Advancing Our Mission

Jul 30
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

Last week, two of the proposals submitted by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences were selected for funding in the Provost’s Investment for Growth Program. Funding for this program is acquired through an internal reallocation process designed to invest in ideas that catalyze the development of innovative programs designed to increase enrollment and promote financial sustainability. The Provost’s Office will provide resources to build a new undergraduate degree program in Metropolitan Food and Environmental Systems (MetroFESt) and create a Center for Smart Agriculture on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus through a collaborative effort with the College of Engineering. The University of Illinois announced the selection of 14 projects campuswide to receive funding for the Investment for Growth program last Tuesday. Please see link to the announcement here for more details.

The success of these projects will allow ACES to continue to advance our mission of scholarly excellence while developing new sources of revenue to support our educational, research, and outreach priorities. These initiatives will create new opportunities for our college to contribute to the improvement of global health through the advancement of food and agricultural systems, including the development and implementation of novel technologies. 

Metropolitan Food and Environmental Systems (MetroFESt)

The MetroFESt major will focus on innovative, sustainable food production and environmental safety within urban settings. Students will engage in immersion-based, hands-on learning opportunities with industry partners to apply the content they are learning in the classroom to address real world challenges. 

In Illinois, we have access to several major metropolitan food hubs. Additionally, our University of Illinois Extension educators are already working throughout these areas to promote local foods, urban food marketplaces, neighborhood gardening, vertical farming, rooftop water reclamation, and city soil testing, among many other activities. By collaborating with Illinois Extension and other food-related partners, such as restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, grocers, city farmers, health inspectors, non-profit and non-government organizations, etc., we can provide students with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to apply systems thinking to address local problems related to food production and food access.

The Center for Smart Agriculture
The Center for Smart Agriculture will strengthen research, teaching, industrial outreach, and community education in agricultural sciences that interface with engineering. It will also provide experiential learning opportunities for students enrolled in the new Computer Science + Crop Sciences undergraduate degree program. The Center will engage in large-scale, interdisciplinary research initiatives that will expand our relationships with agricultural industries in Illinois.

Efforts conducted through the Center for Smart Agriculture have the potential to create tremendous benefits to society including improved food distribution, reduced hunger, increased sustainability, reduced environmental impact, and increased agricultural productivity. New datasets and algorithms can provide novel agricultural research methods that will redefine farm practices and business models. Development of new computational methods will help push the boundaries of the application of Computer Science innovations to the expansion of agricultural and allied disciplines.

On behalf of the College of ACES, I want to express my gratitude to the University of Illinois for providing us with this opportunity to strengthen our contributions to improve food infrastructure in the state and beyond while enhancing our participation in the advancement of data sciences.

Mumford Hall

First year in grad school

Jul 20
Lucas Neira, Animal Sciences graduate student

My first year in grad school is ending and it is time to make a reflection: How much my life has changed during this time?

Before I started my master degree, I wondered: What do I know about research? I have some great mentors in my life as my sister and friends followed in this scientific pathway, so I just went out and started to ask, what is grad school like?

Most of the answers were scary: “You will have to spend hours and hours reading and writing.” Other people said, “You will go crazy inside the office.” Truth be told, they weren’t wrong, but it has offered me much more than I was expecting.

During my first year, I learned with my colleagues how important it is to improve and extend our network. We are a group of students where every individual depends on someone else for help. We need help to travel hours to a farm, to collect samples during the weirdest hours, to decide the best protocols and how to execute it, or just to go out, sit, and listen what we have to say.

Grad school taught me that feeling stupid is not always a bad thing. Doing our own research, we have the feeling that we don’t really know nothing about anything, and that it is okay, since we are learning something every day. It is like walking in a way that nobody has never walked, and at this point, the adviser helps a lot. They give us the confidence that we need to keep following our ideas and looking for the answers that they already knew since our first thought.

At this point, I already have a lot of people to thank -  my colleagues that share this great experience with me and my advisers that are always giving me the support so that I can keep following my dreams and learn more each day.

So, to answer the first question of how my life has changed - grad school is making me a better person. Even when I don’t understand something, I enjoy going out and solving those problems. I truly believe that I can help to improve the world with research.

Preparing myself for success

Jul 19
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

by Lupe Cruz

As my graduation day slowly approaches, it’s time I apply some of the skills and knowledge I have obtained throughout my college experience. I am currently demonstrating these skills with an internship. An internship is an excellent way for students and other green workers to learn and get real-world experience in a field of their choosing. The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the College of ACES have played vital roles in helping me earn an internship.

ACES and the University of Illinois in general make the searching process for an internship or job very simple for students. There are career fairs and websites such as Handshake that aid students in finding what they need. I am a technical systems management major (TSM) in ABE, which offers significant room in the curriculum for students to explore other areas of studies in their minor. I have two minors – one in business and another in agricultural safety and health.

This summer I am working a business management internship with Orkin (the North Chicago commercial branch), which is a leader in the pest control world. I spend my days learning how the business operates from all aspects such as marketing, selling, operating, and managing. I believe the experience and knowledge I am gaining is universal, from the customer service to reviewing profit and loss statements and operating performance reports. This has been an exciting summer for me because this is helping me apply the business concepts I learned in my classes to practice. Additionally, I am utilizing my agricultural safety and health knowledge because Orkin obviously deals with pesticides and other chemicals.

I was able to obtain this internship with the help of my college and department. The career center in the College of ACES is very resourceful because there I was able to receive guidance on my resume, partake in mock interviews, and get general advice about my career goals. The ABE department has friendly and trustworthy faculty and staff. When I’m sitting in an office for academic advising, I’m able to feel comfortable and have casual conversations. This might be due to the smaller size of the ABE department compared to other engineering departments, but it makes it feel like a family. With the college’s resources and support, I am growing and moving in the right direction towards my career goals and personal success.

[Lupe Cruz is a senior in TSM in the Department of ABE.]

Get used to this voice

Jul 10
Meg Neumann, Senior in Agricultural Communications

Allow me to formally introduce myself, I’m Megan Neumann, or Meg, and I’m this summer’s College of ACES communications and marketing intern. Nice to meet ya. I’m a senior in agriculture communications with a concentration in journalism.

There’s a lot more that I’d like you to learn about me, but we’ve got time plenty of time for that later.

Today, I wanna talk about voices. Like, ya know, the name of this blog: Voices of ACES. The way that we talk, voices. A person's own voice is something we tend not to think about too much. A few days ago, Jennifer asked me a question that startled me, “What is your voice on campus?” I’m sure that my face reflected exactly what I was thinking (and that was “I have absolutely no clue”) think about that yourself. That’s a big question.

Finding your voice is hard on campus and in general. You can't really search for it on Google, or ask Siri. Your voice is something you have to establish and to do that, you have to understand yourself. A voice is like a personality. The personality traits that make up how others hear what you say.

Own your voice, don't be afraid to tell your story the way that you want to. Don’t try to change your voice. Individuality is important because no one wants to hear the same thing over, and over again.

Understanding my voice is something that I think changed my life for the better. A few years ago I discovered my voice which made me feel like I found my role in society and made me a more confident, happy, and healthy individual. Finding my voice was a big step for me to accept who I was.

My voice, you ask? Well, my voice is a voice that doesn't take itself too seriously. My voice is a voice that you will hear from the other side of a room (I’m very loud). My voice is the voice of a transfer student. My voice is the voice of a girl raised in the suburbs who fell in love with the agriculture industry years ago looking in the eye of a 1,200 pound animal. My voice is a voice that loves to tell stories.

My voice is a voice that I can’t wait to share with you.

Meg is pictured on the left along with her mom, Kelly

Supportive faculty and extracurricular activities make all the difference

Jul 9
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

by Katarina Pearson

When you think of an engineering student at college, you often think of someone who lives in the library and is an extremely studious, academically-focused person. They are someone who dedicates themselves to their homework and never goes out to hang with friends or do fun activities around campus as there is no time for it. However, being an engineering student can involve so much more!

The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) knows that college life includes more than academics. They often schedule events for students and encourage them to be a part of clubs and sports at school. I am an engineering student, but I express my other interests as well. I am on the board of HASO, the Hellenic-American Student Association, to promote my heritage. Along with that, I participate in the Greek community at school as a member of the sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi. Finally, I partake in the university’s synchronized figure skating team, IllinoiSkating. Without these things in my life, it would not feel like I am grasping the experiences offered to me. Our professors encourage us to go out and find ourselves in different activities.

The support of the ABE faculty has been amazing. In the last academic year, my participation in IllinoiSkating required that I travel to places in Michigan and Kansas, and I even flew to Portland, Oregon to compete at nationals. The professors understood and made it possible for me to do my work in a productive manner while I was gone. Without such considerate faculty, being a college level athlete and engineering student would have posed more challenges than necessary. My experiences as a college student have been greatly enhanced by the supportive faculty in the Department of ABE!

(Katarina Pearson is a junior in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. In the photo, she is on the far right of the first row.)

How my dad became part of the ACES family

Jun 25
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

When I heard I’d be writing an ACES@Illinois story on NRES professor Angela Kent’s work at Shedd Aquarium, I jumped at the chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the world-famous facility. I wouldn’t just be writing the article – I’d be taking the photos, too. 

After I set up a date and time to meet Angela and her student at Shedd, a light bulb went off. “Maybe I should   swing past my parents’ house on the way and borrow some lights from Dad.” My dad, a retired Chicago Tribune   photographer, has pretty much every piece of photography equipment a girl could want. Minutes later, the next   light bulb went off. “Maybe I could just borrow Dad!”

 That’s how my dad became a part of the ACES family, at least temporarily. 

 I scooped him up, along with about 13 tons of photography   equipment, and we made our way toward Lake Shore   Drive. We had special parking instructions at Shedd, and   entered through the fishy-briny-smelling loading dock. A   staffer met us there and beeped us through several staff-   only doors and through crowded public viewing areas toward the lab facilities where we met Angela and her student, Monique.

We sat down for my interview; then it was Dad’s turn. He got to work posing the two women in various parts of the aquarium – the lab, a small turtle tank, and the Oceanarium, with its smiley beluga whales. It can feel awkward posing for photos, especially in crowded public places, but he made the researchers comfortable. He’s an absolute pro, and it was a treat to watch him work. I’ve seen it before – I tagged along on his photo assignments occasionally as a kid – but being his partner on a story is new territory for us, and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to work with my dad.

You’ll have to wait for the fall issue of ACES@Illinois to see his photos and read the story, but I promise you it’ll be worth the wait. 



The News is Good

Jun 20
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

I was recently invited to record a podcast with Julie Wurth for our local newspaper, The News Gazette. This provided an outstanding opportunity for me to set the record straight on several important issues related to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Ms. Wurth was very gracious during the interview, asking me questions ranging from the status of the Feed Mill replacement project to the vision presented in the master plan for creating an ACES Corridor on the south end of campus to the future plans for Extension at the University of Illinois. What was remarkable to me during the process was how easy it has become for me to tell the ACES story framed, as always, from the perspective of the important work we do to improve the quality of people’s lives in the state and beyond.

After visiting 25 of the 27 Extension units, holding four town hall meetings with the ACES community, and meeting literally hundreds of people dedicated to the cause, I believe we are making great progress towards creating a vibrant future for the college, for Extension and 4-H, and for the University of Illinois. 

If you are interested in learning more about our latest initiatives, please listen to the podcast here: “Campus Conversation with Kim Kidwell.”

From my perspective, the news about the future of the College of ACES is very good. I am grateful to all of you who have joined me on our journey to extraordinary. Your creativity, dedication, loyalty, and persistence are inspiring.

With gratitude,

South Farms landscape

It all began with agriculture

Jun 14
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

As the University of Illinois brings its celebration of 150 years (since its founding in 1867) as a land-grant institution to an end, it is important to look back on why it all began. The University of Illinois was created out of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, defined as at least one college per state to support the learning of agriculture and the mechanical arts, but not excluding military tactics or classical studies for the industrial class ("Land-grant tradition," 1995).

A large misconception is that there was a high demand for agricultural education in the late 1800s, but when looking at the enrollment numbers in these particular programs, the supply was available long before the demand was apparent. This is reasonable because many in the agricultural industry learned by doing and typically did not go past the 8th grade in their education. The need for higher education, let alone a high school degree, was not a priority and allowed for such phrases as ‘educated idiot’ to become well-known because of the perceived disconnect between learning in the classroom to practice in the field.

The land grants were established out of an idea, not necessity. In 1890, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana had zero agricultural students enrolled in the agricultural related programs (Johnson, 1981). A student's major choice was much more conventional than expected at the land-grant colleges. They went to these schools in the beginning for a liberal education and then moved into common professions. The agricultural departments did not take off until 30 to 50 years after they were established, well into the early 1900’s. In fact, the head of the agricultural department at the University of Missouri was a botanist, whose focus was to make farms look attractive (Cain, 2013). While aesthetics are important, that is not commonly the number one priority of the agriculture industry.

The purpose or interpretation of the land grants over the course of time has changed, even within their first 30 years of existence. Senator Morrill goes on to describe that the land grants are not for every mechanic and farmer, but for those that are interested in continuing their education, not excluding the classics. Senator Morrill continues to refine his definition by saying the fundamental idea behind the land-grant was to offer an opportunity to all persons in a state a liberal and industrial education “to those much needing higher instruction for the world’s business for the industrial pursuits and professions of life” ("Land-grant tradition," 1995).

Overtime the University of Illinois expanded its colleges and degree programs to become more encompassing of more areas of study, from the agricultural sciences to the fine arts and beyond. The University of Illinois has made some wonderful findings over the last 150 years. Through all of the discovery and learning at the University of Illinois, it is important to remember that it all began with agriculture, an essential cornerstone of society.



Cain, T. (2013, February 21). lecture notes, Age of the university?.

Johnson, Eldon L. “Misconceptions about the Early Land Grant Colleges.” Journal of Higher Education 52, no. 4 (1981)

Land-grant tradition. (1995). National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges


An indelible mark in animal sciences

Jun 13
Rodney Johnson , Department of Animal Sciences

It is a thrill for me to announce the Keith W. and Sara M. Kelley Professorship of Immunophysiology.  The endowed professorship established by a generous gift from the Kelleys is the first to be housed in the Department of Animal Sciences and will recognize and reward a talented and accomplished faculty member conducting research in the area of immunophysiology.  This gift to the Department of Animal Sciences will encourage interdisciplinary activity.  

The Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois, to my best knowledge, is the only animal science department in the world to maintain a concentration of faculty doing research in the immunology space. The emergence of immunophysiology as a discipline within animal sciences traces back to 1984 when Dr. Kelley was hired by department head D. E. Becker.  At the time, the immune system was considered only to protect against infectious disease and there was little to no consideration for how it might engage with other physiological systems.  Dr. Kelley did not accept this notion and ultimately created an entirely new field that has helped us understand important issues concerning stress and disease resistance, immune regulation of growth, infection and changes in behavior, and chronic inflammation and the emergence of affective disorders like depression.   

This professorship is especially meaningful to me, because I earned my M.S. with Dr. Stanley E. Curtis in 1989 and my Ph.D. with Dr. Kelley in 1992.  Incidentally, Keith Kelley earned his Ph.D. with Dr. Curtis and it was the strength of Dr. Curtis’ recommendation (or more likely an arm twist) that landed me a place in the Kelley lab.  Thus, I have been a mentee and friend of Keith’s for nearly 30 years. Sara, who had a long successful tenure as Assistant Dean for Advancement in the College of Applied Health Sciences, certainly played a key role in this exemplary gift!  Her perspective on philanthropy and how it impacts students and faculty made this professorship possible. 

This endowed professorship will help the Department of Animal Sciences attract the best and brightest scholars. The Kelleys have created an indelible mark.

Memories to last a lifetime

May 21
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

 By Lucia Dunderman

The number of study abroad opportunities available to students in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the College of ACES is second to none! Over my college career, I have participated in four study abroad programs.

My first trip took place during the winter break of my freshman year. After a project-based engineering class in the fall, I had the opportunity to work on the project in another country. Our project focused on wildlife control, indoor air quality, and women empowerment with the Maasai tribe in Tanzania. The Maasai women worked with us to build chimneys in their huts and living fences around their villages. As a sign of gratitude, the Maasai tribe slaughtered a goat in front of us and cooked it. While it was the best meat I’ve ever had, I haven’t been able to look at a goat the same since! Getting to learn and work side-by-side, even though we didn’t speak the same language, with women from a very different culture was an extremely rewarding experience.

During my second program, I studied the effect of climate change on the Swedish Arctic region and environment during the summer of 2015. I spent three weeks at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm before traveling north to the Swedish Arctic for the remainder of the program. We studied glaciers at the Tarfala Research Station and visited various mining operations. The most shocking part of the trip was seeing multiple towns that were going to disappear due to collapsing mines. I fully witnessed the effects of the human impact on the environment and how we can affect our way of life.

The third program I participated in was during the summer of 2016 in Hangzhou, China. I worked with a post-graduate level research team at Zhejiang University, looking at the effects of non-point source pollution on drinking water quality. I traveled to many different areas of China, and often my Illini peers and I were the only internationals in the area. Getting to work with my research team bred lifelong friendships. They taught me Mandarin, aspects of Chinese culture, their hometown culture, and much about the surrounding environmental issues. I learned how my major can positively impact millions of people and how to work together with people from the other side of the world.

The last program was during the spring 2017 semester of my junior year. I was a student at University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. Living and studying abroad for a semester allowed me to experience what it was like to be a student at UCD. I traveled around Ireland and to many countries in Europe. The great thing about studying at UCD was meeting more than just American students. My group of friends ranged from from Austria, The Netherlands, Italy, Singapore, Germany, Norway, Spain, and many more. It made me appreciate not just my time in Ireland, but also my home and my home university.

Experiencing different cultures and countries in my college career has helped shape me not just as a person, but also academically and for my future career. I have been able to make lifelong relationships out of these programs and the perspective that I gained about the world is something that can’t be taught from a textbook. My international experiences have already shaped my post-college career; I will be the Continuous Improvement Specialist in the U.S. Virgin Islands for my first year rotation at Diageo. I would not be where I am today without my travels and the support from ACES study abroad, IPENG, and the Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering.