ACES in Arizona

Mar 3
Kimberly Meenen, Senior Director of Advancement

As a development officer for several departments and programs within the College of ACES, I have the occasion to travel and share information with our alumni and friends. Sometimes the destinations are glitzy. Sometimes they look similar to what I left behind in my rearview mirror. Last week, I was able to go to Arizona to visit alumni and friends who have made much warmer locational choices for the winter.

My trip was jam-packed with first-time meetings in and around Phoenix as well as visits with long-time stakeholders. A highlight was attending a gathering of ACES alumni and friends at the home of Dr. Orion Samuelson (‘01 honorary PhD, Univ. of Illinois) and his wife Gloria on Feb. 17. What an honor to host dinner and conversation alongside this legendary and generous couple. When asked if his book, You Can’t Dream Big Enough, could be purchased and signed, Orion graciously obliged. A signature and photo by the pool with Orion was a real thrill for several guests who grew up listening to him.

Dr. Bruce Sherrick, director of the TIAA-CREF Center for Farmland Research and professor in the department of ag and consumer economics, joined me for part of this excursion. Dr. Sherrick spoke to the Phoenix Ag Club’s Annual Outlook Meeting on Feb. 18. This club consists of individuals who own or have owned farmland and are smart enough to stay out of the cold weather in the winter. Dr. Sherrick, an expert on farmland investments, shared his perspective on the historic performance of farmland and prospects for the future. It was a quality presentation.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Orion was presented with the Phoenix Ag Club’s “Stewardship and Sustainability Award” in recognition of his distinguished career in broadcasting and for serving as a spokesperson for the people, land owners, farmers, educators, and agribusiness professionals striving to achieve a better understanding and appreciation of the value of agriculture to society.

Eventually, I did return to the frozen Illinois tundra. But I did so with a much sunnier disposition. I hope future months of February contain Arizona, the ACES “Globally Preeminent, Locally Relevant” mission, and good friends like the Samuelsons.


Dr. Bruce Sherrick, director of the University’s TIAA-CREF Center for Farmland Research; Kimberly Meenen, senior director of advancement, ACES; and Gloria and Orion Samuelson hosted a gathering of ACES alumni and friends at the Samuelson home on Feb. 17.

Ag Leadership Education Interns: The Leaders of Tomorrow

Feb 26
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

Agricultural education majors in the Agricultural Leadership Education (ALE) concentration complete a 10-week internship as part of their required coursework. Although most students complete this opportunity during the summer months, some choose to do their internship during the fall or spring semesters. This semester, five ALE students are completing internships. Those students are:

-          Brittany Brown, Program Intern, Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club, Champaign, IL

-          Danielle Brown, Ag in the Classroom Intern, University of Illinois Extension (Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, Vermillion Counties)

-          Erika Ferguson, Rural Health & Farm Safety Intern, Carle Foundation Hospital

-          David Fulton, Local Foods & Small Farms Intern, University of Illinois Extension (Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, Vermillion Counties)

-          Trent Hawker, Youth Development & Horticulture Intern, University of Illinois Extension (Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, Vermillion Counties)

-          Austin O’Neall, Education Intern, Children’s Discovery Museum, Bloomington-Normal, IL


Danielle Brown is serving as the Ag in the Classroom intern for the University of Illinois Extension program in Ford and Iroquois counties. Some of her responsibilities include creating new lessons and updating old lessons that are taught to students in K-4th grades. Lesson topics vary from animals, plants, and horticulture to agriculture careers. She is also planning the Summer Agriculture Institute for teachers in Ford and Iroquois counties, and helping create curriculum to inform local high schools about the resources available through their office.

Although she enjoys working on planning and preparation of materials, Danielle says, “My favorite part of working with Ag in the Classroom entails traveling to schools and presenting different lessons to students. The curiosity and excitement each child has makes the lesson so much fun! This job has been very rewarding, and I am looking forward to the weeks ahead.” Danielle is also very appreciative of the hands-on experiences she is gaining from this opportunity. “I can use what I’ve learned during coursework and apply it to real-life situations in the workforce.”


Danielle Brown, Senior

Getting Your Hands Dirty in NRES

Feb 21
Manuel Colón, NRES Student Recruitment Coordinator

Any student (or person really) who is currently on a job search can attest to the increasingly prevalent paradox of entry-level job positions requiring prior work experience.  It’s the murky career development waters that fresh graduates, who want to get work experience but can’t because they don’t have prior work experience, have to navigate in this day and age. It confuses me to the point that just re-reading that last sentence makes my head hurt.

Thankfully for students in the College of ACES, that’s not too much of a challenge.  As an applied science College, many of our students are getting those hands-on, active learning experiences in their regularly scheduled class loads already. Specifically, in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences each student is required to take two “NRES 285 – Field Experience” courses to complete their graduate requirements. Two to three 285 courses are taught every semester and generally align with the four concentrations within our major: Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Global Change and Landscape Dynamics, Human Dimensions of the Environment, and Resource Conservation and Restoration Ecology.

These field experience classes provide an opportunity for our students to take their academic learning experience into real world application. It moves the learning that is taking place at college beyond the four walls of a classroom. This semester alone, the Department is offering seven different field experience courses. But I want to highlight two, especially, to demonstrate the range of opportunities that these courses offer.

One is a Chainsaw Safety and Directional Felling Techniques course that provides students with instruction and hands-on training specific to chainsaw safety, saw maintenance, directional felling, limbing, and bucking. The class will meet at the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in Simpson, IL during spring break, and upon successful completion will provide chainsaw operation certification. Another is an Environmental Education Field Experience course where students run a weekly after school environmental club at Booker T. Washington elementary school, here in Champaign. The course introduces students to the thinking processes required for developing high quality environmental education activities and provides practice designing and implementing them. 

As an avid study abroad promoter, it would be remiss of me to not mention that certain programs can also provide these field experiences as well. This summer, a study abroad program to Tanzania, which is a Wildlife Management program, will count as NRES 285 credit. Another course that will focus on the Biodiversity, Agriculture, and Culture of Taiwan will also provide both field and study aboard experience of interested students.

At the rate of babbling on too long, what I’m essentially trying to get at is this:  in the College of ACES there are many great opportunities that students are able to take advantage of that provide those real world work experiences that future employers are going to be looking for. It could be something local here on campus like traditional internships or research assistants or on the other side of the globe. Either way, the College of ACES can take you. 

Love is in the Air

Feb 20
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

There is a feeling of love in the air in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, but it’s not quite what you would expect.  It has to do with the Spice Box, which is a student-run restaurant associated with the Hospitality Management program.  Seniors in the program are required to take this course as a part of their capstone course, which applies what they’ve learned in food production, dining management and more.

So far this year, the Spice Box has hosted its first two meals; The Clubhouse, A Sports Bar Inspired Menu and It’s Amore – An Italian Themed Valentine’s Day Meal.  Both meals were very successful.  The highlights of The Clubhouse featured Buffalo Sliders and Broccoli and Cheddar Beer Soup, topped off with a delicious Nacho Ice Cream Sundae.  The Valentine’s Day Feast featured a romantic dinner complete with Lady and the Tramp’s signature classic, Spaghetti and Meatballs complemented with a Tomato Basil soup.  To top it off, diners could dive into a rich Chocolate Hazelnut Torte.

If you missed those meals, there is still plenty of time to make reservations and fall in love with what the Spice Box has to offer.  Each unique meal theme is designed, prepared by and achieved by a student manager.  There are plenty of great options to choose from in the coming weeks, including Seattle Rain, Backyard Barbeque, Bistro Americano and more.  Visit their website at to find out more information and the full menu options available. 

We sure love having the Spice Box be an important hands-on learning component of FSHN and we would love to share the experience with you.  Reservations are still available, but you’ll want to make them early.  For reservations, call 217-333-6520.

Getting a Leg Up

Feb 19
Kathy Partlow, Research and Grant Development Specialist

I’m one of those people that likes to use sayings without knowing the origin of the meaning.  Luckily, according to Google “getting a leg up” refers to getting a boost or advantage and originates from receiving help to mount a horse, where the helper would cup their hands in order to provide a foothold.  One goal of the Office of Research is to provide these “footholds” in research to ACES students, staff, and faculty.  We recently launched the 6th ACES Research Academy sponsored by the Office of Research.  This year the Academy is comprised of 13 junior faculty from not only within ACES, but also the College of Veterinary Medicine and for the first time the School of Social Work.  The goal of the Academy is to provide “a leg up” to these junior faculty and help ensure their future success.  As the junior faculty come together weekly this semester, they will get a chance to receive wisdom from some of the most successful faculty in our College, gain firsthand experience in grant preparation and writing, and travel to Washington, DC to meet one-on-one with federal funding agencies.  Over 60 faculty have participated in the 5 years of this program.  As I looked across the crowd at the opening reception, where past and present members came together, I noticed that this program imparted more than just knowledge.  It also provided the opportunity to develop lifelong friendships among colleagues.  You can learn more about the ACES Research Academy on our website. 

RAP's 25th Anniversary

Feb 18
Jesse Thompson, Assistant Dean, Academic Programs

As we celebrate Black History Month and the meaning of Inclusive Illinois, we also remember and celebrate the diversity of talented students who have come through the College of ACES.  As Assistant Dean with responsibilities for diversity and outreach programs over the past 25 years, it has been my joy and privilege to help bring together students of differing cultures, races, and geographical backgrounds and watch them grow, share, and learn from one another. This exchange of viewpoints, opinions, cultures, and life experiences has served to stimulate creativity, broader thinking, and acceptance, both on and off campus, while enriching the lives our students, the College of ACES community, and the public that we serve.

 I am excited to share with you an upcoming event that helps mark one of the most exciting accomplishments and the inclusive environment of the College of ACES, an inclusive environment which has endeavored to bring together some of the most diverse talented young people in the world. We will be celebrating the 25th year of the longest-running and one of the most successful programs in the nation. This program has had impacts on the careers of hundreds of culturally diverse students, engaging them in their high school years, during their college experiences, and into their professional careers. These students are now scientists, managers, engineers, technicians, and supervisors throughout government and industry, impacting our global society.

Please join us on Saturday, August 2, 2014, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Research Apprentice Program (formerly Minority Apprentice Program) at the University of Illinois College of ACES.

Won’t you please join me? It will be an event to be remembered by all.

FFA Week

Feb 17
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

This week, high school FFA chapters across the United States are celebrating National FFA Week. Several students and faculty have strong connections to this special organization. Each year, students from the College of ACES earn American FFA Degrees and compete for national awards during the convention in October. The University of Illinois can proudly boast home to the previous two American Star Farmer award recipients, with Tyler Loschen in 2013 and Clayton Carley in 2012, both earning this prestigious award. The College of ACES is also home to several past state FFA officers, section presidents, state proficiency award winners, and state or national CDE participants. The university continues to show their support for these individuals by providing scholarships to students who have held officer positions at the section and state levels, or have earned a state proficiency award.

Any person who was fortunate enough to be a part of the FFA knows it is much more than just earning awards or competing against other members. As the organization’s mission statement says, “FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.” No matter your level of involvement, many of us can attest to the value of this agriculture youth organization, and recognize it as a major factor in our personal growth and development.

As we watch current and past members of this wonderful organization share memories and photos through social media this week, let’s also reflect on those individuals who shared in the experience with us. Fellow members, parents and family, and perhaps most importantly our agriculture teacher(s) were all important people in our “FFA lives”. Agriculture teachers serve unselfishly and contribute significant time outside of the classroom to encourage students to pursue their goals, strive for their dreams, and experience personal growth through leadership opportunities. For many of us, our agriculture teacher not only helped as grow as individuals, but also helped us learn the value and importance of agriculture.

As we celebrate National FFA Week, let us all continue to strive to live out our belief in the value and future of the agriculture industry “with a faith born not of words, but of deeds”.


Soybeans in Africa

Feb 12
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

Understandably, when a research team receives big news from an agency like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), much celebration and congratulation ensues. This story played out late last semester when a consortium led by ACES was awarded a $25 million federal grant to establish sustainable production and utilization of the soybean in Africa. Writing a successful proposal that includes such a huge scope of work is an accomplishment in itself.

Twice recently, I have had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Peter Goldsmith, an agricultural economist who is leading this project referred to in short as the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL). We spoke once shortly after the project was awarded and again after his team returned from their first official project trip.  

After getting the news, Goldsmith was thrilled, obviously. In addition to praising his team and their qualifications, he credited the many people in ACES history before him who put in hours and years that led up to this new project.

During our second more recent meeting, I found his level of excitement for the project to be even higher. He and his team had just returned from Sub-Sahara Africa where they met their African partners and assessed the current situation for the soybean.   

No doubt, he said, the work will be challenging because soy is unlike other crops grown in Africa. He left Africa extremely optimistic, however, because he saw firsthand that what is needed there is exactly what was proposed, and further he was able to confirm that the project directors support his team in answering the necessary fundamental questions first.   

So, during the next five years, the SIL team will answer questions like what is the ideal planting depth, row widths, fertilizer level etc. in Africa. They will then get this information to the people and organizations who support Africa’s farmers with the end goal of using the soybean as an economic engine to reduce poverty.

I look forward to following their progress and sharing their stories.

Read my most recent interview with Dr. Goldsmith here:

Student Teaching

Feb 11
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

Five agricultural education students in the Agriculture Sciences Education (ASE) concentration are participating in the student teaching experience this semester. Those students and their cooperating schools are:

  • Kirsten Blackford, Tri-Point High School
  • Liz Harfst, Taylorville High School
  • Bryanne Kalous, Sullivan High School
  • Kiersten Kasey, Carlyle High School
  • Mark McKown, Waterloo High School

During this on-the-job experience, students assume all the roles of a typical high school agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. When asked about the experience thus far, Kirsten Blackford said she is enjoying every minute! “I am realizing more and more each day how much I love to be in the classroom. My favorite part of teaching, so far, is working with the students. Whether we are working on lab or having a class discussion, the students and I are learning together.”

In addition to classroom responsibilities, Kirsten also assists with all aspects of the Tri-Point FFA Chapter. “Recently, we had two students finish their state degree interviews and they are now getting ready for proficiency awards. I am looking forward to the remainder of the semester.”

All of the student teachers are working hard to learn as much as they can from outstanding cooperating teachers who volunteer their time during this important step in the educational process. It takes a passion for agriculture and a desire to positively inspire others to be a teacher. Studying agriculture education in the college of ACES provides the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives while simultaneously promoting the importance of agriculture


This photo is of Mark McKown teaching students. Photo was supplied by Tim McDermott, Waterloo High School agriculture teacher.

Voices Welcome Easter Home

Feb 10
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

On Friday, January 24, the College of ACES welcomed “home” University President Robert Easter as the keynote speaker for An Evening with the Voices of Illinois Agriculture.  I found it particularly enjoyable to watch the generous attendees of this event enter in to welcome conversations with President Easter. Indeed, they were conversations amongst friends.

The events for the evening kicked off with a cocktail hour and dinner prepared by students in the Hospitality Management program, and concluded with an Agricultural Outlook Panel sharing their thoughts on the upcoming growing season. Diners offered a milk toast, homage to the agriculture focus of the evening, in celebration of the evenings’ festivities.   

This special event was held in support of the ACES Hospitality Management undergraduate program at the University of Illinois as well as the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences scholarship program, which benefits students by providing an investment into one’s education. We thank the generous donors, “Todd Gleason and Friends,” who made this event possible once again.