Starr Gibson: My ACES Story

Oct 12
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger
  

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Starr’Retiece Gibson, FSHN ‘18

When I was accepted into the U of I Research Apprentice Program as an East St. Louis high school student, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived to campus that summer. I assumed I’d learn a little about ACES, agriculture, and scientific experiments. Looking back, I learned so much more. I discovered how science and agriculture affect my world. RAP ignited a passion in my life to play a part in shaping and changing the world. I’m currently majoring in food science and human nutrition with plans to become a dietitian so I can help others identify and appreciate the value of a proper diet.

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Ed McMillan: My ACES Story

Oct 11
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger
  

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Ed McMillan, B.S. ’69 Agricultural Science

In 1960, I attended a state 4-H livestock judging contest and rubbed shoulders with the judges—U of I Extension livestock specialists. Later, as a college freshman, I served on the Illinois 4-H Livestock Judging Team. I can’t begin to describe what a great learning experience this was for me. I learned about making choices in various species classes and defending my decisions with reasons—a powerful life skill. My U of I education opened so many doors in my life—to positions in marketing, strategic planning, business development, product research and business segment management, and eventually to becoming president of Purina Mills, Inc. Those career opportunities have allowed me to give back by serving on several boards, including the Board of Trustees for U of I. At Illinois, I learned from worldclass faculty, experienced horizon-expanding activities, and met agribusiness leaders who mentored me throughout my career—a career that I could never have imagined at that first livestock judging contest.

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Maria Cattai de Godoy: My ACES Story

Oct 10
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger
  

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Maria Cattai de Godoy, M.S. ’07 Animal Sciences

In 2004, I left my home in Brazil to journey to the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois, where I could be at the hub of companion animal nutrition research. My adventure abroad started with a few challenges. Living away from my family in a new country with a very different climate and culture was not easy. However, the professional and personal experiences I had far surpassed any challenges I faced. A year later, I began my master’s degree program under the guidance of Dr. George Fahey and was exposed to a variety of research projects, took several courses from world-renowned researchers, and had access to unique cutting-edge technologies. I then completed my Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky before returning to join the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois in 2015 as an assistant professor. My experience has taught me to love what I do and work hard to be good at it. The odds may not always be in your favor, but don’t let them discourage you in following your dreams.

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Keep your options open

Oct 9
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student
  

This week the beef cattle nutrition graduate students have been helping with ANSC 100 labs. ANSC 100 is a course all freshmen in Animal Sciences take their first semester on campus. Each week you learn a new area of study from a different professor within the department. You learn about genetics, poultry, reproduction, meat science, companion animals; the list goes on. This class is meant to showcase the numerous opportunities available to these animal-loving students who might not have any idea what other areas of study can be pursued in this field.

When I was a freshman I really had no idea what path I would take, and this class helped me get started. Each week I learned something new but one week, in particular, sparked my interest. During the “nutrition” week we got hands-on experience at the Stock Pavilion. We learned about the compartments of a cow’s stomach and learned about the microbes that allow ruminants to digest things we can’t. We calculated dry matter percentages and got to stick our hands in the fistulated steer. We also learned about all the different types of feeds we as nutritionists work with to formulate livestock rations. Some of these feeds seemed conventional and some we would typically consider to be waste. When you drink orange juice with no pulp, that pulp doesn’t magically disappear. A majority of it would sit in a landfill, but we can actually feed citrus pulp, in small amounts, to cows. All of these interesting facts led to my genuine interest in beef cattle nutrition. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined that in four years I would be teaching one of these sections.

Freshmen filled into the classroom to learn about silage and get a good whiff of butyric acid (the compound that makes spoiled silage smell “like dirty feet” as one student put it), but before they left I made sure to end my section with a personal message: Keep your options open!

I could have very easily gone into ANSC 100 with tunnel vision. “I like cats and dogs and that is what I am most familiar with so I should find a career path where I only work with those animals.” Someone has to work with the cute puppies… I get it, but someone also has to work with the cute slightly larger, smellier cows! In the end, we as animal scientists are in it for the same reasons. We’re concerned for the well-being of animals and humans, and the interaction between the two, whether we use our research to focus on companion animals or to produce food for the world, we’re making a positive and lasting impact.

By keeping your options open, you’re allowing yourself to be shaped by the new and exciting knowledge you encounter each day, which ultimately could lead to a career path you never thought possible.

Students taking notes about silage
ANSC 100 Students learn about the protein and energy components of livestock rations - and that the compound in spoiled silage (butyric acid) really doesn’t smell too great.

Do you eat? The farm bill makes a difference in your life

Oct 6
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist
  

Last week, I had a chance to listen to two experts from the Department of ACE, Jonathan Coppess and Gary Schnitkey, discuss the farm bill. Every month, the ACES communications and marketing team brings in experts from around the college to discuss a topical issue with the public through our #askACES Twitter chat. Every time, I learn something new, and this chat was no exception. 

I must admit I was a little skeptical. I’m from the suburbs. And unless you could stretch the definition of a farm to include my flower garden, I have no farming experience. But it turns out the farm bill is not just about farms.

Coppess says the name is actually a bit of a misnomer. “We think of it as a food security bill,” he said. “Really, if you eat, the farm bill will make a difference in your life.”

It makes sense. The farm bill authorizes programs that help farmers do their jobs. And when farmers do their jobs, high-quality, nutritious food ends up on my table. But I learned that the farm bill does much more than that.

It also authorizes programs that conserve habitat, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality on private land. As a former ecologist and lifelong environmentalist, I can definitely get behind that. We also learned that the farm bill includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps or Link, which helps feed millions of low-income Americans every year. It also includes programs that support rural development.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the farm bill for ACES, however, is the fact that it authorizes programs to fund agricultural research. For our researchers to continue to do the cutting-edge work they do, they need grant dollars. As everyone in Illinois knows, our state funding has not been … reliable in the last few years. These federal dollars are crucial for our researchers to continue to be leaders in their fields.

So, whether you eat or live in a rural community or care about the environment or the future of ACES research, the farm bill probably touches your life in some way. To learn more about it, listen to the #askACES podcast today.   

 

 

TSM - The intersection of business and technology

Oct 4
Alan Hansen, Interim Head, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  

My understanding and appreciation of our Technical Systems Management (TSM) program has grown considerably since I joined the ABE department in 1999. Originally called Agricultural Mechanization, this program evolved to provide a more visible and deliberate effort to bridge technology and business. Traditionally, people at colleges are able to gain in-depth education related to engineering and business, but education in the middle ground is potentially lacking.  The value of our TSM program is demonstrated when our department often boasts 100% job placement for our graduating students.

In my travels to a number of developing countries and from my experience in my southern African home countries, I have not come across any university level educational programs similar to TSM.  And yet, from my observations, such a program would be very beneficial.  This viewpoint has been enforced recently as a result of my involvement in a USAID project, which targets appropriate scale mechanization in four developing countries to improve land and labor productivity in a sustainable manner.

An important aspect of this project is tertiary, or university level, capacity building.  Providing local tertiary level students with an education that addresses the combination of technology and business would have a significant impact on the deployment of technologies within each developing country. Our team (engineers, economists, gender specialists, and one animal nutritionist) works to develop activities in each country that promote the investigation, development and deployment of technologies coupled with conservation agricultural practices. However, the important aspect of scaling up and out needs to be addressed.  For this to happen, business models need to provide economic incentives and create sustainable enterprises for the envisioned technologies.  In my mind this once again emphasizes the value of our TSM program both locally and globally. As Akinwumi Adesina, the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, said, “Farming needs to be a business.”

A recent publication of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers was designed to showcase and encourage opportunities in agricultural technology and systems management.  This issue includes a description of the experience of one of our TSM graduates, Tim Rendall. Tim is project manager of the afore-mentioned USAID project. His TSM degree makes him ideally qualified to address the technology-business continuum in those developing countries, and his experience exemplifies the difference a TSM degree can make around the world.

 

Life lessons are everywhere, even at the race track

Oct 4
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing
  


BRANDT believes so much in the future of agriculture, the Illinois Ag company put the icons of the two greatest youth development organizations, 4-H and FFA, on the hood of its race car. Early September was the unveiling of the 4-H clover-adorned racecar, and Illinois 4-H was at Chicagoland Speedway, courtesy of BRANDT and company founder Evelyn Brandt Thomas, to see it all happen.

I soaked it all in, the sounds (OMG), the excitement, the hype, and the reality of life and death in the millisecond of a moment. My plan for the day was to make my three-minute speech, thank our kind sponsors, and drive home. But, the lure of the track drew me in. I'm glad it did, because I would have missed the greater lessons to come that day, and they had nothing, yet everything, to do with racing.

Imagine being in a fire-resistant suit, harnessed in a car where the temperatures can easily reach 120 degrees, traveling, on average, 150 mph for nearly two hours going round and round circling over the same 1.5 mile stretch of road. The only, only, only human contact you have is one voice in your ear.

That Voice. Imagine your bff, your biggest cheerleader, your trusted mentor, and the smartest person on the planet all rolled up into one person, and his voice is the only thing you hear and the only thing keeping you alive. That is The Voice in Justin's ear.

BRANDT provided their guests with headphones which not only blocked out the deafening sound of the engines, but also allowed you to listen to the driver's communication with his pit crew. The Voice was the driver's spotter, positioned way up on top of the racetrack, helping the driver make those millisecond decisions. What I heard that day from The Voice reminded me of life's important lessons.

Surround yourself with people you trust

I had no idea that drivers can't see to the side in those racecars. When our driver, Illinois native Justin Allgaier, passed someone, he relied on The Voice to tell him when it was clear to move over. "Bumper, door, clear" are the verbal cues Justin hears to know when it's safe to move back over. To be able to give the best advice, The Voice not only knew Justin's ability and patterns, he knew what to expect from the other drivers. It's important to know not only your talent, but understand the habits of your colleagues traveling the same path. Sometimes others have a better view of the road ahead. Choose your mentors carefully.

Not everyone is going your speed

Although the cars all started at the same spot, it didn't take long for the pack to spread out, and soon the lead cars were lapping slower competitors. That happens every day in life. Not everyone will work as fast as you, or be as driven as you. Not everyone is going your speed, but you can't just plow over them. You must respect their place on the track and wait for your moment to pass.

Be patient

At Lap 35, The Voice said "Don't overdo it." It was good advice. The race was just starting, more of the race was ahead of us than behind. When you're in the middle of a pack of cars going 150 mph, there's nothing you can do but wait for an opening. Wait. You must have patience in the middle. Work your plan.

Trust others to do their job

After a slower-than-desired pit stop, Justin challenged his team to work faster, adding it was easier to pass people in the pit than on the racetrack. He was right, and his team heard him. The Voice reassured him, "we've got your back, buddy." It was unspoken reassurance; your job is to drive the car, and ours is to keep the car ready for you to do that. Challenge your colleagues to always do their best, and trust that they will.

Sometimes life isn't fair

After a caution flag, all the drivers regroup to restart the race in the order they were when the caution flag came out. Regardless the distance a driver may have gained earlier in the race, on a restart, the drivers are once again bumper to bumper. In essence, the slower cars gain an advantage they didn't earn. Sometimes life isn't fair. You can complain about it, or you can deal with it and get back to work. You passed them once; go pass them again.Consistently doing the right thing over and over wins the day.

Re-evaluate and adjust

It doesn't take many laps for drivers to find their "sweet spot" of the track. With each lap, though, conditions changed. In the pre-race reception, one of the speakers said, "The moment the engines start, the conditions have changed." The rubber on the tires. The condition of the track. The amount of fuel in the car. What may have worked at the beginning of the race may no longer be the fastest route later. Take stock of where you are in any situation, constantly re-evaluate during the journey, find your new sweet spot and accelerate. Don't be afraid to change tactics and go a new direction toward your dream.

Take risks at the right time

With 18 laps left in the race, Justin took the lead on a restart and never gave it up. Three-wide, he bolted for the bottom of the track and whipped from third to first place on a gutsy move. He did it because he knew he could; because he had practiced it before. Bold moves look terrifying to everyone, but you've practiced for that very moment. There is no such thing as luck at 150 mph … luck is merely a plan you hide from everyone else until it's time to act on it.When you've practiced enough, it isn't a risk as much as a calculated move forward.

Stay focused

"We're racing the car in front of us, not behind," The Voice said. With each lap, The Voice called out the number of the car Justin was chasing. That one goal was the only thing that mattered; not two cars ahead and not the cars behind. Systematically, it was one car, then one car, then one car, until there were no cars left to chase. Fight the urge to let distraction keep you from the next step toward your goal.

Choose how you lead

I wish I had the Voice in my ear. He was calming and supportive throughout the race. "Good job, buddy. Perfect. Just like that. Way to stay in this race to the end." This guy was my hero by the end of the race.

It's all good advice, for race car drivers and for life's drivers. And it works, because perhaps the coolest thing about the day was winning the race and seeing the 4-H clover in Victory Lane!

Cheers to the Green and White

Sep 28
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing
  

October 1 starts the biggest week in 4-H, National 4-H Week. 4-H membership is 6 million strong across the country, with more than 25 million alumni.

Last year, more than 25,000 youth were 4-H club members in Illinois; another 170,000 youth were involved in 4-H through camps, after school programs, and school enrichment programs.

National 4-H Week is a big deal, especially to the dedicated members who get to display what 4-H means to them during this national celebration. It is a time for window displays in local businesses, 4-H t-shirts at school, science experiments, and recruitment parties, lots of parties!

I left 4-H before I had time to truly appreciate what 4-H could mean to me and my future. When I went to work for 4-H, I was determined to keep other kids from making the same mistake I did. Each year at the annual achievement program, I’d call every child on stage as a group by their year in 4-H.

After the applause ended, I had the first, second, and third year members turn around to look at the older kids, those fifth year and older kids standing in the back row. And, I said this to the youngest members; “You’re just getting started, and though you’ve had a good time and learned lots of stuff this year, the AMAZING stuff in 4-H happens when you get to the back row!”

And, it’s true. The trips, the awards, the internships, the international travel, the national conferences all take time to experience. The more you learn and the older you get, the more the 4-H world opens up to you.

Unless. Unless you quit before you’re a backrower.

My challenge was simple… year in and year out. Be a back row 4-H member. It was a simple idea that stuck with them. Without fail, every achievement night, at least one of those kids who made it to the back row came up to me and announced themselves as a “backrow” 4-H member.

I have lots of dreams for Illinois 4-H members. Health. Success. Friendship. Service. Most of all, I hope they will all be backrowers and discover the wonderful treasures awaiting you in 4-H.

Cheers to all ACES students and alum who share this special week as an Illinois 4-H alum. I hope your 4-H memories make you smile.

4H Week

Tami Craig Schilling: My ACES Story

Sep 27
My ACES Story, 150th Anniversary Guest Blogger
  

Over the past 150 years, the University of Illinois and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have been at the forefront of education, discovery, and translation. From improving people’s lives to stretching the frontiers of knowledge, ACES graduates are changing our world for the better. In this special Voices of ACES blog series, we are celebrating and embracing our past. Our ACES story is unique, and its characters are doing remarkable work – work that truly matters.

By Tami Craig Schilling, B.S., '90 Agricultural Communications

From the time I was a little girl, the Illinois logo came into my house each month on 4-H and Extension letters. Then, on a beautiful spring day, I set foot on campus for the state 4-H livestock judging contest, and my life was never the same. I later met ACES leaders Dean Chuck Olson and Dr. Jim Evans during State FFA Convention at Assembly Hall, where they introduced me to my future major: agricultural communications.

Later that year, the most important U of I envelope arrived at my house confirming my college acceptance, and it literally changed my life’s trajectory in ways I never imagined. I just celebrated my 27th year at Monsanto, and I can directly link my ACES Illini experience with providing me an opportunity I never knew existed.

My U of I and ACES experiences have enabled a future I could’ve only dreamed of as a child. From 4-H demonstrations to farmer meetings and field days, from Student Advancement Committee to sales team leadership, from Extension’s agronomy short course to leading Knowledge Transfer Agronomy, from Ag Communications campaign class to leading corporate communications, my Illini roots have kept me connected to my alma mater. I was recently back in Mumford Hall for my final Agricultural and Consumer Economics Advisory Board meeting. Before I left, I passed along my appreciation for the important work they do and for the opportunity to serve the university and college.

No matter how many hours or dollars I give to this fine institution, I will never be able to repay what it has given me. As a 4-Her, an undergrad, a JBT scholar, a student worker, an alumnus, and a contributor, I am part of a 150-year legacy of heritage, excellence, and opportunity. As a small-town farm girl with an Illini dream, I will be forever grateful for the Block I logo and all it represents.

 

We invite you to tell us your ACES story as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Share your story on social media using #ACESstory, or visit 150.illinois.edu.

Honoring Our Farmland Legacy

Sep 21
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES
  

Land, one of the earth’s most precious resources, is sacred to a farmer. Its soils tell the history of generations of family members who tended it with great care, determination and dedication, producing food and feedstuffs year after year over the course of decades. Farming families consider land to be part of their legacy; parting with it is not a trivial decision. Over the years, the university has been the grateful beneficiary of donations of land from numerous families. Today, the University of Illinois owns over 10,000 acres of farmland, all donated by folks who share our commitment to preservation, expanding research, providing educational opportunities and strengthening Extension. 

A majority of this land remains in crop production through operating agreements that most recently were awarded through a cash bidding process. Soon after stepping into the role of Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), I learned of the concerns of many within the agricultural industry about the operator selection process for University farms. We investigated the situation, and I was delighted to learn that a review committee was in place and a recommendation had been made to transition the process to a “best candidate” approach, an approach also supported by Chancellor Jones and President Killeen. In this revised selection process, applicants will be considered based on a wide range of factors such as farming experience, demonstrated land stewardship, educational background, and utilization of best management practices including access to modern agricultural technology. The most qualified applicant will be offered an operating agreement at a predetermined rate based on local market conditions, and as long as farms are meeting the U of I’s objectives, the farms typically will only be opened up based on retirements or other  natural “transitions” in management.

By focusing on selecting the most qualified operator instead of the highest bidder, we will better align our processes with current farm management practices, as well as traditions within farming communities throughout the state. This change also will align the University operator selection criteria with the long-held practices of the University of Illinois Foundation.   

Although maintaining a profit is essential for long-term success of any agricultural production system, farming also is deeply rooted in relationships within the local communities where the land is located. To be good stewards of the land, we also must be good stewards of our agricultural relationships. The revised operator selection process will allow the University to ensure sustainability as well as the long-term value of the endowment, manage the land responsibly, and support our local farming communities while continuing to honor the intentions of donors’ gifts of farmland to advance University of Illinois’ land-grant mission. For more information on University of Illinois Foundation farmland gifts, click here.

 

Warren Endowment Farm
Soybean field on the Warren Endowment Farm, in Piatt County, Illinois – for support of Illinois 4-H.

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