.

Each two-minute video features students and faculty sharing the many opportunities available to students, both during their time in the department and after they graduate with a degree from ACES. Each video was compelling in its own way – the spokespeople were uniquely charming and enthusiastic, and the collective array of options available for research, classes, and future jobs was simply astounding. I’m many years out from graduating with my undergraduate degree, but the videos made me want to re-enroll.

Hosts Prasanta Kalita, associate dean of academic programs, and Erik Johnson, the new director of undergraduate recruitment, distributed surveys to the audience so we could note the things we liked best about each video. I had a couple of favorites, but I hate to give them away… Luckily, you can decide for yourself! So, pop up a bag of popcorn, sit back, and click below.

RSO Spotlight: Animal Sciences Graduate Student Association

Sep 6
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

Key-note speakers, increased connections, a community of peers, and free food.

As an undergrad at UIUC, I was able to find all of this and more through the many registered student organizations (RSO) available to us in the Department of Animal Sciences. This was something I didn’t want to lose as I made the transition to grad school. The Animal Sciences Graduate Student Association (GSA) is the only RSO in the department made specifically for grad students. It’s a lot harder to make connections with your peers in grad school because you’re not taking as many classes and you don’t have as much free time. GSA offers a space for everyone to get to know more about each other and the research that’s going on in every lab and on every farm in the department.

GSA hosts a social and meeting every month. The social is a chance for students to get know each other outside of the lab coats and coveralls. Past socials have included a park picnic, potluck, local restaurant hangouts, an Illini football tailgate, and a Christmas party. The meetings bring in keynote speakers to inform the members on topics that relate specifically to graduate school. Career connections, information about our farm facilities, and insight from our own alum and former President of the University of Illinois, Dr. Easter, have all been meeting topics covered in the past.

Get connected! Join us the Animal Sciences Graduate Student Association facebook group to stay up to date on upcoming events and communicate with other members.

Hope to see you at our first meeting on September 7th at noon in ASL room 292/296. We'll have pulled pork from the Meat Science Lab and our keynote speaker will be sharing info about all the farm facilities on campus!

students and dog in lawn
The first GSA social of the new school year includes food, games, fun, and of course, pets!

Craft beer and climate change

Sep 6
Sean Fox, Head, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics

To describe in a few sentences the research done by agricultural economists is challenging given the range of topics they work on and the approaches they apply to those topics. 

From craft beer to climate change, family finances to farm management, financial markets in Chicago to farming systems in Malawi, agricultural economists are involved in describing, analyzing, and oftentimes predicting what is happening. The methods they bring to bear range from focus groups and case studies to the most advanced statistical techniques and machine learning.

This work matters to individuals, firms, and policy makers. Over the past decade or so, agricultural economists have become increasingly involved in the field of behavioral economics – designing surveys and experiments and even using MRI brain scans to gain insights into how individuals make decisions and how various factors influence those decisions. For many, the end goal is to help design benign interventions that can nudge people toward making better decisions about food, finances and other life issues that will, in effect, help people lead better, happier lives.

The more traditional realm of agricultural economics includes areas such agricultural production and farm and agribusiness management, and the work typically leads to insights for firms about how best to market their products, design their supply chains, and manage risk. The resulting gains in efficiency make for, potentially, a better world for everybody through lower prices for consumers and more effective use of resources in production. 

Finally, for government policy makers the works of agricultural economists helps shape and adjust the policies that protect environmental resources, guide public investments, and ensure that markets operate fairly and efficiently. For example, one issue on which there is broad agreement in the profession is that returns to public investments in agricultural research have been very favorable – some studies report returns of up to $30 per dollar invested. Findings such as these suggest that reductions in public R&D investments in food and agriculture at a time when the planet is facing higher food demand and increasing threats to the sustainability of our soil, water and other natural resources would be unwise.


Dear College student: Prepare for the journey of growth

Sep 5
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

Celebrate! You’ve survived the first week of the 2017-18 academic year. You settled into a new place to live, you found all your classes, and you are beginning to understand the ebb and flow of campus.

In addition to attending class, fulfilling obligations with RSOs, and enjoying time with your new friends, be aware that part of the college experience also includes a journey of growth.

You are not alone in your journey. Pay attention to the people and experiences around you. Some people will help you battle through the growth experience, while others may limit your growth potential. Step away from the experiences and people who limit your potential; hold tight to those who inspire your growth.

When you face dilemmas, acknowledge the challenge as a space for growth. In that growth space, you will find strength. Sometimes that strength is accessed from deep within your soul – a place you have neglected or forgotten. At other times, the strength may come from friends or family who are willing to provide support when you need it most. And sometimes, you might find strength from people and experiences you never expected to cross your path. Whatever the source, you will find the strength to work through any challenge you encounter in the journey of growth.

Growth can be uncomfortable because it involves struggling and stretching, releasing and removing. Rest assured, growth will happen – probably when you least expect it. Pay attention to the experiences and people who help you grow. Give yourself permission to grow. Embrace that uncomfortable growth space between the person you are now and the person you have the potential to become
Signing day
Kaity Spangler, freshman year and senior year.

The beloved voice of agriculture

Sep 1
Kendra Courson, Director for Special Events

During my almost seven years in the College of ACES, I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know many wonderful people. However, as I was sitting in the audience in the college's tent at the Farm Progress Show this week, I realized the person who has been the kindest, most genuine and also most generous of that group is Orion Samuelson.

Orion is known as the beloved voice of agriculture. Many generations of families have tuned in to listen to his WGN broadcasts over the past five decades. He is well known and well loved by so many and for good reason. Orion does not just broadcast the market reports or keep everyone in the know in regards to agrinews, but he is someone everyone relates to and feels they know even if they have never met him. Orion is somehow as popular now as he was back when his career took off. That, in and of itself, is pretty amazing.

I have had the privilege of getting to know Orion over the years and fairly well the past two years as I had the pleasure of being his "event chauffeur" after a couple of major surgeries. As the college event planner, I know how much Orion graciously gives of his time and energy at so many ACES special occasions. Not once has Orion asked for more than a bottle of water let alone a dime for a night emceeing our annual Salute to Ag Day or hosting his daily stage show at every Farm Progress Show. He loves the College of ACES and is very proud of the honorary degree he received from the University of Illinois several years ago.  

This past week, I sat in an audience with many others watching Orion tape This Week In Agribusiness with Max Armstrong and Greg Soulje. As I watched Orion provide his "Samuelson Sez" update, I suddenly became overwhelmed with gratitude: both gratitude for getting to know a man with a career so many admire and even more importantly, knowing a person with such an incredible self-sacrificing heart. I will always be thankful for being able to get to know someone who truly is an icon in his own right, but also to get to know a man who knows what selflessness truly means. To be able to call this man my friend....well, it makes me feel even more blessed.

Greg, Max, and Orion at Farm Progress Show 2017

Kendra and Orion

What College Has Actually Taught Me

Aug 31
Nicole Chance, Sophomore in Agricultural Communications

It’s the day of the final presentation for my summer internship with Land O’ Lakes Inc. The one day of the summer I get to show off everything I’ve learned and contributed to the company. To be honest, I was so nervous that day I was just patiently waiting to get it done and over with. As I stepped to the podium, I took a deep breath and began to tell everyone about some of the awesome things I was able to accomplish this summer!

It wasn’t always easy though. An agricultural communications major tackling a traditional marketing internship was a little intimidating at first. But, as the summer continued to progress, I slowly but surely learned and accomplished so many things I didn’t think I could at the start. Now I know how to do a VLOOKUP in Excel (aka best thing ever), how data tells a story and how to relate to and work with others in a corporate environment.

Yet, those weren’t the most important things I learned. My biggest takeaway from this experience was how important it is to do something outside of your comfort zone, and I’m grateful that college has taught me that in multiple ways: by being a member of the livestock judging team, various courses I’ve taken and simply expanding my horizons and meeting new people!

Jobs and careers may come and go but what never disappears in our lives are challenges and adversity. How will we ever be able to solve those and know what we are really capable of if we don’t step out of our comfort zone and try? College has taught me If you aren’t very skilled or good at something, it never hurts to try. Overcoming adversity is striving to learn, which directly correlates with doing something that you may not necessarily be the most comfortable with at first.

So as I finished my final presentation and opened it up for questions in the audience, one of the evaluator’s piped up and asked me, “Do you think the curriculum taught at the University of Illinois has prepared you for this internship?”

My response was this:

“The curriculum may not have taught me everything I needed to know for this internship, but what’s more valuable is that it’s taught me how to step out of my comfort zone and overcome adversity, and that itself is irreplaceable.” 

ACES classmate, Kailey Garren and I during our summer internship with Land O' Lakes!

Knowing Três Muchachas Ranch

Aug 29
Lucas Neira, Animal Sciences graduate student

Over the last two weeks, I had the chance to travel a little bit around the Brazilian state called Mato Grosso do Sul. On this trip, I got to visit a ranch that is doing some very different work and breaking some taboos around there.

I always try to take the greatest things I learned while in the US and apply them to the opportunities and potential for improvement in different countries.

In Brazil, I was surprised by the amazing way that Três Muchachas Ranch has been producing high-quality beef. Gabriel Junqueira, the ranch's manager, applies his experiences working in Australia to Três Muchachas. He often travels to the U.S. to learn more about what's working there to take home to his ranch.

Junqueira says that a right genetics paired with a particular management is the key to his model. Some of those strategies include choosing special semen, feeding high levels of grains, and selling to specific markets.

Três Muchachas Ranch has pushed their production to more than double in just two years, without having to open new lands. This success is something that deserves to be shared.

As we search for sustainable ways to feed more people using less resources, I feel encouraged by stories like those of Três Muchachas Ranch.