A day at the Illinois State Fair

Aug 22
Lucas Neira, Animal Sciences graduate student

For the first time, I experienced a taste of the Illinois State Fair (ISF). Being Brazilian and coming from a different culture, I learned a lot during my time in Springfield.  

The first surprise of my day was the big banner that said the fair had been operating for more than 200 years. I started to think how many transformations had happened throughout the years at the fair and the improvements of both the animals and the techniques that producers have employed.

I enjoyed touring a museum and seeing all those old machines that have helped producers during the early years, with many pictures and descriptions showcasing Illinois history. I spent quite a few hours appreciating that place.

Around lunch time, I had another great surprise with a huge diversity of “fair” food. I asked people which ones I should choose. I followed the majority and tried the delicious and unforgettable cheese curds, corn bread, and mini-doughnuts. What a meal!

Every detail makes this fair a special place, but the lessons learned from the barns were amazing. I saw how families worked together early in the morning to prepare the animals – hard work that starts long before show day with selecting potential animals and teaching the kids how to present those animals to the best of their ability. 

Showing is a tradition that has been passed down through many of these families to help keep the younger generations involved with livestock production. As well, it teaches the children to be competitive and respectful with the judges and to be kind to the animals.

I could see the passion in the children’s eyes, even when they had to accept the unpleasant taste of defeat. I learned the most important lesson that day from the judge. With so many animals so close to perfection (and only getting to choose one champion), I learned that sometimes the choices that you make will not be as important as the reasons that you have for making it.

I would like to thank Wes Chapple for inviting me. I appreciate your patience and time sharing your knowledge with me during the show. 

Summer immersion program builds lifelong international friendships

Aug 20
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

For the past nine years (and I have been writing summary articles like this one for 6 of these years!), ACES has hosted a summer immersion program for students from China, Korea, and Mexico. 

These students get to experience the Illinois campus, work with an ACES mentor, complete a research project, and participate in cultural activities and field trips. Our faculty and their graduate students provide an exceptional experience for these students year after year.

Honestly I don’t have much involvement in this program; others in my office do most of the coordination. I do, however, always attend the “closing ceremony and poster session” to see what the students have accomplished.

But what I always notice at this event is not the research on the posters but the relationships that have formed between the participants and their mentors and lab partners in only a few short weeks. 

As someone who spent two summers abroad from my own studies at Illinois, I am happy to witness evidence that these students will have lifelong emotional ties to Illinois whether or not they ever return here. (And over the years many have returned as grad students.)

So whether its 4 weeks or 4 months or longer, programs like this serve as a bridge for cultural understanding for both the participants and the hosts. Both sides make lifelong friendships and provide international perspectives that are so important because the students and faculty from all institutions represented are ultimately working on the same issues (food security, nutrition, and environment) that are critical to all of us.  

In ACES we pride ourselves on sending so many of our own students out into the world to study abroad. And as I witness at this event year after year (and the testimonials in this summary show), we are also being great hosts to those who come to us. 

Back-to-school advice

Aug 17
Kelsey Litchfield, ACES Communications & Marketing

It’s that time of year – vacations are over and schools are back in session. August is probably one of my favorite months of the year. It almost feels like another fresh start – another New Year’s Day – but warmer!

While it was nice to have a quiet campus and not have to stand in line at Starbucks, I’m ready for the students to be back. As a young professional, I vividly remember moving back to campus when I was a student here in ACES. Between catching up with friends and preparing for classes, it was such a memorable time.

I’m now going on year two as an ACES alumna and I can’t help but wonder what advice I would give myself at the start of the school year. So here’s my two cents broken down by each year.

Freshmen: What an exciting time for you! You are starting a new chapter in life and ready to get the ball rolling for your first year of college. But don’t run too fast and get overwhelmed with your classes, your extracurricular activities, and your social life. Set a good routine and concentrate on your classes. You are here to get an education – everything else will line up behind that. Oh, and don’t forget to call your parents every once in a while.

Sophomores: You’re no longer the newest people on campus as you have a year under your belt. This is the year I encourage you to get involved in the organizations you’re really passionate about. Pick two to three RSOs and grow as a leader. Keep focusing on your studies too – don’t become lazy! Keep your GPA up as it’s important when filling out scholarship and internship applications.

Juniors: Oh, you’re an upperclassman now! This is a pivotal year as you really start thinking about post-college life. Stay involved on campus, but dedicate some of your time to perfecting your resume, job shadowing, and applying for internships if you haven’t already.

Seniors: Savor every moment because this is the year that will go by the quickest. Make a senior bucket list and check it off with your friends. Apply for jobs and internships as soon as possible. And most importantly, graduate!

Best of luck this year, Illini! Study hard and have fun. Keep writing your #ACESstory!

My first day picture from my senior year of college.

Commitment to research excellence in ACES

Aug 16
Brenna Ellison , Associate Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics

While many students are pursuing professional development opportunities, such as internships in the summer, this is also the time of year when many faculty members and graduate students are engaging with their professional networks at conferences. Conferences are a great way for ACES faculty and graduate students to present their research and get early feedback before publication. These are also important networking venues – you can meet new collaborators, see old friends, and for our graduate students on the job market, talk with potential employers.

Last week, the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) held its annual conference in Washington, D.C. The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE) was well represented at the meetings, with ACE faculty and graduate students involved in over 40 research posters and presentations! In addition, two ACE faculty members were recognized at the AAEA Awards Ceremony. Gary Schnitkey, professor, was awarded the Distinguished Extension/Outreach Program for faculty members with more than 10 years of experience. Professor Scott Irwin and ACE alum Dwight Sanders were awarded the Bruce Gardner Memorial Prize for their research article “The Impact of Index and Swap Funds on Commodity Futures Markets.” Congrats to Gary, Scott, and Dwight on their achievements and cheers to the ACE department for their strong representation of the College of ACES and University of Illinois in D.C.!

It’s a small world

Aug 15
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

Since coming to work as a writer for the College of ACES just over five years ago, the world has seemed a bit more of a smaller place to me at times.

In fact, it’s happened twice now.  

A few years back, I was waiting in line to tour a historical site in Dublin, Ireland. I noticed a man 10 or so people ahead of me wearing an unmistakable orange and blue, Illinois sweatshirt. I just had to go say hello, because what were the chances that an Illini fan and I would be in in the same line, at the same time, in Dublin? I said hello and introduced myself, mentioning that I work for the University of Illinois. He laughed and put his hand on the young lady’s shoulder in front of him and said, “This is my daughter. She’s a student at U of I.”

We shook hands and I asked her major. To my surprise, she told me that she was an ACES student in natural resources and environmental sciences, studying abroad for the semester in Ireland. And her parents and sister had come from the Chicago suburbs to visit her that week in Dublin! I couldn’t have been more surprised.

We ended up being assigned to the same group for the tour. Throughout the tour, we all couldn’t stop remarking what a coincidence it was that we were all there together.

But this was not the last time something like this would happen.

Just a few weeks ago, my family and I were wrapping up a wonderful week spent on Maui.  A crew member of the beautiful resort we stayed at noticed my family member’s Illinois ball cap.

“Hey, Illini fans,” he exclaimed. And then let us know that he had attended U of I in the early 2000s.

And, again, what are the chances?! He told us he had grown up on a farm in Illinois and came to ACES to study agronomy. His interests later turned to turf management, thus the move to Maui. We swapped stories about professors he knew and classes he had taken, etc. It seemed like such a small world all over again.

It’s been fun, experiencing the surprise and sense of, “what are the chances?” when meeting members of the ACES family in unexpected places. But I guess it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. It’s what we do after all. We train students and send them out to make a difference in the world.

Looking forward to more traveling adventures, and chance meetings with our ACES family.

Adventure Awaits!

Aug 13
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

Summer is almost over and fall classes are right around the corner. We are saying goodbye to our August graduates and hello to our new students. The phrase that continually plays on repeat in my mind when thinking of these groups is ‘You’re going on an ADVENTURE!’ (Cue Bilbo Baggins running across the Shire with signed contract in hand.) It’s exciting, no matter what part of life-- new job, new school, heck even new research endeavor- you’re about to begin (or continue) the adventure. So get excited for your adventure ahead – it is bound to be story worthy.

ACES grads making a difference

Aug 3
Marise Robbins-Forbes, ACES Director of Development, Crop Science and NRES

What makes my job so rewarding? It’s hard to summarize that with just one thing – but Monday’s visit to Momence, Illinois, to tour Van Drunen Farms (VDF) and its sister business, FutureCeuticals, is a wonderful example of why I enjoy working for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Our graduates go on to make a difference in this world and the impact of their efforts are far-reaching. Stories like theirs fuel my passion for this college and the role I play within it.

Van Drunen Farms is an international company based in Illinois with a rich heritage of leaders educated right here in the College of ACES. The company’s president, Kevin Van Drunen is a 1987 ag economics alum, and co-founder, Edward Van Drunen received his bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture in 1958 and his master’s degree in 1959.

This family-owned company has its roots in agriculture and ingredient supply, dating back 130 years! They opened their first processing plant in 1980. And, today, they have five high-capacity facilities in the Midwest and one in Serbia. In addition, they have a 1,600 acre Illinois farm and are one of the largest suppliers of freeze-dried ingredients in the United States and one of the largest food ingredient suppliers in the world. Their focus is on culinary, all-natural and functional food ingredients, specializing in fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They work with 35 fruits, 50 vegetables, and 17 herbs and spices!

We also toured FutureCeuticals, Inc., a family-owned sister company to Van Drunen Farms. They provide cutting-edge product development for the dietary supplement, functional foods, and cosmetics industries. With VDF having operations in Illinois, Indiana, California, and Serbia, and FutureCeuticals’ Illinois and California presence, these two companies offer broad capabilities and a substantial portfolio of nutritional products, including probiotics, grains, and fruit and vegetable powders and extracts. 

As we were introduced to the brands and products using VDF and FutureCeuticals ingredients, I was intrigued to find out that my family uses at least a dozen of these products (including vitamins, salad dressing, cereal, dried fruits, protein powder for smoothies). Staff we met exuded pride of workmanship, a commitment to quality, and dedication to this company that clearly values its employees.

We were grateful to our hosts Christie Smit, Jason Paarlberg, Nathan DeBoer, Amanda Graf, and Ed Linquist of Van Drunen Farms for a lovely afternoon seeing their basil production from start to finish. Joining me from ACES were Dean Kim Kidwell, Interim Director of Extension Shelly Nickols-Richardson, crop sciences faculty member Sarah Taylor Lovell, Assistant Director of Food and Bioprocessing Pilot Plant Operations Brian Jacobson, and my colleagues in the Office of Advancement, Pedro Fernandes da Costa and Jennifer Smith. We also were joined by Randy Graham, president of Illinois Specialty Growers Association. 

It’s truly amazing where a degree from the College of ACES can take you.

A beautiful day for a tour at Van Drunen Farms.

Touring a basil field.

What’s bugging you?

Aug 3
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

by Matthew Mote

“Why spiders? Why couldn't it be ‘follow the butterflies?’”

― Ron Weasley, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

It’s been two years running, and I still love my internship. I work for Kelly Estes in the Illinois Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey (CAPS) program at the Illinois Natural History Survey, and it’s been a wonderful experience.

How exactly did I score this great opportunity? I actually found this internship by chance. I didn’t know Kelly before I started working, but one of my ABE peers, Emma Sementi, worked for Kelly between her senior year of high school and her freshmen year of college. She mentioned it offhand when we first met at orientation, and it stuck in my head.

As a freshman in college, finding an engineering internship can be challenging, and by challenging, I mean almost impossible. Around February of my freshman year, I asked Emma how I could get in contact with her summer boss to see if there was still a position available. Lo and behold, there was! After email and a subsequent interview, I had my first internship set up for the summer after my freshmen year of college. I couldn’t have been happier! 

To be completely honest, I had no clue what I would be doing until about a week in. I just knew it involved bugs and driving, and I was happy I had the opportunity to stay on campus and do research for the summer instead of going home and working at Dairy King. (Yes, I spelled that right. It’s a hometown specialty restaurant with great food, and I recommend you check out one of their two locations if you’re ever passing through southwestern Illinois).

The pest survey covers multiple regions across Illinois and several agriculture industries including forests, orchards, vineyards, and corn and soybean fields. And how do we catch these illusive pests? What would you say if I told you we run into fields with comically large butterfly nets and beat long grass and bushes hoping for the best? Because, in fact, that’s how we do field and ditch sweeps. Of course, it’s more technical than that; there is proper form and number of sweeps to accomplish per field along the exterior and within the interior, but that’s the gist of it.

The nets are then emptied into sample collection bags, brought back to the lab, frozen, and the number and type of bugs are recorded. Based on those numbers, we can estimate population density across the state. While we’re in the fields, we also look for corn and soybean diseases and even a few nematodes. The soil samples and plant diseases are not quite within our scope of expertise, so we send suspect samples to experts in their fields (ahh, see what I did there?) to verify our diagnoses. The process is roughly the same for the traps set in fields, forests, vineyards, and orchards, though instead of running around with nets, we set the traps and check back every two weeks.

If you have any questions about a position like this (or ABE or U of I in general) feel free to email me at mfmote2@illinois.edu. I will be happy to get back to you to tell you what I can.

Matthew Mote is a junior in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. 



We are waiting for you

Aug 1
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

The building is empty. Completely empty.

It’s before the chaos, and I just stare at the emptiness for a moment. At 57, it’s a little harder to get excited about the work that has to happen to transform the emptiness into the Illinois State Fair 4-H Show. But then, everything is a little harder at 57.

I stare at the emptiness and smile. A lifetime of summer show preparation has taught me one thing; the exhaustion fades the moment the first 4-H member walks in the door and runs to show me what they’ve made. Then I remember why I do it, why we all do it. We do it for the kids.

The building is empty, waiting. So much has happened outside these walls before today. Nearly 100 different county 4-H fairs around Illinois have been completed. Hundreds of staff members and thousands of volunteers have put 4-H first. Together you’ve cleaned. Together you’ve built. Together you’ve worked. And, together you’ve celebrated.

The building is empty, waiting. At 8:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 10, the wait will be over and more than 3,700 4-H members will carry their projects across the fairgrounds to be evaluated by professionals in the project area they’ve studied.

We hope for the best, knowing there will always be kinks. The year it rained and washed out the parking. The time a 5K race took up all the parking spots. Lost tags, traffic jams, late judges, no power, I’ve seen it all (I think).

So as we prepare for our 2018 edition of the Illinois State Fair, let’s remember this:

It's never about winning; it's about being part of something more than yourself.
It's never about being perfect; it's about being your personal best.
It's never about beating someone else; it's about beating your last effort.
It's never about losing; it's about learning what you can to keep from losing the next time.
It's never quitting, never giving in or giving up, never selling out, or selling yourself short.
It's learning to lose gracefully and win graciously in the ring or in life.
It's learning that sometimes the break goes your way and sometimes it doesn't, and there's nothing you can do about it but play the game you are there to play.
It's about respecting your competitor and respecting the rules of the game and knowing the minute you stop either one, you've lost.

The building is empty, but our hearts are full as we anticipate your arrival at the Illinois State Fair.

Part of ACES

Jul 31
Angie Boesche, Web Content Strategist

Hi, my name is Angie Boesche (and I’m a member of the Afton 4-H club). Blame it on the 10 years of public speaking competitions but, to this day, I can’t introduce myself without, “and I’m a member of the Afton 4-H club” humming in the back of my mind.

It’s funny how the organizations we become a part of, also become a part of us. My 4-H experience turned me into a fearless public speaker, over a decade of music involvement programmed me into thinking it’s perfectly normal to start singing Christmas music in September, and my years in FFA made me overly sensitive to meetings that don’t follow proper parliamentary procedure.

We aren’t bystanders in being influenced by these organizations though. We decide how they influence us by the way we choose to participate.

When I came to the College of ACES as an undergraduate, I already knew I wanted a career in agricultural communications. I trusted my core classes to turn me into an effective communicator but I wanted to immerse myself in the subject matter I hoped to focus on one day.

So I joined the dairy club, I took classes in crop sciences and horticulture, I worked in a laboratory, I chose to minor in animal sciences, I traveled to Greece to learn about EU agriculture, and most of all, I talked to people.

By choosing to immerse myself in nearly everything my college had to offer, I allowed the best part of ACES to become a part of me: passion.

Pretty much everyone you meet in ACES is passionate about their work. They want to do groundbreaking research, be leaders in their field, inspire others, and excite interest. When I graduated, I took that passion with me.

Now I’m back, this time as an employee and I’m looking forward to seeing what new ways ACES will help me grow and change (aside from giving me an odd affinity for orange and blue color schemes).

So, allow me to introduce myself. Hi, my name is Angie Boesche, I’m perfectly comfortable giving a speech to a crowd, I sing Christmas music in September, I know Robert’s Rules of Order, I’m passionate about the work I do, and...we’ll see what comes next.