Wrapping up another semester

Dec 9
Walt Hurley, Professor of Animal Sciences

Students in our Animal Sciences program all have a love of and appreciation for animals. Beyond that, there is a wide range of interests in what they might do with an Animal Sciences degree. We spend a great deal of time in the ANSC 298 Undergraduate Seminar course making students aware of opportunities to gain out-of-class experiences, including near-term (internships, study abroad, etc), intermediate-term (graduate school, vet school, etc), and long-term (diverse career directions) opportunities. We try to provide them with a wide range of ideas and ways of thinking about the future and how they might reach their career goals. Many alumni have visited the class, including those who are very recent graduates currently in a formal graduate program or in vet school, as well as those who graduated several years ago and are out in the world doing exciting things. Each visitor shares their story on how they came to be doing what they are currently doing, as well as their thoughts on what opportunities exist beyond the undergraduate experience. Each student in the course comes out with a resume, a practice cover letter for a position, and reflective writings that help them practice articulating their interests and goals. They have access to resources that can help them find internships, jobs, and other experiences. And they have access to an extensive network of people who can provide them with suggestions and advice. As they wrap up this semester and head into the Holidays, we hope that each student is a little closer to knowing how they can reach their ultimate goals.

Happy Holidays!

Morrow Plots, a University Tradition

Dec 5
Wendy White, Crop Sciences Undergrad Recruiter

The Morrow Plots have been a long-standing icon of the College of ACES and the University as a whole. They were established in 1876 in order to conduct better agricultural research. They are now the oldest agronomic experiment fields in the United States and include the longest-term continuous corn plot in the world. In 1968, the Morrow Plots became a National Historic Landmark!

Each year semester the Field and Furrow Club takes an hour to go through the plots and clean the junk and weeds out of the hedges that border the plots, in an effort to serve their campus community and keep the Plots looking neat and tidy. Not to mention, it is a chance for students to cross entering the Morrow Plots off their bucket list!

The Morrow Plots is one example of the great tradition of innovative and cutting edge research conducted at the University of Illinois.  I find it very interesting the juxtaposition of the history of the Morrow Plots ongoing experiment and the data being collected there, with the adjacent Institute for Genomic Biology which is on the forefront of molecular and genetic scientific discovery decoding DNA’s book of every living thing.

Elections, Elections, Elections… and Ugly Holiday Sweaters?

Dec 4
Ellen Reeder, Senior in ACES

In the College of ACES, the month of December is all about student leader elections and ugly holiday sweater parties. They don’t seem to fit together the best, but I love it.

Over the past few years, I’ve been that student who nervously awaits their turn to give a speech about their qualifications, drive for success, and passion for an organization or the college. I always dressed nice and thought about my speeches and time commitments ahead of time. This year, it’s a bit of a 180 for me. I sit in the back, I wear the ugliest holiday sweater I can find, I use parliamentary procedure skills I didn’t even know I remembered, and I smile for the next team of leaders.

A few years ago, I dreaded this. I dreaded the day that I would be the one retiring and moving on from these college leadership positions. I wondered how the upperclassmen were so okay with leaving it behind. Now I get it.

When I sit in the back of the room and observe the thoughtful speeches, the passion, and the excitement these students I have, I just can’t help but smile. I think alumni must feel the same way when they come back to visit campus and they get to meet with students and hear about what they’re passionate about and why they love the college. I can’t wait to experience that someday.

Spread the word!

Dec 3
Kathryn Martensen, Assistant Dean and Director of Advising

Calling all ACES alumni, current students, faculty and staff: Do you know of high school seniors who show solid academic promise who would be interested in a top-notch higher education experience with return on investment that’s at the highest level in the Big 10? Applications to be part of the freshman class of 2014 are due January 2, 2014. Here’s a fun winter break project: Visit your former high school, talk with your friends/your friends’ children—spread the word about the vast array of academic programs offered in the College of ACES and the boundless post-graduate opportunities! The application is available at http://admissions.illinois.edu/apply/app_freshman.html, and it is definitely not too late.


Nov 26
Regan Emkes, Senior in Agricultural Communications

“You’re not going to believe what it looks like when you come upstairs…”

This was the first thing my dad said to me after he came down to our basement, soaking wet from holding on for his life during the tornado.

My first reaction was that I started sobbing to the point where I almost threw up. It was still pouring down rain when I walked outside to see my garage taken off of my house, our front porch gone, all of the windows on our house blown in, and my car had a lawnmower lodged into its side. It’s one of those things where you always hear “severe weather,” but you never actually think it will happen to you. It does. It did. My “impossible” came to life.

I can’t help but notice that through all of this “impossible” coming to life and reality being really ugly for a lot of people (my family being some of the luckier ones in this disaster), how many people stepped up to the plate. I went from sobbing thinking, “Why us?” to sobbing thinking, “I can’t believe how lucky we are.”

The very first thing I read that made me turn into a complete mess again was to see that there was a moment of silence at the Illinois Men’s Basketball Game on Sunday night for all the towns affected by the tornadoes. It made me feel incredibly thankful and lucky to be an Illini and a member of the Orange Krush Organization.

Through all of this I can’t help but have a full heart with all the love and support coming from everywhere. Most comes from my family and friends, but the rest keeps coming from those organizations, clubs, and even the College of ACES and College of Media that have become my family and friends in this short time I’ve been at the University of Illinois. The generosity and concern is overwhelming really. I got emails from my boss in the ACES Career Services late Sunday afternoon (while she wasn’t even at work, mind you) checking to make sure we were all okay and to see if there was anything she could do to help. My sorority took a vote at our chapter meeting the other night to raise money to donate and it passed unanimously. My academic advisor emailed me Monday morning inquiring about my family and if she could help. My Dean in ACES stopped in to chat with me about everything. All my instructors have been extremely understanding, and even a club that I wasn’t exclusively involved with at Parkland, the Parkland Ag Club, made sure to message me asking how they could help before they had their meeting to organize their volunteer efforts. We have actually had to turn away help…it’s been crazy.

This is just the help that’s been provided to me and my family. There’s lots more people who are selflessly wanting to help everyone else in town in whatever way and it is incredible. Without skipping a beat, there were people hauling in their loaders, boomers, hi-hos, skid-steers, chainsaws, and trucks to help clean up the mess on Sunday. Churches started organizing donations for the relief efforts within hours of this happening. People made Facebook pages to keep volunteers, donors, and families informed of upcoming events, lost pets/personal belongings, and ways people are wanting to help. United Way and The Red Cross have been in charge of organizing volunteer efforts at Gordyville all week and they’re doing a fantastic job. Gordyville has really come through for our town (not that I had any doubts about them in the first place) as the Gifford headquarters through this disaster. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has been preparing meals for families and volunteers every day while also collecting and organizing donations of food, clothing, and water. Gifford is such a strong community and seeing everyone come together in this time of turmoil is nothing shy of amazing. I couldn’t be more proud of my small town.

Finally, I’ll get to my point of this post. Thankfulness. No matter what your situation, there is always, always, always something to be thankful for. Count your blessings, ladies and gentlemen. Even though life is a physical and emotional roller-coaster for a lot of people across the state of Illinois, we can all agree on one thing. Life is something to be thankful for every day. We can rebuild, we can relocate, we can take out loans, but we cannot get life back once it is taken. Say your prayers, keep everyone in your thoughts, and help where you can.

This is going to be a long road, but I’m ever so thankful for the chance to take it.

Regans car
Walking out to inspect the damage after the tornado in Gifford.

Extension gets ready for the next 100 years

Nov 14
George Czapar, Associate Dean and Director of University of Illinois Extension and Outreach

This week, 230 University of Illinois Extension professionals from across the state were on campus for the Extension State Conference. Extension is the flagship outreach effort of the university and offers educational programs to residents in all 102 counties of the state. The conference included presentations from several campus specialists, including Dr. Art Kramer, Director of the Beckmann Institute, and spanned topics such as innovative methods for delivering educational programs, building partnerships to ensure healthy environments and local economies, strategies for incorporating technology to improve outreach, and working more effectively with families in poverty.  

Conference participants also had a chance to attend "workshops on the go" at the College of Veterinary Medicine, College of ACES South Farms, and the NCSA National Petascale Computing Facility (home to Blue Waters, one of the fastest supercomputers in the United States).

Extension will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2014. A collection of historical photos, posters, and reports is available at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/100yrs.
Extension in action

Future Interdisciplinary Research Explorations

Nov 7
Kathy Partlow, Research and Grant Development Specialist

If you are visiting the Office of Research (228 Mumford) and hear the word “FIRE,” it doesn’t necessarily indicate a need to evacuate the building. At least not in the last few weeks, while we’ve been conducting the selection process for the second round of seed grants to promote Future Interdisciplinary Research Explorations (FIRE). The goals are to spark creativity and collaboration between ACES faculty and their research partners, address important interdisciplinary research questions, and help teams be more competitive in obtaining external funding. Congratulations to the seven teams that were recently awarded FIRE seed grants. So far over the two cycles, we have funded 16 teams led by faculty members from all seven ACES departments for up to $50,000 over two years.  We look forward to seeing the positive outcomes of this program not only for the teams that received funds, but also for the applicants that were unsuccessful. As one recent applicant said, “Regardless of the outcome, this was a very good exercise to bring people together from different disciplines.” You can find more information about FIRE seed grants on our website.  

“Fire has been the fuel of creativity, the very symbol of inspiration.” -Smithsonian, Dec 2012

Here, there, and everywhere

Nov 6
Ellen Reeder, Senior in ACES

Two trips to Kansas City in two weeks might seem a little bit excessive, but I’m excited.

Last week, I traveled with the College of ACES’ Illini Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT) club for a professional development trip. We visited the American Hereford Association, AdFarm, and the American Royal. We also participated in a speed networking evening with professionals in the agricultural communications field. It was so much fun to travel with great friends, to network with professionals, and to see some of my favorite alumni.

This week, I am traveling back to Kansas City for the Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Conference. This will be my fourth year attending the conference and I am so excited to see old friends, network with professionals, and learn more about the transition between my college experience and my career.

When people say that ACES takes you places, they’re not lying. ACES has taken me places in more ways than one. I’m a bit nostalgic right now because I just registered for my final semester of college, but when I look back at the past four years, I have a whole list of places the college has taken me. I’ve been to the Dominican Republic, Washington D.C., Kansas, Texas, New Zealand, New Mexico, New York, and before I graduate I will hopefully travel to Florida and Italy, too. On each of those trips, I gained new skills, new connections, and knowledge that has played a part in my educational experience.

On the other hand, ACES is taking me places by opening doors to career opportunities. It’s funny to listen to the conversations my friends and I have now that we are seniors. Sure, we still talk about the same old stuff that we used to, but we discuss jobs, benefits, interviews, and all that grown-up stuff. We’ve all worked hard, but we wouldn’t be having these conversations if it weren’t for the places that ACES has taken us.  

Illini ACT

An Illini legacy

Oct 31
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

November 1st is an important day in our family, especially this year. You see, my dad is 90 and lots of people are coming to Champaign County to wish him well this All Saints Day. His story is worth telling for many reasons, but several of the chapters are deeply interwoven with the University of Illinois. Rolf Vogen followed his brother to the U of I in 1942 to study agriculture. He hailed from a farming community in Kendall County, where he had been a member of the Lisbon 4-H Club and a charter member of the Newark FFA. But it was the land-grant university that gave him, his two brothers, and other members of his family access to higher education following America’s Great Depression.  Our country was engaged in great global conflict when dad began his studies in the College of Agriculture. Duty called in 1943, and like so many of his fellow students, he served his country with distinction for the next three years in the United States Marine Corps.  

Dad returned to the University of Illinois in 1946 to complete his degree in agriculture, where he soon met Jean Chastain, who was a fellow student in advertising. They were married in 1947 and recently celebrated 66 years of their union. Mom’s parents had also met in Urbana, while my grandfather studied engineering at the University of Illinois. After his graduation from U of I in 1948, dad was employed by the Cooperative Extension Service, now called University of Illinois Extension. For the next decade, he advised farmers and led 4-H youth development programs in Ogle and Jo Daviess Counties. Dad returned to the farm and later finished his career in banking. Meanwhile, two more generations and many other family members have passed through the halls of the University of Illinois, the most recent of whom was a granddaughter who earned her degree in ACES.

So the Illini legacy lives on. Others in this lineage will have aspirations to learn at this great institution. The orange and blue has a prominent place in this corner of history, and I’m proud of my dad for his unswerving loyalty to the University of Illinois.


Rich Vogen family

University of Illinois Extension: 40 years of change

Oct 28
Robert Hoeft, Professor and Transitional Interim Associate Dean, Extension & Outreach

Throughout my career as an Extension Specialist in Agronomy at the University of Illinois, extension has been continually evolving. Some things have stayed the same, but most things have changed to accommodate society in the past 40 years. In 1973, there were 128,000 farmers, but today that number is down to 76,000. Of those, 28,000 farm 97 percent of the cropland. In 1973, many of the farms were grain and livestock operations, whereas today, most large farms are grain. The progressive farmer of today gets information from several sources, but most want information from the individuals doing research on the products or practices they are using. They often come direct to scientists working for public agencies such as USDA and universities.  

With the decline in the number of farmers came a major shift in demographics. One in four Illinoisans resided in rural areas in 1973 compared to one in 10 today. These two major shifts in the economy of the state have created new societal problems that require far different research and extension programs to help people help themselves solve problems. For farmers, extension must be alert for changing conditions that could create problems during the growing season and release that information as timely as possible to allow farmers to take corrective actions if necessary. The massive movement of individuals from rural to urban areas has placed pressure on the job market. This is especially true of the market for unskilled workers. In more recent years, the problem has been aggravated by the need for more highly skilled workers in manufacturing.  

Fewer farmers means fewer people with a tie back to the farm. Years ago, many city people had relatives still on the farm. As people have become more distant in time with those contacts, more questions are being raised about the quality of the food they are receiving, requiring the delivery of more extension materials to provide facts about food quality and safety.  

With 102 counties in the state, most extension specialists would conduct 40 to 50 meetings each winter and another 5 to 10 field days each summer. Assuming one drove the speed limit and worked a 40-hour week, the university paid them to drive a car for about eight weeks to get to each of those meetings. For a period in the 1970s, the speed limit on all roads was 55 mph. This was not a very efficient use of time, but it was the only way we could get the information to the clientele in face-to-face meetings. Traveling on Illinois roads in the winter wasn’t always that safe either. Snowstorms or fog tested one’s ability to gauge where the road was based on the fence posts or power poles in the fence line.

No one had GPS to use in finding the meeting locations. The best way for those in agriculture was to look for a parking lot filled with pick-up trucks. Or if it was around noon, roll down the window and use your nose to find the smell of fried chicken. Not only did we not have GPS, but we didn’t have some of the modern conveniences in the cars we drove. One opened and shut the window with a crank, locked the car with a little button on the door and unlocked it with a key in a slot on the outside of the door. You always hoped that the key was in your pocket or hand when the door went shut and the button was pushed. This was especially true if the car was running, as experienced by one specialist. As the years have progressed, we are now able to deliver lectures into the home or office of clientele live on their computer.  

Movie theaters, church basements, church pulpits, VFW halls, machinery sheds, and for me, the ultimate – a sale barn – served as venues for the meetings. The sale barn was the only place I could smell what I was talking about. In more recent years, with the move to regional rather than county meetings, the venue has improved to the use of conference centers, hotels, or community colleges.  

Throughout the 1970s to the 1990s, extension specialists compiled a list of hotel/motels and another list of restaurants in the different areas of the state. If you wanted good food, you made sure to stay by one of the recommended eating establishments. As for hotel/motel accommodations, they did vary across the state. The worst example was a room with one light, a bulb hanging from the ceiling in the main room that turned on and off by plugging it into the wall or unplugging. Needless to say that motel never got back on the approved list!  

For the first 20 to 25 years of my career, my presentations were done with slides. In the early years, an artist prepared each slide by typing the message on colored paper, photographed it, sent film to Kodak, and upon return, mounted the developed film in slide frame. The whole process took up to 4 weeks to complete. Today a scientist can assemble a slide set in power point on their computer in a matter of hours and be ready to use it in a meeting setting or over the internet to anywhere in the world. A problem that many specialists experienced at least once in their career was to be given a projector with a broken or missing heat lens. Without the heat lens, the light intensity was great enough to melt plastic or break glass slides.  

I hope these don’t sound like complaints. I assure you that each of these experiences were a learning lesson and as you might imagine, pretty funny after it was all over. As I visit with young people, I encourage them to find a profession that they have a passion for – such was the case for me. My career allowed me to help people find research-based solutions to help themselves solve their problems. It’s been a very rewarding career.  

Looking ahead 40 years seems to be forever, but looking back over the past 40 years seems like yesterday. The changes I have seen have been huge, but they will be miniscule compared to those that will occur in the next 40 years. I believe agriculture has a great future ahead.    


Hoeft at Extension meeting
For the first half of his career, all of Dr. Bob Hoeft's presentations were done with slides – a process that took up to four weeks to complete.