New faces in ACES

Nov 19
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

It’s not a secret that we in ACES like to eat! The Office of Advancement often greets new faces to the team with breakfast or other sweet treats. The bagels, fruit, and other fare were in abundance this fall as we welcomed numerous new team members to the College of ACES Office of Advancement.

Charles (Chad) Vogel began his duties as Associate Dean for Development on October 5. In this capacity, Chad is responsible for overseeing the team charged with obtaining external funding in support of the land-grand mission of the College of ACES. Chad came to Illinois from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, where he served as senior director of development. In his free time, he enjoys writing on issues of philanthropy. Feel free to contact Chad at

Pedro Fernandes da Costa brought a global perspective to the College of ACES Advancement team when he arrived in October. Working closely with Barry Dickerson, Senior Director of Corporate Relations, Pedro is responsible for the College of ACES’ relationships with select corporations. Pedro holds a bachelor’s degree in agronomy, master’s degree in agricultural economics, and an MBA.

A two-time alumna of the College of ACES, Jennifer Smith found her way back to campus in early September to join the Office of Advancement team as Assistant Director of Development. She is responsible for securing private support for the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Agricultural Education program, and Illinois 4-H, working in collaboration with Angie Barnard.

Wasting no time, Matt Smith attended the Farm Progress Show on his third day of work as Assistant Director of Development in the College of ACES. Matt is charged with securing private support for the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, and Division of Nutritional Sciences. Prior to his arrival in ACES, Matt oversaw sales and marketing at Allerton Park and Retreat Center.

To meet the full College of ACES Advancement team visit the Office of Advancement.

Chad Vogel
Chad Vogel, ACES Associate Dean for Development

Get behind the wheel!

Nov 17
Jason Emmert, Assistant Dean, Academic Programs

“Wow, what a beautiful car,” you think to yourself as you are signing the papers to pay for your dream ride. You’ve been working hard, saving for this for a long time, and the day is finally here. The last signature is written, the last handshake shared; you have the keys in your hand and you begin walking toward the vehicle that you’ve been wanting for years. And keep walking. You leave the new car (and your money!) behind.

What a crazy scenario! Well, unfortunately this happens all the time, all around the country. Students (or parents) pay for an education that goes unfinished. Granted, there are many reasons this can happen – finances, health, and other personal reasons can get in the way, and that can happen at any university. However, the truth is that graduation rates vary tremendously from school to school. 

Are graduation rates an important factor to examine when considering different universities? Absolutely! Often times we’re consumed with comparing cost among schools, but we don’t take the time to look at the schools’ track records of graduating their students. And taking more time to complete a degree adds cost. 

So what do we need to know about graduation rates? First, you should know that the national average four-year graduation rate is around 36%. That’s not great, in my opinion. Part of the problem on many campuses is that there’s just too much competition to get into required courses, causing students to take more time. What about U of I? Our four-year graduation rate is around70%, which is just about double the national average. And, we have the SECOND HIGHEST GRADUATION RATE IN THE COUNTRY among universities that offer similar degree programs to those we offer in ACES.

OK – looking at the four-year graduation rate is important, and most students want to graduate in four years. But what about students who don’t finish in four years; do they ever graduate? For most universities, you’ll also find a published six-year graduation rate. Six years – that sounds scary! Well – that actually does not literally mean six years; it really means more than four. If you take 4.5 years to finish, you become part of the six-year graduation number. Six years provides enough time for most students, even if they face some of the problems I mentioned above, whether it’s financial, health, or something else. When you look at the six-year rate, that’s basically the final graduation rate; very few students take longer than six years.

Well, if the 4-year average is around 36%, what is the 6-year average? Around 56%. Yep – that’s right. Across the country, just over half of all college students ever graduate. But I have good news – at the U of I, around 85-87% of our students finish. And for us, most of that increase happens in one semester (in other words, after 4.5 years). Student graduation is a point of emphasis on our campus, and we plan to keep it that way!

Now – if you’re a college student (or planning to become one) you’re not a statistic. You are an individual, and the numbers I provided above do not mean that you will, or will not, graduate in four years, whether on our campus or another campus. But I believe the numbers do give you an indication of the “pool” you’re in. You’ll have a good idea whether or not you’re surrounded by students who are likely to graduate. And seeing your peers succeed can have an impact on you – motivating you to achieve great things, and reach (or exceed!) your potential. 

At the U of I, we encourage you to dream big – and it’s our job to help you achieve those dreams. Don’t walk on by what you’ve worked so hard to acquire – and get behind the wheel of the best ride of your life!

Graduation rate

Latte or Pumpkin Spice?

Nov 10
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

Every Thursday morning, a marketing and communications team assembles to discuss relevant marketing issues, projects, and strategies for the College of ACES. This most recent Thursday, the first debate was about the quality of the pumpkin spice flavored Joe. Fueling the conversation was the ubiquitous beverage that seemingly keeps the whole university running, early in the morning until late at night. 

Coffee beans are actually berries…Who knew? They come from evergreen plants in the Rubiaceae family. Cultivation of coffee bushes is said to have originated in Ethiopia, sometime before the 15th century. And the earliest reliable evidence suggests that roasting and brewing coffee first occurred in Sufi monasteries of Yemen around the middle of that century, before Columbus sailed. Coffee consumption later spread through the Arab world and into Europe, with lots of mercantile, political, and cultural intrigue, becoming one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. The Dutch East India Company introduced coffee to the island of Java in Southeast Asia, where it found a suitable subtropical environment for cultivation, and coffee plantation also spread to other parts of Africa and Latin America. Coffee is second only to water as a popular beverage and almost two-thirds of global consumption is in the United States, Germany, and France. Coffee is truly a global business and a fascinating example of a complex agricultural supply chain with all kinds of economic, social, and cultural implications.

Coffee is more than that though. The biggest coffee brand in the United States sells the experience, not just the beverage. It’s remarkable to think how far Americans have come in coffee culture over just a few years. I still remember my first taste, in the early 1960’s. My cousin goaded my grandmother to give us some while we were shelling corn on a cold winter morning, steaming hot and laced with sugar. I spit it out! But years later, to cope with late hours of studying, etcetera, on this campus, I learned to like the stuff, even though it was the standard issue Colombian variety peddled by Juan Valdez.

But then…I moved to Vienna, Austria…and “Eureka!” I discovered the joy of Wiener Melange, the Viennese version of latte, served in porcelain cups on silver trays. Nothing here really compares…yet…but the revolution did come to America. Favorite coffee haunts now abound on the Illinois campus, and around town. Surely our students, and faculty, would be at a total loss for survival if they did not have these spots to study, converse, and surf the net.  Demand must be strong, because the lines are long and the baristas are busy. So, the story is that once again, agriculture and the business of food fuel the engines of our very lives.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” T.S.  Eliot


Reaching out across ACES disciplines

Nov 6
Leia Kedem, Agricultural Communications Instructor

As physically close as we may be on our side of campus, ACES disciplines can be worlds apart in understanding each other’s fields.

This hit home for me in early October, when I attended FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo) in Nashville for professional development through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Naturally, I was drawn to a session on antibiotic use in humans and animals. I was taken aback (yet not surprised) when a texting poll revealed that the majority of the audience believed that meat products contain a significant amount of antibiotic residues.

Having worked in Extension prior to my current position, I knew there were strict government regulations in place regarding antibiotic residues in food – if present, these would be miniscule amounts unlikely to have an impact on human health. But if I hadn’t had the experience, would I have known? Maybe not.

Antibiotic use in agriculture is a hot topic these days; just a few weeks ago, Subway announced they would be moving toward all antibiotic-free meat within the next ten years. Of course, all meat is virtually antibiotic-free, but many consumers (and evidently, dietitians) don’t know that. Apart from the residue issue, though, people are also interested in how their meat was produced. What is the purpose of using antibiotics in agriculture? Does this contribute to the growing antibiotic resistance problem? How does it relate to animal welfare?

These are all excellent questions that the average person probably could not answer accurately (sorry, information yielded from a Google search doesn’t count!).

As current president of my local professional group (Eastern Illinois Dietetic Association - EIDA), I was inspired to leverage my Ag Comm connections and organize one of our monthly meetings around this topic.

I reached out to Jill Johnson, Director of Communications for the Illinois Beef Association and ’12 Ag Comm alum, who rallied several people involved in the industry to come answer our pressing questions. At our October 26 meeting, Johnson moderated a discussion with panel members Sara Prescott (Prescott Angus), Alan Adams (Adams Family Farm; U of I Agriculture Science alum, ’73), and Dan Shike (U of I Professor of Animal Sciences; U of I Animal Sciences alum, ’05 and ‘07).

EIDA attendees were not shy and questioned the panel on production practices, including the use of hormones and of course, antibiotics. A key message was that there is no right or wrong way to raise livestock; there is a market for all types of niche products (e.g., grass-fed or USDA Certified Organic). Another was that antibiotics and hormones have both benefits and drawbacks.

I even learned a few new facts! Organic farmers can and do treat their animals with antibiotics; however, those animals are then marketed as conventional, not organic. I also found out that hormone implants help the animals put on muscle mass more quickly, which results in leaner beef (good for heart health!).

Dietetics is really just an extension of the agricultural field, so why aren’t we talking more? If you’re a student, I encourage you to take ACES classes outside of your own major to gain a broader understanding of the issues you’re passionate about. And for everyone else, well, it’s still not too late! Make an effort to learn from others in related fields and most importantly, ask questions. One of the best things about the College of ACES is its interdisciplinary nature, so let’s make the most of it.

Reaching out across ACES disciplines
Ag Comm Alum Jill Johnson moderates a discussion with panel members Sara Prescott, ACES alum Alan Adams, and U of I Professor of Animal Sciences Dan Shike.

A glance into global collaboration

Nov 5
Anna Kanfer, Sophomore in Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Upon arrival in Rome, I was starstruck. Our whole group jumped out of the cab and practically skipped all the way down our hotel’s main street to the Colosseum. It was 10:00 a.m. after spending ten hours on a plane without sleep, but we were energized. There was an hour and a half before our first appointment at the conference venue, so it was mandatory to squeeze in at least a “breakfast gelato” and a couple of pictures beforehand. We didn’t know what we’d gotten ourselves into at that point, but this wouldn’t be the last of sleepless nights and jam-packed days.

For the next four days, we were immersed in a world so far from anything I’ve seen before.The First International Congress on Postharvest Loss Prevention convened 260 people from 62 different countries to share their research, findings, and ideas on what can be done to solve this important component of world hunger. My favorite aspect of the event was getting to meet and learn about people from all different areas of the world--from right there in Rome, to as far as Ethiopia or Thailand.

At the reception on the first evening, our group met a presenter from Ghana named Mammie, whose research focused on expanding food processing capacity. We talked about her various trips all over the world, and studies during her college years in the familiar Midwestern USA! Mammie mentioned that she hadn’t had much time to do any exploring, so Chelsea and I walked with her down to the Colosseum during our lunch hour the next day. We had a great chance to learn all about the experience and culture of living in her home country, and shared experiences from our own.

When Mammie presented her poster the following morning, our group was able to hear a new side of her interests, and feel what it was like to gain knowledge from a colleague at a conference like this. It was interesting to learn about the types of research she’s done, and the solutions she proposes--like spreading education so that processing plants can be developed in rural areas, eliminating the need for and danger of transportation from harvesting sites to urban plants on gravel roads. When much of the Ghanaian postharvest losses occur during transportation because of bumps and carelessness on harsh roads, this solution could drastically change outcomes for farmers and traders.

The experiences we had with Mammie were similar to those with many of the other participants, and that was my favorite part of our week in Rome. The congress introduced us to a whole new world of collaboration, where people from all over the globe were able to come together and make a difference. In just a few short days, I learned about postharvest loss in Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh--only to name a few of the many countries. I learned about personal experiences of people, like Mammie, from each of those places, and about how they were shaped by those experiences. The congress taught me more than anything else, that a global view is important when it comes to being effective in solving problems you’re passionate about. Open-mindedness and collaboration are two of the key components to success in anything. I walked away from the congress with knowledge not only of postharvest loss, but with a refreshed ambition to work hard in hopes of future systematic efforts, just like this one, to organize solutions to any world problems that come our way.

Mammie, Chelsea and I at the Colosseum during lunch on the first full day of sessions.
Mammie, Chelsea and I at the Colosseum during lunch on the first full day of sessions.

Winter-Nelson joins ag delegation to Cuba

Nov 4
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

I always enjoy hearing about and reporting on my boss’s travels, but I was especially curious when he recently returned from Cuba, an island so close yet one that few Americans have visited.

Dr. Alex Winter-Nelson traveled to Cuba during mid-October as part of a high-profile delegation that included Congressman Rodney Davis (R) and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D), who both serve on the IL House Agriculture Committee. The trip was organized by the Illinois-Cuba Working group and focused on expanding agricultural trade opportunities.

I was surprised to learn Illinois already supplies at least 20% of Cuba’s corn and soy, and the recent thawing of relations between our two countries opens possibilities for even greater economic opportunities for Illinois. 

Specifically for ACES, it could mean opportunities for academic exchange that are mutually beneficial for scholars in Illinois and Cuba.

You can read more about Dr. Winter-Nelson’s perspective here.  

Small details

Nov 3
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

Those who know me well know that I am a detail-oriented person. At times, I struggle to see the “big picture,” but I’ll always notice the tiny details.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, I remember the first time I walked the steps in Mumford Hall. I immediately noticed the slight grooves worn in the marble steps, all of which were located near the inside railing. Although this seems like a small detail to many people, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of students who walked those same steps through the years. I immediately felt like a small part of the immense history of the University of Illinois.

The buildings that make up the College of ACES are full of details that reflect the character of this university. In our rush to get to class or go to our next meeting, we sometimes miss the details that surround us each day. These miniscule features are often nestled in the beautiful architecture and landscape of this campus.

No matter where you are, take a few minutes this next week to notice the small details. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that mean the most.

University of Illinois

Rising to the challenge

Oct 30
Jesse Thompson, Assistant Dean, Academic Programs

As I have been actively engaged in the recruitment of the next undergraduate class, many things have come to mind as I travel around the state about why students should come to the Urbana-Champaign campus. Students express that they are hesitant to apply because of what they may see as a restrictive environment based on race, gender, geography, and other concerns. I beg to differ. 

U of I strives to build a campus environment which allows students to develop an array of skills that will make them productive citizens and problem-solvers for the future. The diversity of this campus is what energizes the learning process. The quality of experiences that students gain allow them to demonstrate that no matter what the environment that they came from, they can engage with others and free themselves of the stereotypes about themselves and their groups.

When you exist in the highly charged and challenging academic environment of the University of Illinois, the focus is on academic growth and discovery, and students tend to perform based on the highest expectations which are placed on them by faculty, staff, potential employers, and their peers. 

Field & Furrow Club to celebrate 80 years!

Oct 29
Marise Robbins-Forbes, ACES Director of Development, Crop Science and NRES

On this beautiful fall day, I am excited about the upcoming 80th Reunion of Illinois’ award-winning Field and Furrow Club November 6 and 7! The 75th gathering was wonderful and the 80th will be even better. Please join us! Thanks to the generosity of a F&F alum, invitees will not be charged for the luncheon at the 77 Club or for the Saturday banquet.

Save your pennies for the silent auction that night! More than 20 items to choose from with proceeds supporting F&F student conference travel. We are trying to help crop sciences students get to the SASES regional and national meetings to share their posters!

Anyone who has given to the Turner Hall Project is also invited as we are also using this occasion to showcase the completion of the first phase of construction. Registration ends soon so sign up and we will hold your spot. Check out the schedule of events for the weekend.

Change is in the air...

Oct 29
Angie Barnard, Illinois 4-H Foundation Executive Director

When the temperatures change and the leaves transform into beautiful color, it is the sign of new opportunities. The youngest members of my family are quite excited for their newest opportunity - finally becoming Cloverbud 4-H members.  My 5 and 7 year olds see their mom leave our home every day to be a “4-H worker” and, for them, going to their first 4-H meeting this week signals new friends, new experiences, and new fun!  I couldn’t be more proud and full of anticipation of what their 4-H years may mean to them!

The Illinois 4-H program is experiencing a few changes, as well. The start of the new 4-H program year moved from September 1 to October 1 this year. Illinois youth, ages 5-18, all over the state began their new 4-H year with plans of learning new things, trying something that they wouldn’t normally do, spending time with people that maybe their paths wouldn’t cross if it wasn’t for 4-H. It was an exciting change that allowed Illinois 4-H to launch their new year while celebrating National 4-H Week!

As young adults across the state start to select and purchase animals for the 2016 Illinois State Fair, fair officials announced that junior livestock shows will be expanded to include individuals age 8-21.  Previously, junior livestock shows were limited to individuals age 10-18. It is important to note that participation age for junior livestock shows will now be open to all 4-H members for the 2015-2016 program year.

For my family, harvest has concluded and we are grateful for the bounty it has provided. Much like the agricultural growing year, the new 4-H year will bring exciting growth for youth and a harvest of personal experiences! I look forward to seeing what’s in store for my two Cloverbuds, as well as the thousands of other Illinois 4-Hers.

Angie and her kids
Angie Barnard, Executive Director Illinois 4-H Foundation, with her daughter Brecke and son Alex, new Cloverbud 4-H members.