Finding my path

Apr 12
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

When I started my ACES career I was sure about one thing; I wanted to work with animals. I was basically unsure about all the rest. From an advisor standpoint, I can see how I might have seemed like a lot of work. Surely you have some direction? You know what jobs you’re interested in? You know whether or not you like the big animals or the small animals? I didn’t. I found out very quickly that I knew very little about my major and the opportunities available to me, but here I am now, a graduating senior. I found out I like the big animals. I’m interested in nutrition research, and I’ll be headed to graduate school at the U of I this fall because I just can’t get enough of the College of ACES. I can’t take all the credit for figuring these things out. My advisor, Dr. Shike, helped me find my path (while it may have been a twisty one) and I’m very appreciative of his guidance. I’ve figured out the three things that made him the best advisor, and I’m going to share them with you.

Availability – I ask a million questions. I understand that professors are super busy, but that doesn’t make my million questions go away. I always feel like I might be bugging them, but I never felt as though I was a burden to Dr. Shike when asking about a class or what to prepare for my grad school interview or whether or not I would be good in sales. Dr. Shike answered these questions in a long email thread or made time for a meeting, even though I’m sure he had better things to do.

Honesty – I was honest with Dr. Shike when I said I liked every single subject in animal science, and he was honest with me when he said, “We should narrow that down.” Ultimately, when we get out of college, we’re hoping for a job. While having lots of interests isn’t a bad thing, Dr. Shike taught me that it’s important to have a focus. He didn’t say “That’s great I’m sure you’ll find a job with all your interests,” and then sent me on my way. We talked a lot about the classes I liked the most and what parts of my internship I enjoyed and what jobs I could see myself doing and what jobs I would be terrible at (sales J ).

Knowledge- The reason I trusted Dr. Shike was not because he has a Ph.D. (although it helped) but it was because he listened when I said things, and I felt he had my best interests in mind. I didn’t know about all the jobs available to me, or what a fellowship was, or how to take the GRE, or how many times is too many times to email a potential graduate school professor. Dr. Shike knew all of these things and knew how to guide me in the best possible way. I’ve always felt as though Dr. Shike was preparing me for bigger things than just landing a job. I felt that I was being pushed to reach my full potential in an area I’m passionate about.

Huge thank you to our amazing ACES Faculty and the differences you’re making in our lives. WE APPRECIATE YOU!  

Tondini and Shike

What does sustainability mean to you?

Apr 11
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

The word “sustainable” gets thrown around a lot these days, but we don’t often stop and think about what it means. To me, the word invokes something lasting, something that can take care of itself. For example, sustainable agriculture focuses on perennial crops that can produce food year after year without a lot of fertilizers, pesticides, or tillage. Once they’re planted—whether by human hands or dispersed naturally by animals or the wind—these plants just keep on giving: a pretty admirable quality, if you ask me.

A few years ago, my friend JP became obsessed with the “edible landscape” we live in, leading tours and workshops to educate others about the native fruits around town and on campus. In the fall, he tells me, you can sample persimmons from the two large trees between the University Library and the Ricker Library of Architecture and Art. Heading north, you can load up on serviceberries near the north entrance of the Union, taste pawpaws west of the Grainger Engineering Library, and sample aronia and elderberries growing outside nearly every campus building. Plan to take this tasty tour in late summer and you might be reminded that not all of our food needs to come to us from hundreds of miles away in little plastic boxes. We can experience sustainable eating right here in our own backyard.     


Student interns TAP into service

Apr 10
Tyler Wolpert, Communications Specialist

Walk into Christopher Hall on the edge of campus, and The Autism Program (TAP) is the first thing you’ll notice. It’s an engaging, vibrant community center dedicated to helping families and individuals dealing with an autism diagnosis. Looking around, you’ll also notice several student interns staffing the program’s resource room. You’ll see these interns busy at work creating learning aids, helping visiting families feel welcomed, or undergoing training on best practices concerning autism spectrum disorders.

TAP’s internship program accepts around 10 undergraduate and graduate students each semester who come from disciplines across campus like psychology, human development and family studies, and speech and hearing sciences. These interns provide a total of 88 hours of volunteer work every week, which allows TAP to provide services to the community Monday through Saturday. The interns’ service facilitates the program’s mission. “We wouldn’t have relevancy or even exist without the dedication and work of our interns,” says TAP Director Linda Tortorelli. “Our students are vital in our efforts to engage with the local community and to assist faculty researchers with their work.”

Student interns also develop invaluable skillsets that have lifelong impacts. One student, senior in Speech and Hearing Science Brittany Silvers, was drawn to the program because of the unique experiences offered by the internship.

“I was interested in the incredible resources and information the program provides to the community,” says Silvers. “I’m studying speech language pathology, and this is just such an incredible opportunity to develop some important skills that will go on to benefit me in my professional life.”

If you’re looking for an opportunity to personally and professional grow while serving your community, TAP is currently accepting applications for new interns, and more information can be found at

TAP Crew

Top 10 things about HDFS that may surprise you…but shouldn’t!

Apr 6
Susan Silverberg Koerner, Head, Department of Human Development and Family Studies

10. Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) faculty are pioneering advances in our understanding of LGBT families; effects of shared mealtimes on child/family health; intimate partner violence; positive youth development; self-regulatory processes in the development of pediatric obesity; father involvement in families with children with disabilities; adolescent risk/resilience from an international perspective; school readiness in the context of poverty; and much more.

9. Our undergraduates pursue a wide range of professions – many in health-related fields such as physical and occupational therapy and pediatric medicine. As HDFS majors these students enroll in pre-health science courses and, through their HDFS courses on lifespan human development and family dynamics, gain insights and skills preparing them to become well informed and compassionate professionals in the health- and mental health-care arenas.

8. HDFS houses The Autism Program (TAP) – a service providing resources and referral for families with children and teens diagnosed on the autism spectrum, consultation and training for professionals, social-skills groups for teens, and opportunities for U of I student training and faculty research. In fact, student interns often describe their TAP training and experience to be the most memorable and transformative experience they had as a U of I student!

7. HDFS faculty and student scholarship is always conducted with a view toward relevant, practical implications. HDFS faculty members serve on federal-level panels and committees for their expertise on school inequalities, child and family policy, post-divorce custody policy and practice, university-based child development laboratories, and more.

6. Our PhD students take on top-notch positions. For example, some have gone on to pursue post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard University and the University of Virginia, while others have gone on to become assistant professors at Auburn University, the University of Missouri, and the University of Illinois-Chicago. Some of our PhD students have accepted positions as data analysts and policy researchers for the University of California-Davis and the U.S. Government, while others have become policy/advocacy specialists for organizations such as the National Association of Child Advocates.

5. The majority of our undergraduates gain hands-on, career-related experience in HDFS faculty research labs. For example, students assist in data collection at courthouses for a study of family court decisions about child custody in the context of intimate partner violence – a perfect opportunity for HDFS students who intend to pursue a career in family law or child/family advocacy.

4. Our goal is to help HDFS students develop a global perspective and awareness. How do we do this? Our students enroll in HDFS 220 Families in Global Perspective – and find it both challenging and eye-opening. Nearly half of our majors have at least one study abroad experience before they graduate – many, including students with physical disabilities that require wheelchairs, through the HDFS faculty-led service-learning trip to Cape Town, South Africa. Our students also work on faculty research projects with an international focus. For example, students assist on a research program on acculturation, globalization, and health among youth and families in Jamaica.

3. The Child Development Laboratory, housed in HDFS, has not only served families in the community with high-quality, evidence-based child care for 75 years (yes, 75 years!), it has had a significant impact on the teaching and research endeavors of faculty and students in six of the colleges on the U of I campus (i.e., ACES; Applied Health Sciences; Education; Engineering; Fine & Applied Arts; and Liberal Arts & Sciences) and the School of Social Work.

2. As they move toward earning their PhDs, HDFS graduate students develop strong skills in advanced quantitative statistical analyses and two forms of qualitative data collection and analysis, making them uniquely competitive on the job market!

1. Our department is ranked No. 2 of 52 PhD-granting HDFS departments nationwide!


ACES students enjoy an afternoon on the ACES Quad

A new season

Apr 5
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

Change is happening all around us. The trees are budding and the grass is transitioning from the dingy brown during winter to a much more pleasant shade of green.

In the changes of spring we find hopeful anticipation, along with feelings of fear and concern. Will the trees turn out as beautiful as we hope, or will an unexpected frost kill the buds? What if uncontrollable storms and wind take away the beauty of the flowering buds?

Trees are not the only things changing around campus. Students are experiencing a lot of changes, too. The inevitable change of the upcoming season lends itself to excitement and uncertainty. The “budding” of internships and career opportunities is exciting, but changes in geographic location and job responsibilities can be uncomfortable.

All new growth – for plants and people – brings some level of discomfort. Despite the fears of unexpected or uncontrollable circumstances, we must remain hopeful of the potential beauty that is yet to come in the new season.

Budding trees

Time to try something new

Apr 3
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

People around here have some pretty great ideas. I could never do justice to the range of creative solutions our faculty and students have found for problems relating to human health, family relationships, environmental issues, and more. When I hear about these innovations, my immediate reaction is something along the lines of, “whoa, awesome.”

With great new ideas or inventions that just make sense, I wonder why things haven’t always been done that way. But it turns out there are very real barriers to change.

Recently, one of our faculty members studied the factors that lead farmers to change their practices (or not). She surveyed farmers in Illinois to find out how likely they are to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping systems on their less productive land. If you’re wondering, MPCs are things like nut trees, fruit-bearing shrubs, and perennial grasses—pretty different from the corn and soybeans that most Illinois farmers are comfortable growing.

It turned out that some of them see the potential of MPCs in terms of environmental benefits and profits and are willing to give the new system a try. Who is most likely to take the plunge? Young and well-educated farmers. Older landowners aren’t as willing to change their ways.

Writing about this research made me wonder: what are my own barriers to change? I’m (relatively) young and well-educated, but have I really tried anything new or beneficial recently? Why not? Mostly, it’s trying to raise two young children while working almost full time. But is that really a good reason?

What about you? Is there something that you’ve been meaning to try? What’s holding you back? Maybe it’s time to make a change. Spring is the perfect time for new beginnings, after all.


Funding our Future

Mar 30
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

Change happens every day, and yet that word evokes fear in the hearts of many. As an institute of higher education that intentionally brings students into a culture that is new to them and asks them to expand their minds and build new experiences with us, it is ironic that so many people in an academic institution are resistant to change. 

Whether we like it or not, we are facing a new normal at the University of Illinois, particularly around the state budget. In my short tenure as dean, I have already come to accept that the state will not provide the same level of funding to this institution as it has in the past. That alone will elicit change in the way we fund this college. We are grateful for every dollar that the state provides to us and the return on that investment is tremendous based on the economic stimulation it generates and the workforce pipelines it helps to develop. However, we cannot rely on state resources to sustain our financial future. This reality creates a call to action for us to diversify our funding portfolio so we can take more ownership for funding the work we love to do. If we can fund it, we can do it. I am highly motivated to work with the ACES community to create pathways towards funding stability.

Several sources of revenue can be expanded to strengthen our financial position including increasing tuition revenue, endowments, gift funds, industry support, royalty generation, and grant funding. I am in deep conversation with the department heads, unit leaders, and the ACES administrative team about how to develop a collegewide strategy that reduces our financial vulnerability.

We realize that expansion potential in various sources differs by unit; however, we should all be on a quest to create an action plan towards financial stability. It is also clear to me that we cannot do this without the contributions, effort, and support of our faculty and staff. There is no miraculous budget strategy independent of faculty and staff efforts to address our financial concerns. You are hardworking, intelligent people with great ideas and ingenuity that we need to tap into to develop realistic strategies to increase revenue streams.

To support a broad, inclusive discussion about budget expansion, we need you to share your thoughts with us. You will have opportunities to do so at departmental faculty meetings, as well as the upcoming collegewide ACES Town Hall meeting on April 25 from 2 to 4 pm in the Monsanto Room of the ACES Library, Information and Alumni Center. I encourage you to come prepared to talk about what we are going to do, how we are going to do it, and who will be responsible for making it happen. 

ACES Library

Become a part of Collegiate 4-H!

Mar 29
Nicole Chance, Sophomore in Agricultural Communications

Ever since I was in third grade, 4-H has been an extremely important part of my life. I was a 10-year member in the 4-H swine project and was actively involved in junior leaders and horse & pony along the way. I cannot begin to explain the numerous valuable lessons 4-H has taught me. Among the most important was hard work. My sister and I walked and washed pigs together nearly every day in the summer. And even though it was not always easy to get along, we learned if we worked hard on our projects together it didn’t matter what ribbon we got at the end of the day. We realized what mattered was the work we put into exhibiting the absolute best project we could.

But, the exciting part is 4-H involvement does not have to stop there! Collegiate 4-H is one of the newest RSOs on campus. Collegiate 4-H invites everyone on campus to join regardless if they were actively involved in 4-H in the past or have little 4-H experience. This is a great opportunity to discover an identity within the campus community. There are a multitude of opportunities to engage in, including social events, youth development, community service, and public relations.

If you have interest in becoming a part of this up and coming RSO on campus, be sure to attend the first Collegiate 4-H meeting on Thursday, March 30 at 6 p.m., in the Bevier Commons of Bevier Hall! Pizza will be provided. If you have any questions regarding the club, contact Jamie Boas at


Race to the Finish

Mar 28
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

Monday was the first day back on campus from spring break. For many of us, the only difference is that the hallways, sidewalks, and classrooms are crowded again. On campus, spring break is an opportunity to dive into important projects that need to be done, before the students return and the race is on toward the end of the semester. In labs, research projects do not stop. In the field sites, preparation is underway for planting season. In offices, writing proposals and reports, grading assignments, preparing curricula, and many other sundry tasks go on unabated. Nevertheless, it is a breather for many of the university’s workforce as well, especially those who have kids on spring break and see the week as an opportunity to build family ties and memories.

Spring break is over now, and the students are back in the classrooms. Many of them are looking at the long list of assignments due and tests on the horizon in the next weeks, realizing that it is time to make good on their goals of finishing well and balancing learning with living. Sometimes that is hard to do, when the weather is warming and spring is in full bloom. As I looked at the faces of students in my ACE/BADM 436 class this week, it was clear that spring break had been a respite for many students to put some study aside. Now it was time to get back into the game. This particular class is the international business immersion program, so these students have an exciting international learning experience awaiting them after the semester ends. The chance to be immersed in New Zealand’s agri-food sector is substantial motivation for them to be well prepared. However, no matter what classes our ACES students are taking this semester, we know that they are among the best and brightest undergraduates on the planet. A word to that cohort of learners – have no fear, the race to the finish this semester will end well.

Walking between classes

20,000 reasons why 4-H matters

Mar 16
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

“Try again.” I think that should be the new 4-H motto. 4-H does great things, but my most important lesson learned was to pick myself up and try again.

Phyllis Schultz was my 4-H leader. I can still feel her leaning over me, guiding my hands as I tried to sew the straightest seam possible; then watching me as I ripped it out to try again.

Some would say I’m an accomplished public speaker now, but in sixth grade, I was the only kid who got a “red ribbon” in the county 4-H speaking contest. I am who I am today because I didn’t give up; I tried again, and again, and again.

Years ago as a 4-H staff member in White County, a parent asked why her 9-year-old didn’t receive the highest Superior Award on her exhibit. The judge smiled and politely replied, “I hope at 9, she still has something to learn and somewhere to grow.”

4-H gives kids the opportunity to learn by doing, grow from failure and develop the skills they need to handle what life throws their way. No one knows this better than 4-H alumni who have experienced our programs firsthand.

Chances are, you have great memories from your years in 4-H… that special year of 4-H camp where you learned about nature or passed your swim test; that club leader who patiently taught you to sew; that year you served as president of your club; that summer you worked with your grandfather on a woodworking project. And, of course, the state fair.

Last year more than 26,500 youth were members of 4-H clubs, and another 175,000 youth participated in other 4-H youth development experiences, such as embryology classes, career training, summer camps, cooking clubs, robotics meets, and so much more. We’re as vital and important today as we’ve ever been.

You can help us. National 4-H Council is sponsoring a contest to see which state can identify the most 4-H alum. We think that should be easy for Illinois. The winning state receives $20,000. We could use that.

Here’s all you need to do. Go to  to show your pride as a  4-H alum by registering. Have you stayed in touch with other 4H alum? Well, Text them, tweet them, snap them, email them, or share a post with them. You can even call them on the telephone or walk up to them on the street. Catch up, then ask them to raise their hand for 4-H, too.

There are 20,000 reasons why that’s a good idea.