How Study Abroad Shaped My Life

Jan 17
Manuel Colón, NRES Student Recruitment Coordinator

Travel to a foreign country was not a novel concept when I had arrived to college.  I had previously traveled with my family to Mexico and Puerto Rico several times before even stepping foot on to Illinois’ campus. However, the study abroad programs that I engaged in during college here really shaped my world view and current lifestyle. I took one trip during the summer after my freshman year and I have been in a perpetual state of wanderlust since then.

I had been very interested in East Asian culture and history from a very young age, so I was ecstatic when I learned in my second semester of undergrad that the College of ACES was sponsoring a six-week summer program to South Korea. The program was not going to interfere with neither my semester coursework nor my summer work plans, so I jumped at the opportunity with fervor. I spent six weeks at Konkuk University in Seoul, the Korean capital, studying Korean Language, Korean Culture and History, and International Business.

We took weekly corporate visits to the headquarters of major Korean companies like Samsung, Hyuandai, and LG Electronics to learn about their beginnings and how they grew to be the multinational corporation they are today. Additionally, we took cultural trips to other towns like Andong and Busan to learn about Tae Kwon Do, The DMZ, pottery, etc.  The classes, the trips, and the amazing group of people who were in the program (whom I still keep in contact with) completely changed my self-perception in the context of a global community.

The program laid the foundation for my passion to learn more about the world, its cultures, people, and languages. It set in motion a drive in me that led me to visit my Konuk roommate (another ACES student) in Costa Rica the following semester, participate in a week-long internship with the USDA Forest Service – International Programs to Michoacán, Mexico to visit monarch butterfly overwintering habitat, take a Field Experience course with my department to Puerto Rico, a personal trip to visit my fraternity brother in Paris, and ultimately my decision to join the Peace Corps.

The International Summer Program at Konkuk pushed me to grow personally and academically in ways that I could not have imagined. Not only did it bring to life things I had previously researched and learned about, but it completely opened my eyes to experiences that I would have never been able to engage in otherwise.  Even now, seven years later, it’s one of the biggest highlights I mention when meeting with prospective students. Your college experience does not need to be confined to the four walls of a lecture hall and study abroad is a few clear way to make that happen. 

A December Goodbye

Dec 18
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

As the hustle and bustle of campus quiets with each exam completed, many students are leaving campus for a few weeks of time at home, traveling or other fun adventures. Most of the undergraduates will return to campus in a few weeks. However, there is a group of students who are taking their last set of finals prior to completing their degrees. Still others will spend the spring semester involved in other requirements to receive their degree such as student teaching.

This leads me to sending best wishes to an outstanding student employee who will be doing just that in the spring semester. She will complete the requirements for her undergraduate degree in agricultural education by student teaching in an Illinois high school. She will be missed here on campus, but will be doing great things with students in a high school ag program.

Student workers play essential roles in numerous offices, laboratories, recreational venues, and other settings across campus. Campus jobs are not only a learning experience for them (and some cash to help defray books or general living expenses), but from my own personal experience, they provide outstanding assistance as I work to service the rest of the University community. 

I encourage students to explore employment opportunities while on campus. These experiences contribute to your employment capabilities, expand your exposure to other aspects of campus, and build relationships with professionals who will push you farther in your careers!

Students are Ready for a Semester of Student Teaching

Dec 17
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

As the fall semester comes to an end, five agricultural education students will be starting their student teaching experience in a few weeks. Excited, nervous, and with anxious anticipation, they wait to see what the “real-world” holds for them! They are prepared to help FFA members with record books and CDE competitions, work with cooperating teachers to learn the tricks of the trade, and apply the skills they have learned in their collegiate coursework in the high school agriculture classroom.

Agricultural education is one of the unique majors where students get to wholeheartedly invest the skills they have learned at the university level in a realistic setting as a required component of the curriculum. As aspiring agriculture teachers and FFA advisors, these students can test their skills in a real-world setting while earning college credit, and gain job experience that others only aspire to obtain during their academic career. Additionally, they can begin to develop networks within the agricultural education community, and build relationships with students and teachers that will last a lifetime.

The five students – Kirsten Blackford, Liz Harfst, Bryanne Kalous, Kiersten Kasey, and Mark McKown – will work closely with some of the most outstanding and well-respected agriculture teachers in the state. We are proud of what they have accomplished so far, and look forward to seeing their development in the educational process during their student teaching experience.

Spring 2014 Student Teachers
Left to Right: Mark McKown, Bryanne Kalous, Kirsten Blackford, Liz Harfst, and Kiersten Kasey

One Student’s Journey of Career Exploration

Dec 17
Walt Hurley, Professor of Animal Sciences

I have written about our ANSC 298 Undergraduate Seminar course previously. One goal of this course is to provide our Animal Sciences students with insights into what they might do with their degree in the future. Most are focused on a career in veterinary medicine, although only a few will accomplish that goal.  Most of the students are sophomores when they take the course, and therefore have some time to make decisions about what directions to pursue.  We have various speakers visit the class, tell their stories and answer questions about what they are doing and why they decided to pursue that career path.  

Does this type of course have an impact on the students?  Apparently the answer is yes.  One of the students asked if she could take the course for honors credit.  I asked her to maintain a blog that recorded her aspirations, thoughts, anxieties, and revelations about career paths in Animal Sciences.  She gave me permission to share her blog.  It is very interesting reading.  Be sure to read it in chronological order from the beginning of the semester to follow her progression of interests and the things that influenced her thought process.

Check out her blog here.

Happy Holidays.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018!

Dec 16
Ellen Reeder, Senior in ACES

For me, Friday night was pretty ordinary. It’s finals week, so I did a little studying and watched movies with my roommates. We spent the day shoveling snow and cleaning the house. Like I said, it was ordinary.

However, I know that for high school seniors Friday night was nothing but ordinary. Friday night opened doors to new opportunities for you when you saw the word ‘accepted’ on your application to the College of ACES! I hope that you jumped up and down, did a happy dance, hugged your parents, called your friends, started shopping for your dorm room, and most of all I hope you already decided to accept your invitation to be a part of the ACES family! Words can’t even explain how excited I am for all of you!

As a high school senior, I remember sitting in the office on my family’s farm hitting the refresh button every ten seconds. I was on the phone with my best friend and as soon as the word ‘accepted’ showed up, I screamed and the phone hit the floor. I was ecstatic! I remember one of my favorite moments was calling my Grandpa to tell him the news. He’s an alum so I knew he’d be excited. He knew exactly why I was calling and said, “I never doubted you once, kid. Congratulations!”

So here’s to you, Class of 2018. I can’t wait for you to set foot on campus and I hope to meet some of you at Admitted Student Receptions, ExplorACES, and Orange and Blue Days!

Winter Break Countdown

Dec 13
Regan Emkes, Senior in Agricultural Communications

As I cruised through the semester with lots of bumps and rushed deadlines along the way, I couldn’t help but be ecstatic thinking about breaks and time off from school. This semester definitely gave me a run for my money balancing school and extracurricular involvement after getting through my first few years at a community college with little opportunity to get involved outside of school. This semester was a completely new experience from what I had previously known as “busy”…man was I wrong.

I counted down the days until Thanksgiving break. Once that break came and went in the blink of an eye, the next prize was Winter break. As I stressed over group projects, assignments, quizzes, and tests, it seemed that the time was moving slow as I hung myself up on figuring out how to get everything done and still be a functioning human being. Finals and midterms just have a terrible stigma attached to them and it is obvious why.

Now that I’m writing this with just one final left next week, I’m a little sad thinking about what I’m going to do with my whole month off of school. Sure, I can get some hours in at work and I’ve got some job shadows set up for January, but I have become so used to seeing all my ACES family on a daily and weekly basis…what am I going to do without them for a whole month? Sure, there’s Facebook to keep up with everyone but it’s not the same without crossing paths on campus. My friends outside of school are sure to get annoyed with me for all the time I’ll spend bugging them to hang out because I finally have some free time to unwind.

Accepting my admissions offer to the University of Illinois keeps proving to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I can’t believe how much my life has changed in just 4 short months. My Christmas wish list has surely changed in the transition, I went from wishing for a pair of Ariat boots to just hoping someone gets me a huge planner for the 2014 year.  I never thought I would be that person who got anxious with a little free time but maybe I’ll take this break as an opportunity to figure out what all the hype is about Twitter in between working and job shadowing. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season and I look forward to seeing everyone on January 21st!

What’s With All the Noise at Turner Hall?

Dec 12
Manuel Colón, NRES Student Recruitment Coordinator

Turner Hall, home to both the Department of Crop Sciences and Natural Resources and Environmental sciences, is in the first phase of getting a major facelift.  The building, named after Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a leading voice in the social movement that produced land grant universities here in the United States, is already fifty years old. Turner Hall has been expanded upon, but has never seen as major of a renovation that it’s experiencing now.

In 2012, a committee was launched to raise $5 million dollars for Turner Hall’s renovation project, dedicated to keeping the caliber of teaching and learning spaces here at Illinois at their highest. This past summer, early phases of the project have started with a complete overhaul of all the external windows of the building. Construction crews are part of the Turner Hall’s daily residents as they remove and replace the building’s over 200 windows. Guests of Turner Hall may find it noisier than usual, but the construction has had relatively low impact on classes and teaching commitments

The next phase of the project, slated to start next year, will see a complete gutting of the soils and crops laboratories, updating them to more modern research and education spaces that incorporate more innovative technologies.  This will include electronic displays, modular furniture, flexible seating, and a preparation facility.

So, as the saying goes: Please pardon our dust (and noise) while we work on creating a better experience for students studying here at Illinois.

For more information on the Turner Hall Project, click here.

The Candyman Comes to West Africa

Dec 11
Oliver Ferguson, International Programs Coordinator

After about 15 hours of travel, I was finally settling in for the night. My hotel was along Freetown’s famous Lumley Beach Road.  As I settled, I realized I was about to lose a significant amount of weight I had been carrying around in my suitcase. That’s because loaded up with candy, granola bars, water flavoring and the personal messages. . These items were from the parents of the students who were in Sierra Leone as a part of the first International Development and Agribusiness Program (IDAP) at Njala University.  They wanted to give them some comforts of home which were not easily accessible on the streets of Freetown or the Village of Makonde where Njala was located. They wanted to provide simple encouragement and messages of love and although they made my bag really heavy, I was happy to oblige. 

The IDAP is a collaborative effort between historic partners Njala University and the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The two institutions have been linked since a few bold pioneers, from the College of Agriculture, travelled across the world to live in Sierra Leone to establish a college in the mold of an American Land Grant Institution in a young democracy.

Seven students, five from the College of ACES, spent the semester on campus at Njala, taking classes based on UIUC syllabi, taught by UIUC instructors. I didn’t travel all the way to Sierra Leone simply to be a courier of M&Ms and Skittles, but served as an instructor for a section of the Learning in Community course. This course brought the Illinois IDAP students together with Agribusiness students at Njala on a project investigating the postharvest practices of rice farmers all across Sierra Leone. This project was supported by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss here on campus. The students formed cross-cultural teams to investigate the postharvest handling of rice by farmers across the country. The Learning in Community course was a part of the experiential learning which serves as the cornerstone of the IDAP.

At the time of my arrival, the students had been in country for about six weeks. While munching on Snickers and Twix I heard stories of how the students were able to bond with each other and make fast friends with their Njala counterparts. They were exposed to the social and agricultural practices of the country and were chomping at the bit to learn more. Even without the comforts of home the students were in the early stages of the learning experience of a lifetime. They chose to embrace the challenge as fully as they were that bag of Skittles.   

Academy sets sights on Taiwan

Dec 10
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

The seventh ACES Academy of Global Engagement is underway! 

First, some history: The Academy was formed in 2006 to increase the number of ACES faculty who are globally involved. The experience, coordinated by the Office of International Programs, exposes the selected fellows (generally 5-7 faculty and staff who represent different disciplines in the College) to available resources (campus, state, national, and international) that facilitate global engagement and concludes with an international immersion experience based around a selected theme.

Academy fellows have traveled to Mexico (2006); Europe (2007); Brazil (2008); China (2009); India (2010) and Ghana (2012). This year’s Academy will travel to Taiwan with a focus on “energy, environment, and biodiversity.”

What are the positive outcomes of such a program? The effects are not immediate, but I have covered several news stories for which the Academy served as a catalyst.   

For example, after visiting the “cornbelt” of China with the Academy where he saw farmers harvesting with machetes, Bob Dunker recruited Don Bullock, and then then two involved John Deere and Monsanto to help this area improve its maize production. 

And, a recent symposium on campus was the latest development out of ACES ongoing collaboration with Mexico’s Autonomous University of San Luis Portosi, formed out of the Academy’s trip in 2006, that serves to improve the health of Mexicans and Mexican-origin populations.

These are just a couple of examples of connections initiated with the previous Academy programs.  

This year’s Academy fellows include: Dr. Alfred Roca, Department of Animal Sciences; Dr. Yong-Su Jin, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; Dr. DoKyoung Lee, Department of Crop Sciences; Dr. Jeffrey Matthews, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences; Dr. Yuji Arai, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences; and Gary Letterly, Extension. Additionally, Dr. K.C. Ting will serve as a Senior Fellow to this year’s Academy.  
Join me in anticipating what connections and collaborations may arise from the current Academy’s visit to Taiwan during spring 2014.

Global Academy

FSHN student interns with USDA

Dec 10
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Summer internship experiences are an important part of student development. In this post, Taylor Durkin, senior in dietetics, shares her experiences, in her words, as an intern with the USDA in Alexandria, Va.

As a student in the College of ACES studying Food Science and Human Nutrition with a concentration in dietetics, I have strived to seek out a myriad of experiences that could fortify my academic coursework at UIUC and also prepare me for a dietetic internship. One of my most valued experiences has been with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) in Alexandria, Va. This internship was so special and gratifying for me because I was able to promote good health and nutrition on a large scale. The mission of CNPP is to be a primary organization affecting food and nutrition policies in the US to promote access to good, healthy foods and to be a resource for nutrition education. CNPP is responsible for creating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and promoting the MyPlate icon, among other responsibilities. 

During summer 2013 I spent three months with CNPP working in two departments: the Nutrition Guidance and Analysis Division and the Nutrition Marketing and Communication Division. The two divisions exposed me to varying work but the mission remained the same: to promote good nutrition in a relevant and consumer-friendly way. An on-going project that I was fortunate to contribute to was a resource for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users called Healthy Eating on a Budget. This was a two-week menu for a family of four that fulfilled the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and adhered to SNAP allotments. It was rewarding to know that the resource was going to help families who are (or may not be) on SNAP stay within their budget but also receive good nutrition by utilizing adaptable grocery lists and delicious recipes. In addition, I was fortunate to attend the 2015 Dietary Guidelines meetings at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., where nutrition experts discussed their expanding focus areas for creating the most informative and scientifically up-to-date document. 

Overall, I had a wonderful experience living in the nation’s capital while contributing to work that I am very passionate about. The College of ACES instructors and staff have provided me with the tools necessary to take my class theories and coursework and apply them to a leading organization. This experience has sparked my interest in public health and has encouraged me to seek out organizations that strive to improve the lives of others through nutrition education and increasing food accessibility.

Taylor Durkin (second from right) and three of her fellow CNPP interns.

Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services leadership members are seated around the table with their program interns standing behind them.