ACES and TAP: A source of light

Apr 26
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

As a writer for the College of ACES, I get the opportunity to meet a lot of inspiring people who are willing to be vulnerable and tell their stories. What a privilege it is to hear about how people have faced life’s challenges. And it’s also a source of pride to hear how ACES has helped them navigate through those challenges.

One of the families I recently talked with, the Moore’s, a Champaign family navigating their way through their son Jacob’s Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, found a lifeline in ACES.  Becky, a wife and mom of three, described to me, with candor, some of the difficult stages they have had to work their way through during the years since Jacob was first diagnosed. He is 16 now.

But she also told me, with passion and hope in her voice, about some of the positive things that have happened since the diagnosis. Finding The Autism Program, or TAP, at the U of I was at the top of her list. In particular she credited TAP director Linda Tortorelli with providing her with the encouragement and resources to carry her through a “dark time,” as she remembers it.

And just like TAP, Becky is just as eager to help others and to pass along all she has learned to those who are navigating their way through the challenges of autism. This is such an amazing example of what the ACES story is all about!

April is National Autism Awareness Month. Learn more about the services and resources TAP offers at

Read more about the Moore family and TAP in the latest issue of @ACESIllinois.

A balancing act

Apr 21
Ariel Majewski, ACES Visual Marketing Intern

Each year, I look forward to spending Easter with my family. Normally on the Saturday before, my parents and I decorate dozens of eggs. We’re not tie-dye fans—we prefer to draw unproportional cartoons on our cracked canvases. While Mom—God bless her—can’t seem to figure out why her drawing of a clock looks like a dead frog, Dad and I applaud her efforts. Then on the big day, my parents hide our miniature Picassos in the most ridiculous places so I can (never) find them. After two hours of a frustrating search for the “dead frog,” which somehow camouflaged within our blender, we all play board games for the rest of the night.

But…this year’s Easter wasn’t anything like this. Instead, my dialogue with my friends went like this:

What did you do on Easter?

Well, I worked.

Did you see your family?

No, I needed to work on campus.

As I answered these questions, I realized how my academic responsibilities have recently consumed my life. And while my parents were understanding of their college student’s workload, the empty nesters couldn’t help but leave bittersweet text messages of how much they would miss their daughter for Easter. My father even shipped bags of Easter candy with a note stating that he would miss hiding eggs for his little girl (and reminding me not to tell mom that he sent Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in a UPS box).

It becomes so easy to prioritize work over rest and family time—two values that the Easter holiday stresses.

But no matter what beliefs or ideologies you have—if you ever feel that there is an unbalance when it comes to work and family time, especially as final exams approach at a stealthy pace, take a moment to just stop and celebrate time together. Even if it means placing a long phone call or starting a group Skype chat over the weekend—continue to create these familial-bonding memories while contributing your work to this university’s sesquicentennial scrapbook. 



Apr 19
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

“What is your vision for the College of ACES?”

I have been asked that question dozens of times since November 1, and it still causes me to pause because I don’t consider myself to be the sole creator of ACES’ vision. This college has a long, impressive history of success in living into the land-grant mission, and many of you have dedicated your careers to creating excellence in the College of ACES. My hope is that I can add value to what we are doing by increasing the visibility of the college, strengthening our funding portfolio, and building strong relationships with external partners. Wherever we go next, we will do it together.

I did not arrive on campus with a blueprint in hand of how to move the college forward. However, I am in the process of mindfully assessing functionality and impacts of ongoing activities across the college. I thought it might be useful for you to know how I approach the assessment process.

The first step is to notice what is working well in our current system so we can continue to do those things. Next, I determine what isn’t working by asking two questions: Is it efficient? Is it effective? If the answer to either question is “no,” I conclude that whatever is being assessed is not working. I then consider adjustment opportunities to address the breakdown. This typically evolves brainstorming options with relevant parties and then creating an action plan with a timeline to address the obstacle. Finally, the action plan is implemented and then the situation is reassessed to see if the outcome evolved or improved. If not, another adjustment is implemented and the cycle is repeated until the goal is achieved. I call this the Notice-Adjust-Evolve (NAE) model.

I use NAE as a leadership tool for implementing initiatives and strategic plans. It is a simple, yet effective, model that involves adaptively managing in real time to ensure that progress is being made and goals are being accomplished. I encourage all of you to embrace this model as well so you can identify subtle, timely adjustments that can be made to improve your overall level of success and expand your contributions to ensure the vitality of the your unit and the college.

With this in mind, the best answer I can truly provide to the question about my vision for the college is this: I am using the NAE model to create a collective vision for the College of ACES that will allow us to achieve even greater levels of excellence through timely, adaptive management. 

Mumford Hall

Why I chose ACES

Apr 17
Nicholas Close, Incoming Freshman

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois, we remember and reflect on the generations that have shaped our campus, but we also welcome and celebrate the future generations that will continue to drive our University’s legacy. Nicholas Close, a member of the next generation of ACES students, reflects on his decision to join the University of Illinois family. Nicholas was recently awarded the Illinois FFA State Proficiency Award in the area of Diversified Crop Production!

The reason I wanted to get a degree in the College of ACES at the University of Illinois is because I would like to get the best education I can in order to manage a viable farming operation. Since the University of Illinois is a land-grant school and renowned for its ACES program, I believe this university’s academic program will be an essential step towards achieving my life goals. 

I also favor the University of Illinois over other universities, since my father and grandfather are both graduates of this college. Throughout my childhood, I have heard them reminisce on how their education has been very valuable in their careers as farmers and business managers. I am excited now that I have been accepted to be the third generation of my family to attend this college.

As a 4-H member, I am partial to the University of Illinois Extension Program for all it does to coordinate 4-H events. I also have been an active FFA member in high school and noticed that the U of I attracts many outstanding FFA members. I will enjoy being on a campus with people who share the same interests. Overall, I have put a lot of thought into what college I want to attend, and the University of Illinois ACES program really stands out above the rest.


Nicholas Close

No Shade on the Corn

Apr 14
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

“No, Sir we don’t mess around/our library’s underground/’cuz you can’t throw shade on the corn.”  The Other Guys, a popular campus men’s vocal group has been singing this refrain for a long time. Why? Well our undergraduate library is underground for a reason.

Since this is our sesquicentennial year after all, this story has its roots almost as far back as the beginning. During the first few years of the university’s existence, people with practical farming experience taught the agricultural programs. They also farmed the land that had become part of the institution and used it to demonstrate techniques to students and farmers.

Then in June of 1875, the nation’s foremost professor of agriculture, Manly Miles, arrived in Urbana. He had been a professor at Michigan Agricultural College, later Michigan State University. The next year, 1876, Professor Miles planted three half-acre experimental plots for field crops. He left Illinois in 1876 and a new professor of agriculture, George Morrow, arrived on the scene that same year. Professor Morrow took over the experimental fields, which have borne his name ever since.  

Professor Morrow, the only professor of agriculture at the time, became the first dean of the College of Agriculture in 1878, the same year that we began granting degrees. The following year, he laid out 10 half-acre experimental plots according to the Rothamsted plan in England, incorporating Manly Miles’ original plots. The Morrow Plots became the first continuous experiment in crop rotation in the United States, which has persisted until today on the small remnant of ground on Gregory Drive, east of the undergraduate library. 

So why is the undergraduate library underground?  ’cuz you can’t throw shade on the corn. A tall building would have blocked sunlight for the crops on the experimental field, altering the time and intensity of light available for plant photosynthesis. So when the library was built from 1966-1969, it had to go underground.

For a similar reason, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, which opened in 2007 just east of the Morrow Plots, was designed with a low enough profile and set back far enough that it does not shade the corn either.

Paraphrasing a comment I once hear Dr. German Bollero make, it went something like this, “When I came to Illinois, I bowed to the Morrow Plots – they are that famous around the world.”  Dr. Bollero is head of the Department of Crop Sciences, and he originally hails from Argentina. The Morrow Plots are a national landmark, the oldest continuous agricultural experimental field in the United States.

Morrow Plots

Where my ACES story begins

Apr 14
Paige Jones, Junior in Agricultural Communications
His work boots echo through the kitchen as he walks up the front stairs. His shirt has a mud stain on the sleeve, and there’s a pen in his front pocket. He washes his hands since he’s been moving cattle all morning, and sits down at the head of the table ready for lunch. He reaches out his hand and grips mine as we bow our heads to pray. Between bites he tells me about one of his old livestock judging teammates, and where he used to take my grandmother on dates in Champaign. He even reminisces about the classes he sat through in Mumford Hall. This is where my ACES story begins, and I’ve been writing it ever since.

My ACES story unfolded at my grandparents’ kitchen table listening to the amazing things my great grandparents accomplished while they were at the University of Illinois and the incredible teachers that they had. They shared stories of their favorite memories and the life-long friendships they gained through ACES. I fell in love with Illinois while sitting at their kitchen table. Today, I’m proud to be the fifth generation in my family to attend this school.

As the university celebrates its 150th birthday, I think of all of my family members that were a part of those 150 years. From engineers to livestock judges, and from Illini football players to crop scientists, I see my family etched into this university, intertwined in its roots. We have all gained so many different things from the University of Illinois, but the one thing we all have in common are memories. My grandfather has fond memories of livestock judging trips and meeting my grandmother for the first time. My aunt remembers pacing through the hallway of the Animal Sciences Lab studying her meats judging notes. My grandmother looks back to her time here and reflects on the friendships she gained. My cousin recalls her transition from undergrad student to animal sciences recruiter and the professors and friends she met along the way.

Listening to their memories reminds me that the things we remember the most are not the scholarships we won or the big exams we aced. We remember the people and the little moments along the way that change our lives in bigger ways than we realize at the time. We remember the rich tradition that accompanies the University of Illinois as this school becomes a part of one generation to the next. Old memories make me wonder about the new memories I am making as an undergrad student in the College of ACES. What stories will I be telling my children and grandchildren about my time here? Have they happened yet? Am I still waiting for them to happen?

I’m back at my grandparents’ house again, and I hear the words of Charlotte’s Web coming from the television screen: “Life is always a rich and steady time when you are waiting for something to happen or hatch.” Our memories and our lives are what take place while we’re waiting around for the next big thing to happen. When I tell my grandchildren about the memories I have from the College of ACES at the University of Illinois, I don’t think I’ll tell them about any scholarships or awards that I received. Instead, I’ll tell them about the time I sat in Mumford Hall writing a blog post about my family all the while remembering that so many family members sat in this very same building years and years before. Perhaps that’s when their ACES story will begin.

A postcard dated May 15, 1942, from Paige's great-great grandfather to her great-great grandmother.



Because I was an Ag Com major

Apr 13
Katie Knapp, Owner, The Ag Photographer; AGCM ’07

Next month will mark 10 years since I graduated from the University of Illinois. And at nearly every turn since then I can attribute something back to my time on campus in the little corner carved out for Ag Communications majors. For that, I <3 ACES!

I came to campus from a farm in the smallest county in the state, Putnam County, with a vague career goal to communicate with the public about agriculture. I was open to however that would take shape. My sophomore year, two seeds were planted that got me to where I am today as an agricultural photographer. (Literally, I am writing this from a tour bus in South Africa full of international ag journalists, photographers and communicators as we visit farms across this remarkable country.)

The first of these seeds was my part-time job. Dean Olson offered me a position on the JBT Banquet Team and handed me a little digital camera. My assignment was to capture the personalities and unique qualities of the current crop of JBT scholars. At the time, I just thought it was a fun way to meet new people and put a little cash in my pocket.

The second was signing up for AGCM 240, the photography class taught by late Bob Siebrecht. In his class I developed my critical eye—he was always pushing us to look for the “cat” that would tell a specific story. He also introduced me to the documentary work of photography greats such as Dorothea Lang.

After working in advertising and PR agencies in various roles during the last decade and then earning my master’s degree in visual sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, I started my own business last year as The Ag Photographer. My mission is now to show consumers how their food is grown and produced. I want my photography to help us move the conversation past confusing buzz words.

I am forever grateful for the start I got as an Ag Com Illini and for the connections and possibilities that continue to come when I introduce myself as an alumni of this program.

Profile photo taken by Mike Wilson, AGCM ‘81, at Beefcor Feedlot northeast of Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Katie Knapp
Photo taken by Wyatt Bechtel, Associate Editor, Farm Journal Media, at Rossgro soybean farm in Delmas, South Africa

Finding my path

Apr 12
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences senior

When I started my ACES career I was sure about one thing; I wanted to work with animals. I was basically unsure about all the rest. From an advisor standpoint, I can see how I might have seemed like a lot of work. Surely you have some direction? You know what jobs you’re interested in? You know whether or not you like the big animals or the small animals? I didn’t. I found out very quickly that I knew very little about my major and the opportunities available to me, but here I am now, a graduating senior. I found out I like the big animals. I’m interested in nutrition research, and I’ll be headed to graduate school at the U of I this fall because I just can’t get enough of the College of ACES. I can’t take all the credit for figuring these things out. My advisor, Dr. Shike, helped me find my path (while it may have been a twisty one) and I’m very appreciative of his guidance. I’ve figured out the three things that made him the best advisor, and I’m going to share them with you.

Availability – I ask a million questions. I understand that professors are super busy, but that doesn’t make my million questions go away. I always feel like I might be bugging them, but I never felt as though I was a burden to Dr. Shike when asking about a class or what to prepare for my grad school interview or whether or not I would be good in sales. Dr. Shike answered these questions in a long email thread or made time for a meeting, even though I’m sure he had better things to do.

Honesty – I was honest with Dr. Shike when I said I liked every single subject in animal science, and he was honest with me when he said, “We should narrow that down.” Ultimately, when we get out of college, we’re hoping for a job. While having lots of interests isn’t a bad thing, Dr. Shike taught me that it’s important to have a focus. He didn’t say “That’s great I’m sure you’ll find a job with all your interests,” and then sent me on my way. We talked a lot about the classes I liked the most and what parts of my internship I enjoyed and what jobs I could see myself doing and what jobs I would be terrible at (sales J ).

Knowledge- The reason I trusted Dr. Shike was not because he has a Ph.D. (although it helped) but it was because he listened when I said things, and I felt he had my best interests in mind. I didn’t know about all the jobs available to me, or what a fellowship was, or how to take the GRE, or how many times is too many times to email a potential graduate school professor. Dr. Shike knew all of these things and knew how to guide me in the best possible way. I’ve always felt as though Dr. Shike was preparing me for bigger things than just landing a job. I felt that I was being pushed to reach my full potential in an area I’m passionate about.

Huge thank you to our amazing ACES Faculty and the differences you’re making in our lives. WE APPRECIATE YOU!  

Tondini and Shike

What does sustainability mean to you?

Apr 11
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

The word “sustainable” gets thrown around a lot these days, but we don’t often stop and think about what it means. To me, the word invokes something lasting, something that can take care of itself. For example, sustainable agriculture focuses on perennial crops that can produce food year after year without a lot of fertilizers, pesticides, or tillage. Once they’re planted—whether by human hands or dispersed naturally by animals or the wind—these plants just keep on giving: a pretty admirable quality, if you ask me.

A few years ago, my friend JP became obsessed with the “edible landscape” we live in, leading tours and workshops to educate others about the native fruits around town and on campus. In the fall, he tells me, you can sample persimmons from the two large trees between the University Library and the Ricker Library of Architecture and Art. Heading north, you can load up on serviceberries near the north entrance of the Union, taste pawpaws west of the Grainger Engineering Library, and sample aronia and elderberries growing outside nearly every campus building. Plan to take this tasty tour in late summer and you might be reminded that not all of our food needs to come to us from hundreds of miles away in little plastic boxes. We can experience sustainable eating right here in our own backyard.     


Student interns TAP into service

Apr 10
Tyler Wolpert, Communications Specialist

Walk into Christopher Hall on the edge of campus, and The Autism Program (TAP) is the first thing you’ll notice. It’s an engaging, vibrant community center dedicated to helping families and individuals dealing with an autism diagnosis. Looking around, you’ll also notice several student interns staffing the program’s resource room. You’ll see these interns busy at work creating learning aids, helping visiting families feel welcomed, or undergoing training on best practices concerning autism spectrum disorders.

TAP’s internship program accepts around 10 undergraduate and graduate students each semester who come from disciplines across campus like psychology, human development and family studies, and speech and hearing sciences. These interns provide a total of 88 hours of volunteer work every week, which allows TAP to provide services to the community Monday through Saturday. The interns’ service facilitates the program’s mission. “We wouldn’t have relevancy or even exist without the dedication and work of our interns,” says TAP Director Linda Tortorelli. “Our students are vital in our efforts to engage with the local community and to assist faculty researchers with their work.”

Student interns also develop invaluable skillsets that have lifelong impacts. One student, senior in Speech and Hearing Science Brittany Silvers, was drawn to the program because of the unique experiences offered by the internship.

“I was interested in the incredible resources and information the program provides to the community,” says Silvers. “I’m studying speech language pathology, and this is just such an incredible opportunity to develop some important skills that will go on to benefit me in my professional life.”

If you’re looking for an opportunity to personally and professional grow while serving your community, TAP is currently accepting applications for new interns, and more information can be found at

TAP Crew