Students Expanding Horizons

Jul 24
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Many students at the U of I have the opportunity to study abroad to expand their horizons. Whitney Vanderpool is one of those students.  Whitney is a senior in food science who was able to travel to China through the University of Illinois for a research project. The following is a blog of her reflections from the experience.

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to China.  Along with a group of five other University of Illinois students, I participated in scientific research at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou.  Each of us worked in a lab under the guidance of a graduate student, and my research focus was reducing the antigenicity of milk protein in infant formula while maintaining the flavor.  Most weekday mornings, I would work in the lab performing experiments, but I would also help various graduate students revise the scientific papers they were working on.  As a result of my participation in research, I was able to practice the skills I learned in lab from the University of Illinois as well as my scientific writing skills.  One thing that really stood out to me was the fact that the research labs as well as the teaching facilities at Zhejiang University closely resembled those at the University of Illinois.  Even in a country as far away as China, scientific research is still performed in a very similar manner.  

As well as participating in research, our group participated in other activities.  One of these activities was taking a Chinese language and culture course.  From this class, we learned basic Mandarin as well as an introduction to Chinese culture.  On the weekends, we would travel to various locations such as Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, and Yiwu to tour food companies and witness firsthand how they operate.  We even got the opportunity to tour Zhejiang University’s cafeteria system and view the process of preparing meals for students.  To add to these experiences, our group visited sites such as the Great Wall, the Six Harmonies Pagoda, a tea house, the Forbidden City, the Oriental Pearl TV tower, the Bird’s Nest, and the Water Cube.  By traveling around China, we were able to practice our Mandarin language skills when communicating with taxi drivers and shopkeepers, ordering in restaurants, and asking for directions.

As a result of traveling to China, I have expanded my global perspective, accumulated confidence and self-assurance, developed my scientific research and lab skills, and learned the basics of a new language.  In addition, I made memories and gained friends that I value very much.  Participating in this study abroad experience has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.


Whitney enjoying the site-seeing in China

It's All About Your Strengths

Jul 21
Jennifer Shike, Director for Communications and Marketing

It’s a myth that we can be anything we want to be if we just work hard. I’m sorry, but with my 5’ 2” frame and two left feet, there’s no way I’m going to be a great basketball player. No matter how hard I try. I find it interesting that we spend so much time as a society encouraging everyone that they can do whatever they want in life if they work hard enough. It’s just not true.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. We just need to turn our attention away from our weaknesses and focus on our strengths.

Last month, I attended “Strengths Based Leadership” at the 2014 National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association (NAADA)’s national conference and gained many great insights from speaker Richard J. Rateau from Penn State.

We took a new leadership version of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder program online and walked away with our top five strengths to help us move forward and improve our effectiveness as a leader.

Our speaker said we grow most in the areas we are already strong. He defined “strength” as knowledge + skills + talents. Knowledge is learned. Skills are teachable. Talents are naturally occurring traits. Essentially we can be anything our strengths allow us to be, he said.

In the book, “Strengths Based Leadership,” by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, the authors say, “…Sure, many leaders can get by or are above average in several domains. But paradoxically, those who strive to be competent in all areas become the least effective leaders overall.”

Call me a leadership-junkie, but I enjoy books and speakers on this topic because let’s face it, we all lead at some point during our lifetime.  And leadership isn’t for the faint of heart.

One of the things I enjoy most about working in the College of ACES is the support we receive to keep learning and develop as professionals in our field. I always look forward to summer and heading out to professional development conferences like NAADA where I can be challenged to grow and improve.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!


(Pictured above, from left) Jennifer Shike, ACES director for communications and marketing and NAADA Communications Track Chairman; Tara Anderson, ACES alum and NAADA Volunteer Track Chairman; and Tina Veal, ACES director of alumni relations.

Ag and Bio Engineers and President Easter Participate in Global Challenges Forum

Jul 16
Kimberly Meenen, Senior Director of Advancement

Montreal is located on an island at the junction of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers and is Canada’s second largest city. This week, this metropolitan center hosted more than 1,500 agricultural engineers for the 2014 International Meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). The ASABE’s mission is to expand awareness of industry trends, to promote and acknowledge innovations in design and technology, and to provide opportunities for professional development – all with a focus on the economic, political, and societal impacts facing the industry.

There’s a strong Illini footprint in this organization, and many attend this annual meeting. As the development officer assigned to the College’s agricultural and biological department, my role was to support their activities during the meeting and to visit donors and alumni in/around the city.

University of Illinois President Robert Easter was also in attendance. He provided the plenary presentation for the meeting’s “Global Engagement Forum” and moderated a panel of leading global experts. (He also moderated the inaugural global engagement program in 2013.) President Easter and the panel offered their perspectives on five global challenges facing humanity:  food security, water security, energy security, climate change, and sustainability. They explored the obstacles, funding opportunities, and threats facing agricultural and biological engineers. Several identified the undeniable link between sustainability, water, and human prosperity. All agreed that international collaboration is key; that agricultural engineers can make an impact in finding global solutions, and that one of the greatest challenges is gaining leadership on issues affecting public policy.

The ASABE and its global partners are taking seriously the charge to move this initiative to a very high level. Dr. K. C. Ting, head of the department of agricultural and biological engineering, facilitated a SWOT analysis following the global panel discussion. The ultimate goal is to develop a blueprint for an ASABE White Paper. To see more visit,

President Easter is thanking the five panelists in food security, energy, water, climate change, and sustainability for participating in the global challenges forum

Just Returning From South Africa

Jul 15
Walt Hurley, Professor of Animal Sciences

I have long been a proponent of study abroad programs that provide our students with international experiences.  There are few other types of learning opportunities that have the same intensive impact on students as spending time in another country and in another culture.  Students who spend time abroad come home a different person, and the better for having had that experience.

I just returned last week from a 3-week tour around South Africa.  It was a private tour not associated with the university.  We had a wonderful time, seeing the many wild animals, magnificent countryside and the major cities in that country.  I also wanted to use that trip as an opportunity to have a personal introduction to that country.  

We have several study abroad programs affiliated with ACES and run by ACES faculty that involve spending time in South Africa.  A large number of ACES students participate in those programs and the number of programs continues to grow.  For example, one of our alumni from Animal Sciences is developing additional international opportunities in Africa that are available to students.  Having the opportunity to tour South Africa gave me some personal insights that I can use to help our students chose appropriate international opportunities from that part of the world.  Now I can say to them, “I’ve been there.  This what its like and what you can expect there.”  And of course, showing them my many photos of elephants, rhinos, giraffes and others.

One of Walt's many photos of the elephants in South Africa

Student Season

Jul 14
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

I recently witnessed a conversation between two people discussing “farming season.”  Having grown up on a diversified livestock and grain farm, and wanting to dispel the myth that farming is a job that only takes a few weeks in the spring and fall; this is likely a topic for a completely separate post on a different blog.

However, listening to the conversation, I started to think about the College of ACES and how some might view our work as something that happens during “student season” (August through May). Yes, indeed, campus is a very busy place when all the students are here, but summer doesn’t mean that the work, discovery, learning, or outreach goes on vacation!

Many ACES students are on campus this summer participating in research and internship experiences or enrolled in classes during the summer session I or II. Four days a week, students taking FSHN 240 – Quantity Foods are serving lunch in the Bevier Café.

Graduate students and faculty members are hosting junior high and high school students for enrichment and career exploration programs, such as RAP, 4-H summer academies, and more. Research continues in laboratories, including the South Farms. It’s growing season in research plots and orchards!

Faculty and staff are tending to a variety of administrative matters, including student orientation, awarding scholarships, prospective student tours, and all the business matters (budgets, year-end reports, newsletters, and e-mail communications, etc.) that keep this institution functional. My calendar includes several meetings with College of ACES alumni and donors who generously support students, researchers, and programs. These are year-round tasks required for a successful “student season.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the space upgrades that occur over the summer, as well. The smell of paint, the sound of nail guns, and the pile of recycling outside offices of professionals relocating work spaces are all norms at this time of year.

For indeed it is still a busy time on campus!

FSHN student serving lunch at Bevier Cafe

"Living to Serve" in Washington, D.C.

Jul 9
Jacob Dickey, Senior in Agricultural Science Education

As a student enrolled in agricultural education in the College of ACES, I find myself loving the time I spend with students ranging in age from pre-kindergarten to high school.  In my time studying agricultural science education, I’ve discovered that my true passion lies in the overlap between agriculture and youth.  This summer I am living the dream in Washington, D.C., doing exactly what I love.  Each week I spend over 100 hours as a facilitator for the National FFA Organization’s Washington Leadership Conference.  The conference challenges students to become engaged citizens and committed, especially to the last line of the FFA Motto, “Living to Serve.”

Over five days, students explore citizenship, discover their strengths, passions and purpose, check out the power of ‘we’, take action and serve those in need in the District of Columbia.  They do so under the dome of the U.S. Capitol, beneath the shadow of the Washington Monument, and within the watchful eyes of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Jefferson.  The final day of the week is spent packing over 55,000 meals for the District of Columbia Food Bank. These packaged meals are used the following week at the food bank.

While this conference definitely shifts students’ perceptions and changes lives, it has absolutely changed my life more and proved to me that I am where I need to be.  I sit here in D.C., ready for yet another week of 340 students to come through, but I am anxious to get back to the place that made it all possible for me—the University of Illinois.  The College of ACES and the agricultural education program have challenged and inspired me to continue to grow as a facilitator and an educator.  I know that I wouldn’t be living my dream in our nation’s capital today without the help of the professors and faculty who have invested so much into me.  Before long, I’ll find myself in their shoes through student teaching and beginning my career within the confines of agricultural education—helping youth learn, grow, and achieve, much like the educators I look up to have done for me.

Jacob's "selfie" with a few FFA members and the Capitol in the background.

2014 NACTA Conference

Jul 8
Laurie Kramer, Associate Dean and Professor, Office of Academic Programs

The College of ACES has returned from another spectacular North American Colleges & Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) conference. The 60th Annual NACTA conference was hosted by Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, on June 26-28.  In typical ACES fashion, our faculty was extremely well represented and came home with numerous awards.

Five ACES faculty members and two graduate assistants were among those honored at the 2014 conference. It is my pleasure to congratulate the following outstanding members of the ACES family:

                Sarah Scholl - NACTA Graduate Student Award Recipient

                Daniel Weber - NACTA Graduate Student Award Recipient

                Dawn Bohn - NACTA Teacher Fellow Award Recipient

                Jan Brooks - NACTA Teacher Fellow Award Recipient

                D. K. Lee - NACTA Teacher Fellow Award Recipient

                Robert Schooley - NACTA Teacher Fellow Award Recipient

                Paul Stoddard - NACTA Teacher Fellow Award Recipient

These professors, teaching associates, and graduate teaching assistants have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make a difference in the lives of their students and certainly make us proud in the College of ACES.

In addition, several ACES faculty members and graduate students presented their scholarship on teaching and learning at NACTA, including Professors Amy Fischer, Margarita Teran-Garcia, D. K. Lee, Soo Lee, Robert Schooley, and doctoral students Crystal Allen, Joseph Donovan, and Daniel Weber.

I look forward to another great year of excellence in instruction and student learning.

L to R: (Back Row) Daniel Weber, D. K. Lee, Robert Schooley, and Paul Stoddard. (Front Row) Laurie Kramer, Jan Brooks, and Dawn Bohn. (Not Pictured: Sarah Scholl)

FSHN makes BIG announcement

Jul 2
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

During the University of Illinois reception at the Institute of Food Technologists meeting, the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) launched efforts to renovate the pilot processing plant facilities located in the agricultural engineering sciences building.

The current facility has remained essentially unchanged for over 25 years, despite rapid changes in technology, equipment, and safety standards. Renovations are essential to meeting student learning and training needs, and to facilitate student recruitment and job placement.

A few of the key improvements include:

  • Food grade suite – high level GMP area
  • Instructional suites – medium level GMP area
  • Industrial test kitchen/teaching lab
  • Food chemistry/analytical lab
  • Sanitary climate control (HVAC)
  • Improved availability of utilities
  • Designated space for receiving/storage
  • Designated space for gowning and equipment wash

The $3 million project will include $2.25 million for renovation of the facilities. The remainder will be allocated for equipment upgrades. FSHN, the College of ACES, and the university have committed to this project, but private support is needed to reach the $3 million goal.

To learn more about the pilot processing plant renovation project, visit

A rendering of the new pilot processing plant.

New Student Registration = Almost Over

Jul 1
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

The longest day of summer has passed, meaning so has the majority of our fall registration for the new incoming freshman. It has been a great 4 weeks of meeting the new incoming students. So many eager young adults ready to embark on the next phase of their life! One part of new student registration I don’t quite understand is the fact we ask these students to walk around all day in the hot, humid (I’m talking drink the air humid) Illinois summer and then take their student ID picture. This ID follows you around for the next 4+ years on campus. Meaning, you will always have a memento of that hot, sweaty, humid, wonderful day- the day you started your academic journey at Illinois!

With the new incoming freshman, we also have new incoming Parkland Pathway students. We are a little nicer to them during registration since we try to make sure it happens in the cooler month of May and it is hosted mostly indoors at Parkland. We have a lot of great volunteers of the program, including current and former participants (plus a veteran mom who has had 3 children go through the program!) for the new incoming class to gather and glean as much information possible. It is a lot of information thrown at the families and students at once, and it is hard to see convey all of the logistics of the program in one short day. So if you ever have any questions about the program and its benefits, please do not hesitate to ask me.

The student panel from the Parkland Pathway orientation.

ACES’ Home in Chicagoland

Jun 30
Corey Flournoy, Director, Illinois Center for Urban Agricultural Education

In January of 2012, the College of ACES created a new center to expand its outreach and education to high school students throughout the Chicago area about the more than 100 career options connected to our college. However, over the last year and a half, this purpose has expanded to include educating administrators, high school counselors, and even science teachers about the strong connection between the agricultural industry and urban communities.

The Illinois Center for Urban Agricultural Education has developed and partnered in various initiatives, including “Get Ready for Career and College Exploration” brunches, special career seminars at high schools, professional development days for teachers, campus field trips, and career shadowing/seminar days with corporate partners such as Pepsico. As the center continues to expand its outreach efforts, our success will rely heavily on partnerships with other ACES alums, business partners, and community organizations in the Chicago area.

Despite the number of selective-enrollment high schools and growing number of Advanced Placement courses, today’s high school students are still not aware of the many career opportunities available, especially in the food, fiber, and environmental sciences. The more we can expose students to hands-on experiences in our field and connect them early to individuals actively involved in our industry, the greater our prospects for ensuring we have a great pipeline of talent to meet current and future needs in the agricultural industry.

As RAP, the Research Apprentice Program, celebrates its 25th anniversary, this is an excellent time to reconnect many of the alums from our summer programs with the College of ACES. Our alums are the best examples of the level of career success and personal fulfillment which can be achieved through our innovative industry. Our upcoming anniversary event on Saturday, August 2, will provide the opportunity to reengage with old friends, build new connections, and share in conversations to create a strong RAP for the future.