How did you get here?

Sep 19
Lucas Neira, Intern at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center

Whenever I meet some, they always ask me, “How did you get here?” I enjoy answering this question. I’m honored to talk about the path I’ve traveled the last few years, the path that always keeps pushing me forward. I have an amazing family that I have always been able to count on for back-up, and I’ve gotten to know so many people with such amazing stories who have supported me and strengthen me to keep following my dreams.

I realized early in my life that I was passionate about cattle production. I was born in a region of Brazil known for its production of oranges and sugarcane. My parents worked in culinary and construction fields, so where did this passion for beef cattle production come from?

When I was 14, I went to a rural school, and because my parents were not involved in my desired field, I started to travel all over Brazil, either as an intern or as a seasonal worker, to experience cattle production. These experiences gave me the chance to learn amazing things, and 13 years later, I’m still working in beef cattle, proof that I took the right way.

Four years ago, I graduated in veterinary medicine and began to travel around the world to work for great companies in Africa and in South America. But my greatest decision yet happened two years ago when I left my stable career to come to the United States to learn from one of the finest beef cattle producers in the world.

I arrived in Montana without knowing how to speak a single English word.  The amazing Norby family hosted me, and I spent a year learning basic cattle operations and the exciting English language. I soon connected with Dr. Dan Shike, a beef cattle researcher at the University of Illinois, who offered me the opportunity to learn from him. I joined the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center’s Research Farm, an experience that awakened in me a strong desire to learn even more.

Today, I am writing as a Graduate Student at the University of Illinois. Looking back at my path so far, I’m encouraged to put all of my efforts into this new experience. I plan to do my best as I learn and develop projects as part of the ACES family.

Lucas and his friends in Africa, 2007

Gionté Mason: My ACES Story

Sep 18
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 Gionté Mason, FSHN ’19

I love sports. Growing up, I pictured myself moving far away from my home in Bourbonnais to play college football. But things didn’t exactly work that way. I’ll be honest that I didn’t consider the University of Illinois because it was so close to home. However, my dad, an Army war veteran, insisted that I apply for the Children of War Veterans tuition waiver at U of I. I didn’t expect anything to come of it because the award goes to only one student per county each year, and there are a lot of veterans in Kankakee County. When I found out the good news that my U of I tuition would be completely covered by this waiver, I called my dad, knowing that it would be a huge weight off of his shoulders to hear that I would be going to college without any financial burdens. I went to the U of I that fall majoring in biology, with my heart set on medical school. If I wasn’t going to play sports as a career, I wanted to stay connected to athletics through sports medicine. I loved the Illinois campus—it felt like home.

But my love for my studies wasn’t as strong. I struggled to connect with the material in my biology classes. It’s not that the material was too tough, and I wasn’t afraid of working hard. But it just wasn’t clicking. I couldn’t relate to the content or apply it to my own life. A friend in my honors fraternity encouraged me to try a nutrition class in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. My first class, FSHN 101, was like a breath of fresh air. I could apply the class to my life. I began incorporating the things I was learning and uncovered a passion for dietetics. Now I’m working in a dietetics research lab. Things look a lot different than I thought they would my senior year of high school, but I’ve found my groove. Finding my passion has allowed me to grab opportunities and to move forward, full speed ahead. And there’s no other school in the world where I’d choose to live out this process.

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

Say Hello to Handshake

Sep 18
Jean Drasgow, Director of ACES Career Services

“Hello… Is it me you’re looking for? Cause I wonder where you are and what you do...”

In 1983, Lionel Richie probably didn’t know that he was predicting the exciting new things happening at ACES Career Services in 2017. As a campus, the University of Illinois has adopted a new career services platform called Handshake @ Illinois. Handshake was selected for its likeness to social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Additionally employers only need a single login to recruit at multiple schools – eliminating the need for multiple accounts and passwords!

Replacing I-Link, Handshake is the new portal to find jobs and internships, on-campus interviews, workshops, career coaching appointments, and much more.  Handshake is used at more than 400 schools nationwide and by 230,000 employers around the globe, providing ACES students with more opportunities than ever before.

This new platform makes it easier for students and employers to find exactly “who they’re looking for” by providing job recommendations based on more than just a student’s major. Students complete a profile in Handshake that includes “where they are and what they do.” Adding interests, skills, and location preferences to a Handshake profile enhances job recommendations based on the student’s profile. Similar to finding the right tune on Spotify or movie on Netflix, the more profile information provided to Handshake, the more targeted the job recommendations are for the user.

ACES Career Services is excited to be launching this new platform and hope you will join us in discovering how it can help both our students and employers.

What We Do and Why It Matters

Sep 14
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

It is an incredible honor to serve as the Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, where we walk the talk of the land-grant mission. I often wish that other people could see what I see every day: 185 faculty and over 1,500 staff members statewide doing their best to improve the quality of life of people in the state of Illinois, across the nation, and around the world. I am proud of the ACES community, and continually marvel at the quality of our faculty, staff, and students. We embrace challenge with resiliency and persistence, knowing that the outcome is worth even the most difficult of journeys because what we do matters to people.  

In order to better share the value of our work, I issued a challenge to members of our academic departments several months ago: create a 2- to 3-sentence statement that reflects what you do and why it matters so that anyone who reads it can understand the importance of your contributions. I am truly thrilled to share with you the outcome of that effort. Thanks to the talented efforts of our Director of Communications and Marketing, Jennifer Shike, we have a complete set of “What We Do and Why It Matters” statements for each of our departments and academic programs, which can be found here. The document can be searched for keywords using Ctrl+F. The department/program statements are also linked below for your convenience.

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Agricultural Education

Agricultural Communications

Animal Sciences

Crop Sciences

Food Science and Human Nutrition

Human Development and Family Studies

Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences  

You may find a colleague from a different department with an area of interest that would complement your work by reading through these statements. A prospective graduate student may find their ideal advisor by looking at these descriptions. An industry partnership might evolve when people realize the capacity of our research portfolio. At the very least, people will be very impressed with the quality of the faculty and staff that create the essence of this college. We will distribute this information broadly to bring awareness to the talent base within the college and to help you connect to colleagues with common interests. 

By the way, if you are wondering what I do and why it matters …

I set the strategic priorities for the college and help generate resources to support our efforts while managing faculty, staff, and students to promote excellence in the three legs of our land-grant mission: teaching, research, and extension. I empower people to be transformational change agents that address the world’s biggest challenges to improve the quality of life and well-being of people around the globe.

Kim and Brandon

Larry Fisher: My ACES Story

Sep 13
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 Larry Fischer, M.S. ’74 Agricultural Education

Once ACES is in your blood, it’s hard to let it go. I guess that’s why I found myself serving on the College of Agriculture Alumni Association Board and subsequent ACES Alumni Association Board, the Illinois 4-H Foundation Board, and the Chancellor’s Commission on Extension. One of my favorite “board” stories surrounded the construction of the ACES library. Lynette Marshall spoke at one of our alumni meetings about how the college needed a new library. She explained that John Campbell, the previous dean, was instrumental in kicking off the fundraising campaign, successfully soliciting $1 million from the Funk family. The campaign was nearing the 10-year mark; almost $10 million had been raised privately, but it was still not enough to construct the library. After hearing these reports over and over, I was getting tired of them.

As board president I finally said, “Why don’t we follow the old model of the PTA organization and ask the state legislature to provide 50 percent of the money for the project if we can raise the other half? It’s time we get this project done!” I offered to write each Illinois senator and representative in the General Assembly to request an appropriation for the half of the funds we did not have, since we knew it would be a $20-million project. Thankfully, Warren Wessels said, “By gosh, let’s do it! I’ll even write the letter for you to sign, Larry.” I sent the letter on behalf of the ACES Alumni Association. The rest is history, and the library construction was completed in 2001.


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

Sweet potato fries and selfies

Sep 13
Jennifer Shike, Director for Communications and Marketing

There’s no doubt about it, we know how to have fun in the College of ACES. It’s been a whirlwind of activities around here – activities that have drawn me closer to my ACES family. From eating sweet potato fries with the Chancellor at the Illinois State Fair to taking selfies with Dean Kidwell at the Farm Progress Show, I feel fortunate to be a part of a college where people really do matter. And we just don’t say that to lure people here. We live it out each and every day. The connections we have allow us to collaborate in an effective and meaningful way in order to do amazing things that make a difference in people’s lives.

Tomorrow night, we’re bringing our ACES family together for our first ACES Fall Festival. This event is going to be an awesome opportunity to meet the people who make up the College of ACES. From freshmen to emeriti professors, we welcome you to join us this Thursday, Sept. 14, from 4 to 6 p.m. on the North Lawn by the Stock Pavilion for a free BBQ dinner, the chance to win great prizes, and most importantly, time to network and get to know your ACES family better.

Farm Progress Show

Holding on

Sep 12
Ariel Majewski, ACES Visual Marketing Intern

It’s good to be back at school.

I’m refreshed. I’m no longer sleep-deprived. I’m sick of watching YouTube videos all day (ok that’s a lie). But most importantly, I’m ready to apply some summer life lessons to my junior year on campus.

Have you ever heard of the quote, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education”? Well, I would like to add my own spin to that phrase: “Carry your outside education to your schooling.” Because I truly believe the insights I learned this summer while traveling will help me succeed at this learning institution.

In early August, my mom and I visited Zion National Park in Utah. Although we’re avid hikers, I admit that we were not prepared for the steep incline. At least, not on our first day of acclimating to high altitudes and 96-degree heat. So we slowly marched our way up, steering away from the constant drop-offs to our right.

But that’s not even the challenging part of the story. The trail spur we wanted to explore was farther up ahead, called Angel’s Landing.

On this peak, there were short strips of chains mounted to the red, wrinkled stones. If there was ever a time you didn’t want to look down, it was while climbing up this hour-long journey. One misstep and you could become one of the trail’s “fallen angels,” so to speak.

I fell forward as my sweaty palm grasped the first chain. Surprisingly I could tug it farther away from mountain side than I thought possible. Now comfortable with the chain’s sturdiness, I started to swing from one to another, letting my inner-Tarzan take control.

Ten minutes later, the vertical grade rose sharply. A narrow ledge was the only way to cross to the next safe resting point.

Getting across was thrilling and frightening at the same time.

Groups of people from all over the world were clinging to this one large chain. Since it was being pulled from different directions, it strapped itself to the wall rather than loosely dangling like the others.

Here I was, holding on to the same metallic lifeline with everyone else. I couldn’t understand anyone. Foreign languages echoed off the walls. We had come from different directions of life, but at this moment we were all cultures and backgrounds were linked together, stepping forward with a common goal.

Even though I was 1,600 miles away, I felt closer to school than ever. At U of I, we’re all climbing the heights of education and employment opportunities at our own pace. We didn’t put ourselves in this position just to survive--we enjoy the thrill of accomplishments, the thrill of finding the path that we want to succeed on.

When you’re looking up, you wonder how on earth you’re going to get to the top. And then you remember there are those chains. There are mentors there to guide you along the way. Some may be there for short periods of time. You may hold on to others throughout your entire college career and beyond.

And when I climbed forward through Angel’s Landing, I didn’t care what type or size of chain it was--I grabbed onto it wholeheartedly. Even if someone’s links of experience through life are smaller than mine, they can still be a mentor. As a junior, I have to remember that. I’m not only to serve as a role model, but to always learn from my peers and underclassmen. Your fellow peers’ work ethic, personality, and character can motivate and inspire the way you live your life.

You may be a mentor for someone--even someone that you look up to--and not know it.

Throughout my life, no matter how much experience I gain, I always hope to have a wide selection of mentors of all cultures and ages on my journey. I intend to keep climbing--I don’t know where exactly, but as long as I hold on, I’ll find myself along the way.




ACES Film Festival Wows Moviegoers

Sep 7
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

I don’t often find myself settling in for a film screening – complete with a bag of freshly popped popcorn – in the Heritage Room of the ACES Library. But there I was last Friday, along with 80 or so ACES faculty members, staff, and students. We were there to take in the launch of a series of new videos geared to undergraduate study opportunities.

Each two-minute video features students and faculty sharing the many opportunities available to students, both during their time in the department and after they graduate with a degree from ACES. Each video was compelling in its own way – the spokespeople were uniquely charming and enthusiastic, and the collective array of options available for research, classes, and future jobs was simply astounding. I’m many years out from graduating with my undergraduate degree, but the videos made me want to re-enroll.

Hosts Prasanta Kalita, associate dean of academic programs, and Erik Johnson, the new director of undergraduate recruitment, distributed surveys to the audience so we could note the things we liked best about each video. I had a couple of favorites, but I hate to give them away… Luckily, you can decide for yourself! So, pop up a bag of popcorn, sit back, and click below.

RSO Spotlight: Animal Sciences Graduate Student Association

Sep 6
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

Key-note speakers, increased connections, a community of peers, and free food.

As an undergrad at UIUC, I was able to find all of this and more through the many registered student organizations (RSO) available to us in the Department of Animal Sciences. This was something I didn’t want to lose as I made the transition to grad school. The Animal Sciences Graduate Student Association (GSA) is the only RSO in the department made specifically for grad students. It’s a lot harder to make connections with your peers in grad school because you’re not taking as many classes and you don’t have as much free time. GSA offers a space for everyone to get to know more about each other and the research that’s going on in every lab and on every farm in the department.

GSA hosts a social and meeting every month. The social is a chance for students to get know each other outside of the lab coats and coveralls. Past socials have included a park picnic, potluck, local restaurant hangouts, an Illini football tailgate, and a Christmas party. The meetings bring in keynote speakers to inform the members on topics that relate specifically to graduate school. Career connections, information about our farm facilities, and insight from our own alum and former President of the University of Illinois, Dr. Easter, have all been meeting topics covered in the past.

Get connected! Join us the Animal Sciences Graduate Student Association facebook group to stay up to date on upcoming events and communicate with other members.

Hope to see you at our first meeting on September 7th at noon in ASL room 292/296. We'll have pulled pork from the Meat Science Lab and our keynote speaker will be sharing info about all the farm facilities on campus!

students and dog in lawn
The first GSA social of the new school year includes food, games, fun, and of course, pets!

Craft beer and climate change

Sep 6
Sean Fox, Head, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics

To describe in a few sentences the research done by agricultural economists is challenging given the range of topics they work on and the approaches they apply to those topics. 

From craft beer to climate change, family finances to farm management, financial markets in Chicago to farming systems in Malawi, agricultural economists are involved in describing, analyzing, and oftentimes predicting what is happening. The methods they bring to bear range from focus groups and case studies to the most advanced statistical techniques and machine learning.

This work matters to individuals, firms, and policy makers. Over the past decade or so, agricultural economists have become increasingly involved in the field of behavioral economics – designing surveys and experiments and even using MRI brain scans to gain insights into how individuals make decisions and how various factors influence those decisions. For many, the end goal is to help design benign interventions that can nudge people toward making better decisions about food, finances and other life issues that will, in effect, help people lead better, happier lives.

The more traditional realm of agricultural economics includes areas such agricultural production and farm and agribusiness management, and the work typically leads to insights for firms about how best to market their products, design their supply chains, and manage risk. The resulting gains in efficiency make for, potentially, a better world for everybody through lower prices for consumers and more effective use of resources in production. 

Finally, for government policy makers the works of agricultural economists helps shape and adjust the policies that protect environmental resources, guide public investments, and ensure that markets operate fairly and efficiently. For example, one issue on which there is broad agreement in the profession is that returns to public investments in agricultural research have been very favorable – some studies report returns of up to $30 per dollar invested. Findings such as these suggest that reductions in public R&D investments in food and agriculture at a time when the planet is facing higher food demand and increasing threats to the sustainability of our soil, water and other natural resources would be unwise.