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.

Nesheim legacy lives on through nutrition fellowships

Oct 25

One generation plants the trees under whose shade future generations rest. ~Chinese Proverb

One of the most rewarding things about my job is introducing donors to their student recipients. Yesterday, October 24th, didn’t let me down.

Sandra Nesheim Rankin (BS ‘ 74 College of Engineering) and her sister Barbara Nesheim Mowry were on campus to meet  the graduate students supported by an endowment created by their father, the late Dr. Robert O. Nesheim (PhD ’51, MS ’50, BS ’43 College of ACES). Also in attendance was Sandra’s husband, John Rankin (BS ‘72 College of LAS).

Dr. Nesheim served as head of the Department of Animal Sciences (1964-67). He was a successful executive for corporations such as The Quaker Oats Company and a 16-year consultant for the Office of the Army Surgeon General on research to improve the nutrition for soldiers under extreme environmental conditions.
Before his death in July 2008, he established the “Dr. Robert O. Nesheim Fellowships in Nutrition” to support scholarly work and innovation in the field of nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences in the College of ACES. He credited his professional success to the outstanding education from the University of Illinois and wanted to leave a legacy for future leaders in nutrition.

His endowment has supported five fellows (Michael Iakiviak, Kelly Kappen, Josh McCann, Lindsay Shoup, and Kelly Sotak) who have and or are currently tackling critical issues in nutrition.

It was wonderful to listen to the graduate students share their gratitude, academic backgrounds, and career aspirations with the donor family. Sandra summed it up, “Dad would have been so proud. And so are we.”

(Front row, left to right) Barbara Nesheim Mowry; Dr. Dan Shike, Associate Professor of Animal Sciences; Dr. Hans Stein, Professor of Animal Sciences; Lindsay Shoup, Nesheim Fellow; Dr. Doug Parrett, Professor and Interim Department Head of Animal Sciences. (Back row, left to right) John Rankin; Sandra Nesheim Rankin; Josh McCann, Nesheim Fellow; Dr. Kelly Swanson, Associate Professor of Animal Sciences.


Dr. Doug Parrett shows the Nesheim family portraits of faculty that were on staff during Dr. Robert Nesheim’s tenure (1964-67) in the Department of Animal Sciences.

Dr. Doug Parrett shows the Nesheim family portraits of faculty that were on staff during Dr. Robert Nesheim’s tenure (1964-67) in the Department of Animal Sciences.


Helping children achieve healthy lifestyles

Oct 24
Barbara Fiese, Director of the Family Resiliency Center

One of my research interests is family mealtimes and how important they are to children’s health and well being. After conducting many research studies, my students and I have found that children who eat five or more meals with their family each week are 25 percent less likely to develop nutritional health issues, and will consume more fruits and vegetables and less junk food. Children who eat with their families even just three times per week are less likely to have eating disorders or be overweight. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends regular family meals as a way to protect against childhood obesity.

While the benefits of family mealtimes are fairly well understood, there’s a lack of research on how children are fed in preschool and day care centers, where more than 12 million young children eat up to five meals and snacks each day. University of Illinois Human & Community Development Professor Brent McBride and his graduate student Dipti Dev recently published a groundbreaking study that indicated the way care givers feed these children is just as important as what they feed them, particularly as it helps the children develop skills they’ll need to maintain a healthy weight as they grow up.

You can read more about Dr. McBride’s work here.

This study exemplifies the work occurring at the Family Resiliency Center, where our transdisciplinary team of researchers advance knowledge and practices that strengthen families' abilities to meet life's challenges and thrive.

Happy Illinois Homecoming!

Oct 23
Tina Veal, Director of Alumni Relations

Happy Illinois Homecoming! This is the one of the many times of year I love – the fall leaves are changing colors (despite the few snow flurries I saw this week), football season and tailgating are in full swing (despite the wins and losses)….and the University of Illinois is gearing up for Homecoming on campus this weekend!  

Campus is beginning to buzz, banners are being hung to welcome alumni to campus, fraternities and sororities are sprucing up their houses to welcome alumni home and Orange and Blue attire is the “in” thing to wear! The ACES Student Advancement committee helped to decorate the atrium of the ACES Library and decorated Campus Florist windows on Green Street…so if you are on campus this weekend stop by and take a look!

The College of ACES is also represented in the 2013 Illinois Homecoming Court – ACES students include:  Caroline Cavallo from Staunton, IL; Jacob Ekstrand from Yates City, IL; Kyle Granger from East St. Louis, IL; and Kurt Hansen from Lake Zurich, IL – be sure to watch for them at the Illinois Homecoming Parade and Pep Rally on Friday night beginning at 6:00 p.m. and on the field during the Illinois vs. Michigan State game. For more Illinois homecoming activities, visit  www.illinois.edu/homecoming.

I hope you find fond memories of your time at Illinois, whether you are back on campus or at celebrating from afar. We would love to see your photos showing your Illini spirit, so we can post them on social media to celebrate our ties that bind us all to the University of Illinois. Send your photos to Tina Veal, ACES Alumni Director at vealt@illinois.edu.

Best Wishes and GO ILLINI!


And the winner is...

Oct 21
Kendra Courson, Director for Special Events

Saturday night was a very special night as the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics invited the College of ACES to participate in an on-field promotion at the Illinois/Wisconsin game. ACES' very own Damani Bolden (UIUC Student Body President) and Lucas Frye (ACES Council President) are exceptional role models for our college and proved it by competing against each other in an on-field contest between the first and second quarter. 

Damani and Lucas illustrated through the race how the College of ACES prepares our students to make a difference when they graduate. But, not only did the two students race to the goal line, they had to complete a few tasks along the way that represented each of the seven departments in ACES. Starting at the 25-yard line, they sprinted to the 20-yard line where they put on a lab coat to represent Animal Sciences. They then zig-zagged to put on a hair net and goggles to represent Food Science and Human Nutrition. After that, the guys made their way to the 10-yard line  to pick up a clipboard to illustrate Human Development and Family Studies. After donning those items, they put the clipboard in a briefcase that represented Agricultural and Consumer Economics. Finally, they ran to put on a construction hat at the 5-yard line to illustrate Agricultural and Biological Engineering before racing towards the goal line to receive a diploma from Bob Hauser, Dean of College of ACED to get the diploma. After a bit of a scuffle at the 10-yard line, Damani pushed ahead of Lucas to win the diploma! Thanks to Lucas and Damani for representing ACES in such a fun, yet competitive, light! Great job!

ACES in the spotlight

Oct 17
Lucas Frye, Senior in Agricultural and Consumer Economics

In every college football season, there is something special about the night game. The combination of the fall chill in the air, a full day of tailgating, and the stadium lights illuminating the orange and blue on the grass makes for one exciting sports experience.  

At this Saturday’s football showdown against our BigTen neighbor to the North—Wisconsin, the spotlight will also be on the College of ACES. Over the course of a three minute timeout, we will attempt to highlight all of the areas that make up the diverse concentrations that fall under the umbrella of agriculture, consumer, and environmental sciences. This marketing effort will be in the form a friendly, competitive relay race between  myself and Student Body President/fellow ACES student—Damani Bolden. We will race to ‘put on’ the many job uniforms of ACES graduates, from hairnets and hardhats to binoculars and briefcases. Making our way from the 25-yard line to the North endzone finish line, Dean Hauser will be waiting for the winner with a diploma.  

Regardless of who wins, both current students and alumni in attendance should keep an eye out for ACES on Saturday, but also do a little marketing yourself by spotlighting the wide array of opportunities in ACES to prospective high school students in your home area.  

Go Illini, and Go ACES.


Welcoming Dr. George Czapar to U of I Extension

Oct 16
Robert Hauser, Dean of the College of ACES

I am pleased to welcome Dr. George Czapar as the Associate Dean and Director of University of Illinois Extension and Outreach.  He received his B.S. (1980) and M.S. (1982) in Agronomy at the University of Illinois, and his Ph.D. in Agronomy in 1990 at Iowa State University.  During the 1980’s George was in the Extension Service of Iowa and Illinois, working in the areas of integrated pest management and weed science.  From 1991-2010, he was an Extension Educator in Springfield, and during the past three years George has served as Director, Center for Watershed Science, Illinois State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute, U of I. 

George’s research and extension program has been defined by collaborative interdisciplinary projects that address the environmental impacts of agriculture.  He has published widely on best management practices to reduce pesticide, sediment, and nutrient losses from agriculture.  While serving at the University of Illinois in Extension positions, George has also sought out opportunities to develop and teach classes in the Campus Honors Program, in NRES, and in the off-campus graduate program.

George brings to this position a deep understanding of Extension’s mission and value, along with an exceptional research and teaching record.  The College and the University are pleased and fortunate that Dr. Czapar will be using his creativity, academic breadth, administrative experience, and industriousness to guide Extension as our new Associate Dean.   

Please join me in welcoming George.

George Czapar