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 4-H.org/RaiseYourHand  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.

The campus experience captured in the senses

Mar 9
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

The smell of freshly cut alfalfa, the sound of a favorite hymn, and glare of the sun off a clean sheet of fallen snow all evoke memories via my senses.

As I walked down the hall this week towards the Dean's suite with its iconic woodwork and arch-shape in Mumford Hall, I realized the same is true for the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of campus. Many of these are a part of the campus tapestry and student experience because of generous donors.

The ring of the bells of the McFarland Carillon on the south quad are made possible by a gift from alumnus Dick McFarland in honor of his late wife Sally.

The taste of a Bevier Café cookie comforts the soul! Those cookies are prepared in a kitchen whose renovation was realized with a gift from Phil and Nita Francis.

Looking up as one enters the atrium of the College of ACES Library, Information, and Alumni Center captures an image in the mind that is not quickly forgotten. That “Jewel of the ACES campus” was the result of decades of generous support from alumni and friends of the University of Illinois.

And although they are a bit farther from campus than they once were, the South Farms’ smell continues to remind us all of this great University’s roots in agriculture! Donors have even gifted some of the animals on the South Farms.

Look around, savor the tastes, open your ears as you open your mind, and take in the smells of campus so that memories are absorbed in your senses. You may be surprised when they come back to you.

Mumford Hall

How meat gets made

Mar 7
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

I have shared my adventures at the Meat Science Lab on campus before. The joy of making bacon and the smiling faces I see buying ribeyes and pork chops. Today I’m going to take you on another meat science adventure. The dirty work that has to be done to get to this wonderful meat euphoria.

It sounds way worse than it actually is. No one is swinging swords around at livestock. Slaughter just means the killing of animals for food, and it is done in a humane manner. Before I had taken part in this process, I was not sure what to expect, and I feel like most people feel the same way. So I'm going to go step-by-step through this process, so it doesn't seem as scary, and because if you eat meat, it's a good idea to know how it got to your table.

1) Immobilization - For pork, this is done with an electrical current, and for beef and lamb this is done via captive bolt. These methods render the animal unconscious and unable to feel before any cuts are made. Immobilization allows the entire process to comply with humane regulations. Immobilization instantly renders the animal insensible and no longer able to feel pain.

2) Suspension - Animals are suspended on an overhead rail by the hind legs.

3) Exsanguination - Big fancy word for "draining all the blood." The carotid artery and jugular vein are cut allowing the blood to drain out.

4) Hide removal or de-hairing- Cows are skinned, and pigs are de-haired. The skinning process is straightforward. They're skinned from the belly out, and the hide comes off all together. Pigs are drenched in hot water which helps with the removal of the hair, and then they are singed with a gas flame. This gas flame will burn human thumbs if they don't move their hand out of the way fast enough. I learned this the hard way ... :)

*I don’t know if this one deserves its own bullet point, but this is where we decapitate pigs. It is a lot harder than it seems. My family doesn’t believe that I cut the heads off of pigs on Tuesday mornings, but I do. It happens. (Beef cattle are decapitated after exsanguination and before hide removal).

5) Evisceration - Big fancy word for "removing the organs."

6) Chilling - The carcass is split in half and sent to cool in the refrigerator

Then these carcasses are cut into retail cuts or made into other edible meat products like sausage and the always loveable, bacon. See, it’s not so bad.

It’s not about the what – it’s about the who

Mar 6
Jennifer Shike, Director for Communications and Marketing

DVMs. Trial judges. Farmers. PhDs. Extension agents. Bankers. USDA leaders. Professors. Youth program coordinators. Marketing directors. Scientists. Game changers.

I know our ACES alumni go on to do amazing things and literally change the world around us. But I never cease to be impressed. Every year I look forward to attending the University of Illinois Meats and Livestock Judging Reunion with my husband, Dan, and learning about the judging team alums and what they are up to these days. And this year was no different.

As a former livestock judge myself, there is just something unexplainable about the camaraderie and life-changing friendships that develop through the intense competition and practice schedule that collegiate judges experience. If you’ve marked cards before, you know what I mean. In 2000, I transitioned from being a collegiate judge to being a judging coach’s wife. I began to see things from an even different perspective. For 11 years, Dan coached the livestock judging team as a graduate student and then as a visiting assistant professor. Today he oversees the livestock judging program and co-coaches the meat animal evaluation team each spring.

At the reunion, we heard from judging team members who judged anywhere from 60 years ago to as recently as a few months ago. As they shared their stories, one theme remained clear. They all centered around the people they met at the University of Illinois.

Gene Schwarm, a member of the 1976 meats judging team, served as a chief circuit judge and trial judge for 20 years. He shared, “Judging was a wonderful experience for me. Several people encouraged me to do it because of the coach, Dr. Tom Carr. They told me I’d learn from a person of integrity who loves to compete. I’m so glad I listened to their advice.”

2006 meats judging team member Rachel (Smith) Adams laughed that she couldn’t remember every contest or city they traveled to, but what she does remember are the friendships and connections that she made who continue to be her colleagues as she serves as the youth programs coordinator for the American Meat Science Association.

Dick Jurgens, a member of the 1966 livestock judging team and vice president of United Producers Livestock Marketing Association, said times have changed since he was on campus. He said the best part of his U of I experience was the people. “I always felt so fortunate to interact with the movers and shakers on the livestock industry,” Jurgens said.

Perhaps my favorite quote of the night came from former Lake Land College Agriculture Division Chair Curt Rincker, a member of the 1976 livestock judging team (always the era with the best hair and suit jackets!). “After 40 years, there are just some things we don’t forget that we gained as members of the judging team: work ethic, team effort, and the impact our coaches had on our lives. It all comes down to the people,” Rincker said.

In the College of ACES at the University of Illinois, we are definitely producing the great leaders of tomorrow – the movers and shakers who are going to make true impacts in the world. As a wise person said, it’s not about the what, it’s about the who. And as I looked around the room Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think how privileged that group was to have each other – people that could sharpen and challenge each other to be their very best. Sure, they do amazing things, but who they are is even more telling of their success in life.

Meats judging team members gather around their coach Dr. Tom Carr, center.

2006 Livestock Judging Team members catch up at the reunion. From left, coach Dr. Dan Shike, Brandon Yantis, Micah (Taylor) Jansen, and Aaron Orebaugh.

1976 alum Curt Rincker shares his memories of participating on the livestock judging team.



Four disciplines, one mission

Feb 27
Shelly Nickols-Richardson, Head, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Melodic and memorable, the opening tune from Oliver! asks the question, “Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood, on food…?”1 Whether in the discipline of dietetics, food science, hospitality management, or human nutrition, faculty and students in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) collectively find it a privilege to dwell on food. And to find solutions to food supply limitations and malnutrition that Oliver experienced, when singing of glorious food. In FSHN, we explore food, touch it, feel it, smell it, taste it, break it down into its chemical components and build it up again to create new stuff, all with an eye toward who will eat the food, where they will obtain it, how they will consume it, and how it will affect their bodies and environments in the short-term and long-run. We conduct research about food and all of its aspects to teach the next generation of food fanatics how to discover and disseminate knowledge that is vital for human health, as well as to share our findings with folks who match with our passion. Our longstanding mission has been to implement research, education, and outreach programs designed to promote a safe, nutritious, accessible, and affordable food supply that enhances human health, and we intend to continue delivering on this mission.

Through the integration of food, nutrition and health, we create foods, explore diets, and identify food and nutrition patterns for optimal health. Particularly interesting to us is how food impacts gastrointestinal health (or the human gut), weight management, cancer prevention, and metabolic health (such as blood pressure and blood sugar regulation). Those who want to develop new products explore food materials and apply engineering principles to play with food ingredients, properties and interactions, and the microstructures, micro-carriers, and nanoparticles that allow for novel and nutritious food creation, packaging, and distribution. Making sure that the macro- and micro-components of foods, namely nutrients and bioactive compounds, are helpful to energizing people in their work, play, and daily functions is the forte of our biochemical and molecular nutritionists. And through applied microbiology, we convert biomass for food, fuel, and fiber sources, along with contributing to a safe and accessible food supply.   

As Oliver knows - and we have the good fortune to obsess over - good food and healthy dietary patterns are made of more than just gruel. We in the FSHN Department are fortunate to work in a diverse, inclusive, interdisciplinary, and enabling environment to fixate on food, and we too find it magical, marvelous, fabulous, and glorious!

1Bart L, Oliver! 1960.

Chicken Salad

Building Extension 3.0

Feb 22
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

Extension personnel facilitate the translation of many of the fantastic discoveries made at land-grant universities to people around the world. Oftentimes, this is the only way that this valuable information reaches people so they can make good decisions that improve the qualities of their lives. I believe Extension embodies the essence of the land-grant mission because this is where transformation happens.

Over the past six years, tremendous change has occurred in the Extension enterprise that has had dramatic consequences: some favorable – others not so favorable. The impact of Extension efforts in urban areas has improved dramatically in recent years, whereas efforts to support commercial agriculture have declined. We cannot be all things to all people. However, I am curious about what we are doing in Extension that is working well. I am also curious about the challenges, obstacles, and oversights. Ultimately, how can we adjust to improve visibility and impact?

We must navigate the gap between ACES discovery research and the translation of those research outcomes to communities. We have extraordinary researchers publishing in the most prestigious journals; yet, the transformative ability of this work is limited because few people outside of the scientific community are aware of these discoveries. We also have extraordinary Extension personnel performing magnificent work in our communities. However, very little of this work brings awareness to ongoing ACES research and teaching efforts. We need to close this gap and synergize our assets across the three aspects of our mission: Extension, teaching, and research.

If Extension 1.0 is the model that was in play in 2010, we are currently living into Extension 2.0. I propose we work together to develop Extension 3.0 in a way that allows us to close the loop among discovery, translation, and transformation efforts. Learning from our past, noticing what is working and what is not working in our current system, and adjusting to move forward to address concerns are ways we can evolve our Extension model into something that is enormously impactful. This will require our researchers to invest time and energy to support the translation of the outcomes of their work. It will take a collective effort across ACES and Extension to live into our purpose of transforming lives.

To accomplish this we may have to reshape how college and Extension personnel view each other in regards to living into the land-grant mission. Who is responsible for translating ACES research to citizens of the state and around the globe? How do we measure and assess impacts of our efforts? Do we have the appropriate mechanisms in place for acknowledging people for their contributions? Many questions that we have the power to answer are in play. The path forward must allow every employee to be in a situation where their contributions are valued and appreciated, and where accountability and acknowledgment pathways are well developed.

Please embrace the challenge of working with Associate Dean Czapar and myself to frame Extension 3.0. We are open to ideas about what it should look like and how to manifest it. I am certain of one thing: Extension will remain a vital part of the College of ACES. We cannot maximize our potential as a college of this nature without a vibrant Extension presence, and research is the foundation of effective Extension efforts. I look forward to working with you to create relationships among our research, teaching, and Extension enterprises as we build Extension 3.0.

Building Extension 3.0

Practice generosity

Feb 21
Angie Barnard, Illinois 4-H Foundation Executive Director

It is never too early to make a difference…practice generosity.

As the Executive Director of the Illinois 4-H Foundation, my primary responsibility is to raise money to support Illinois 4-H youth and the programs offered to them through the University of Illinois 4-H Youth Development Program. Trust me – when I’m out talking to people, it’s easy to create excitement about supporting this cause. But, so many people feel that if they can’t give a large amount, it isn’t worth supporting at all.

I enjoy having the conversation about making a difference to those efforts that you are passionate about and want to see improve by giving what you can. $1, $5, $10…just give what you can and together it makes a BIG difference. More importantly, get in the habit of giving. When you are out of school, think about things that have shaped you and say thank you by giving them $5. It may be your lunch money for one day, but heck you can pack a cold meat sandwich at home instead for one day!

There are very few people who don’t like the idea of generosity. Humans love to help others and confront needs when we see them. Unfortunately, there are also very few people who are content with the level of generosity in their lives. Most people I know wish they were able to give more. And while there are a number of reasons that this may be the case… sometimes the best solution may be the simplest.

  • Consider the benefits of generosity. Generous people report being happier, healthier, and more satisfied with life than those who don’t give. 
  • Embrace gratitude. Make a list of the things in your life for which you are grateful. 
  • Start really small. If you’ve never given away money, start by giving away $1. If you are embarrassed to give just $1, don’t be. Every amount makes a difference!
  • Give first. When you receive your next paycheck, make your first expense an act of giving. 
  • Divert one specific expense. For a set period of time (try 29 days), divert one specific expense to a charity of your choosing. All the money that was going to your coffee on Thursday mornings—set aside for a charity.
  • Fund a cause based on your passions. There are countless charities/causes that need your support. And some of them are directly in-line with your most compelling passions. What are you most passionate about?
  • Find a person you believe in. If you find that you are more easily motivated and shaped by the people in your life rather than organizations/causes, use that tendency as motivation instead. Discover who they support. Maybe you can join alongside them.
  • Spend time with people in need. One of the most effective antidotes for non-generosity is to make space in your life for those who actually need your help.
  • Spend time with a generous person. One of the most life-changing conversations I’ve ever had about generosity occurred when I found the courage to start asking specific questions of the right person. I remember starting with, “Have you always been generous?” 

Generosity rarely happens by chance. Instead, it is an intentional decision that we make in our lives. But it does not need to be as difficult as many people think. Sometimes, starting with the simple steps is the best step that we can take.

What simple steps have you incorporated into your life to foster generosity?

Blanket Buddies
Sadorus 4-H All Stars club members raised money and made 33 blankets for residents at a local assisted living facility. They have learned that spending time with people in need and supporting a cause based on their passions makes life more rewarding!

Illinois in my roots

Feb 16
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

On the day I graduated from the University of Illinois, my brother leaned in to hug me and whispered in my ear, “Your grandfather would be so proud of you! He loved this university!”

With the sesquicentennial anniversary celebration of the University of Illinois kicking off later this month, I am reflecting on the university’s role in my family, as well as thousands of others across this state and beyond. The land-grant mission reaches far beyond Urbana-Champaign.

Indeed, my grandfather loved this university. He and several of his brothers earned degrees in the 1930s from the then College of Agriculture. They would go on to pursue careers in production agriculture and beyond. I am a third generation Illini. Two of my uncles and my brother also earned degrees in ACES.

My parents are not Illinois alumni but I can attest that the University of Illinois has impacted our family for decades. The University of Illinois Extension office was a regular stop when my mom ran errands “in town” when I was growing up. She was either dropping off 4-H paperwork or picking up the latest information related to her HCE group. The regional FBFM representative shared best practices and asked about each of us kids while meeting with my dad to review the farm financial records throughout the year.

Even my siblings who are not University of Illinois degree holders walked this campus several times per year. State 4-H conferences, Illinois FFA convention in Assembly Hall (now State Farm Center); and meats, livestock, and dairy judging contests after a four-hour bus ride are all University of Illinois memories for my family. The list of ways the university has touched generations of my family goes on and on:

  • We learned from teachers who were trained at the University of Illinois.
  • We led livestock in to show rings with official judges who were both University of Illinois faculty or judged competitively at the collegiate level wearing orange and blue.
  • The production and conservation practices on our centennial farm have certainly benefited from the translatable research conducted by the University of Illinois.
  • My niece and nephews are now learning by doing at the Illini Summer Academies and ACES Family Academies.
  • My kids cheer on Fighting Illini athletics and are quickly learning to sway to the Alma Mater.
  • And the next generation of Illini graduates are earning their degrees right now.

This is just a glimpse of my family’s Illini story. What’s yours? Share your story on the Sesquicentennial Webpage.

This was my great uncle's student handbook.

Join the conversation

Feb 13
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

Have you had a chance to check out any of our #askACES Twitter chats over the last several months? We have had a blast getting to know the faculty and researchers who have participated. We have also learned a lot about what kinds of questions the media and the public have about the impactful work we do in the College of ACES.

Each month, during the one-hour Twitter chat, ACES researchers answer your questions in a live Q & A conversation.  We have covered some, often, timely topics such as childhood obesity, the science of processed meat, GMOs, and water quality, to name a few.  Our ACES experts have been able to share a lot of helpful information and resources during these chats, even considering the limited-number of characters allowed in a “tweet.”

Each chat is then followed up with a podcast interview with the researchers to dig a little deeper into the conversation and cover questions that may not have been answered during the Twitter chat.

On Feb. 16, we’ll be talking with Dr. Brian Ogolsky from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies as he discusses the science behind why romantic relationships improve or deteriorate. It’s Valentine’s Day week so perhaps relationship maintenance is on a few peoples’ minds?

You are invited to join the conversation using #askACES on Twitter from noon - 1 p.m. on Thurs. Feb. 16 to ask your questions or to simply follow the conversation.  

Stay tuned for future #askACES topics and dates. For previous podcasts visit https://soundcloud.com/aces-illinois.


Do you see the hidden figures?

Feb 8
Paige Jones, Junior in Agricultural Communications

This past weekend I had the opportunity to see the movie Hidden Figures. This film was based on the true story of three African American women working for NASA in the 1960s. They were incredible mathematicians that made significant contributions not only to the United States’ first trip to space, but also to racial and gender equality. Their names were not mentioned in the newspaper when Alan Shepard became the first American to reach outer space or when John Glenn successfully orbited the earth. These women were the behind-the-scenes people, the hidden figures of American history. After watching the movie, I began to question just how many hidden figures there are in the United States. Who are the people that just kept their head down, did their work, accomplished great things, and never asked for any recognition or a simple thank you? Who are those hidden figures at the University of Illinois? Or specifically in the College of ACES? Who are the hidden figures in your own life?

When thinking about the hidden figures of the College of ACES, I’m sure there are several you could name that I’ve never even met or heard of. There are many that stood here over a hundred years ago and have paved the way for each of us, faculty and students alike, on this campus. There are many that are here now that I would consider hidden figures. They do the behind-the-scenes work that maybe you don’t always notice or maybe you have never cared to wonder who was responsible for it. These hidden figures of the College of ACES dedicate themselves to improving this school and never ask for anything in return. Do you see what they do and the impact their work has on the College of ACES? Do you say thank you?

I like to think that there are hidden figures in our own life stories as well.  I think about the people that have positively impacted my life and have played a role in getting me to this point. The first to come to mind are my parents. They deserve every ounce of gratitude and credit that they receive, but they certainly receive the bulk of it so I don’t consider them hidden figures. The hidden figures in my life are the grandparents and babysitters that made sure I was fed after school and got my homework done before my parents picked me up. They are the teachers that were the firsts to suggest I pursue a career in writing or communications. They are the various community members from my hometown that have followed my post-high school endeavors and cheered me on through texts, emails, or simply Facebook comments. All of you deserve more thanks than you realize. That is what makes you hidden figures in my life.

My challenge to all of you reading this is to look for the hidden figures. They are all around us; we just don’t look hard enough. Look for them around the College of ACES. Look for them in your own life. Once you find them, say thank you.