Life advice from Ron Swanson

May 17
Kelsey Litchfield, ACES Communications & Marketing

How has it been a year since I graduated college? It was a weird feeling to watch this year’s graduating class turn their tassels and become members of the alumni club. And this time of year always has me thinking—what’s next?

After I graduated, I did not go the traditional path of taking a new job and moving to a new city. I actually did the reverse – I moved back to my hometown and worked from there. But one thing has stayed with me from the moment I graduated until now. Nick Offerman was the 2017 commencement speaker (who notably played Ron Swanson on the television show Parks & Recreation) and he offered the biggest piece of advice which has stuck with me for the past year, and still remains true for our new graduates.    

Maintain the attitude of a student.

We go through the education system for a long time – elementary, junior high, and high school plus four years of college. That’s 17 years of schooling. All we know is the school system. But if there’s anything school (and Nick Offerman) has taught me is to keep learning, no matter the subject.

Seems a little cliché, right? You’re probably thinking….”Kelsey, I’m done with school. Learning is no longer in my vocabulary.”

I get it – you’re all done with your school work and your classes and now you’re off to the real world. But if you don’t continue to learn at your new job and your career, you won’t evolve and grow. There are people 30 years into their careers who still make mistakes, but also learn from them. This is how we get better. Nick Offerman also said in his speech if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not living.

And even if you haven’t graduated, this also applies to you. Whether you are starting an internship or taking summer classes, take the initiative to learn wherever you are.

From one recent graduate to another – if there’s anything you should take away from college, it’s this lesson: keep learning. You may not have a quiz on the material, but what you learn can be the foundation of your career and how you just might change the world.

You can watch Offerman’s full commencement speech here or a highlight video.

Using words to inspire science

May 15
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

Earlier this month, I attended the Fourth Annual Food Security Symposium, an event coordinated by our office. Presenters and attendees shared their visions for avoiding a world food crisis through plant breeding.

As a “word person” and not a scientist, some of the presentations were a bit technical for me, so not surprisingly the inspirational words are what stuck with me personally from the event.

Professor of Crop Sciences Jack Juvik shared this gem from Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president and agronomist:  

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture…”

The President of the Borlaug Training Foundation Fred Cholick shared a wonderful quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug:

“We cannot build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.”

And in the keynote address, an alumnus of the U of I, Dr. Robert Zeigler who spent much of his career at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said to future plant breeders:

“I commend you for being in agricultural sciences. We are still so early on in understanding the manipulation of our crops. You have so much to look forward to that I am jealous. One thing I will tell you about this line of work and having a career like the one I had at IRRI is that when you go to bed at night you will not worry about wasting your life.”

I for one didn’t expect this type of inspiration during a presentation titled “What it takes to access germplasm.”

In the audience were several students who are gaining education and experience here at the U of I – many of them presented posters of their work at the symposium – and no doubt they were inspired by these words as well as from all the groundbreaking scientific information they were exposed to at this event.

A more detailed summary of the symposium can be found here:
Dr. Robert Zeigler, an Illinois alumnus inspires future plant breeders at the recent food security symposium

Don’t be a stranger

May 10
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

It’s begun. All the goodbyes and transitions that inevitably take place every May are happening.

In our office, we are saying goodbye to interns, some for the summer, but others as they are graduating and moving on. I have congratulated grad students whose research work I have been fortunate to write about over the years and are now moving on to faculty or post doc positions elsewhere. It’s what we want as a college, for our students to move on, well-equipped, to do big and amazing things. But still, the goodbyes aren’t always the fun part.

And in my own family, I will watch my high school senior graduate next week. He is attending University of Illinois next year, so he won’t be too far away. But still, the sense of transition, of moving on, is felt everyday lately.

What I want to say to all of you who are moving on; don’t be a stranger. You will always be part of the ACES family.  Our Alumni Relations staff wants to keep connected with you over the years. And those of us in the communications department are always looking for great stories to tell about what our alumni are doing after they’ve left campus. So keep in touch! We can’t wait to see how you change the world.

Best wishes to all the ACES 2018 graduates!

A Common Thread

May 8
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Walking through the ACES Library, Information and Alumni Center, one can’t help but be drawn to a new feature in the Wright Family display case - a quilt featuring 12 portraits of the Allen Family. Eleven of those pictured attended the University of Illinois. The quilt was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the family’s arrival in Illinois in 1867, the same year the University of Illinois was founded. The Spring issue of ACES@Illinois includes a story sharing more about their Illinois roots and ties to the University of Illinois.

In 2014, the descendants of Corbly and Mary Melcena Wright provided a gift for a display case in the atrium in the ACES Library, Information, and Alumni Center. The case provides a venue to share historical memorabilia and keepsakes, while sharing the stories of ACES families. It was a true pleasure to help the Allen family tell theirs.

Dietetic internships, grad schools, and dietetics seniors: matched again!

May 7
Justine Karduck, Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics

Dietetics seniors from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition have done it again!  Nationally, an average of only 50% of dietetic students match with a dietetic internship, however, the UIUC class of 2018 achieved a match rate of 100%, meaning that every senior that applied for a dietetic internship or graduate school was matched with one or accepted. 

Graduating seniors will be spending the next 8-24 months completing their Dietetic Internships (DI) and master’s degrees.  The students have already completed their first steps to becoming Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) by completing the Didactic Program in Dietetics within the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at UIUC.  The DI is the second step in the process of becoming a RDN and requires a minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised practice in an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Internship.  Many DIs are combined with master’s degrees including degree programs in dietetics, nutritional sciences, exercise science, public health, or business administration. Upon completion of the DI, a student must then pass the comprehensive CDR RDN Exam, which is the final step to becoming a RDN. 

The DI matching process takes place biannually in April.  Students prepare extensive application materials including a list of preferred DI sites. After the students submit, the DI sites evaluate the applicants and rank them. A computerized program then matches applicants to internships so that both parties have a choice in the outcome. The first round of match results is then released to students, and they are allowed 24 hours to either accept or decline the offer to the DI to which they are matched. If students chose to decline, that spot is open for the second round of matching.

The UIUC matched seniors will be spread all across the United States from as far north as University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, to far south at the University of North Florida and as far east as New York University.  Congratulations class of 2018; best of luck to you in your future careers as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists.  You are one big step closer to becoming future RDNs, the true food and nutrition experts!

For more information about UIUC’s Didactic Program in Dietetics within the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, please visit:

Nature screens

May 4
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

When I’m stressed or need some perspective to solve a problem, I go outside. Well, theoretically that’s what I do. Too often, I forget about the healing power of nature and end up staring at a screen, which definitely doesn’t help. That’s because I spend most of my time online scrolling through social media, reading email, and staring at Netflix. But if I’d just cue up photos of my favorite nature scenes, researchers say, my stress levels would go down.

Because I know the end of the semester and the start of finals is a tough time for many, I thought I’d share some photos I snapped earlier today as I wandered through the Turner Hall greenhouses and the Conservatory in the Plant Sciences Annex.

Breathe. Enjoy. And then, if you have time, turn off your screen and go take a walk. You might just be ready for that exam by the time you get back.

Preventing unwanted salad surprises

May 2
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

by Matthew Niewiara

A few weeks ago, right before spring break, our senior design team, known as “Team Frog Fence” had the opportunity to travel to California.  Our task is quite unique: come up with a suggested fence design to keep frogs out of lettuce fields.  The team consists of myself, Lucia Dunderman, Noor Farahmandpour, and Brandon Spencer.  Our advisors are Dr. Paul Davidson, Dr. Michelle Green, and Dr. Jonathan Warner.  Additionally, Dr. Daniel Hughes is our team’s herpetologist, our resident expert on the Pacific Tree Frog, the species that is causing the problem.   

Designing a fence to keep frogs out of lettuce fields seems like a simple task at first. However, due to the Pacific Tree Frog’s agile climbing ability, the task is quite complex.  These frogs have been known to climb vertical (or even steeper) surfaces.  The presumed reason they end up in the lettuce fields is that it is an ideal habitat for them.  Once the frogs breed in any source of nearby water, the moist leafy greens provide a haven from the hot, sunny, and windy environment of the Salinas Valley.

One might not think that a tiny frog, about the size of a golf ball, could cause a severe problem on these huge ranches of spinach, lettuce, and other greens.  However, due to potential food safety risks, any foreign animal entering the field could cause contamination.  Moreover, most consumers aren’t too happy when they find a frog (dead or alive) inside their bag of pre-packaged greens.  Despite the free added protein, it’s not the most appetizing sight!

Our team definitely made the most of our short trip to California.  We met up with a knowledgeable group of leafy green stakeholders to discuss the problem and potential solutions.  We were able to visit various farms in the area to see first-hand where the fence might be installed.  This was an invaluable portion of the trip because we were able to get a much better sense of the scale of the problem.

Our team has just recently finished conducting materials tests in the ABE wind tunnel to test durability.  The Salinas Valley has extreme wind conditions that can easily rip apart some materials, so it’s essential that the material is durable.  We have been considering multiple aspects of the design including the size and asperity of the mesh, as well as top lip designs.  Because we currently do not have live frogs to test with, these design components will be suggested for experimentation in the future. 

Even though our team project is coming to a close, this study originated with Drs. Green and Davidson, and their grant has a total duration of two years.  Therefore further material testing, along with testing of other deterrent methods and live frog testing, will need to be conducted.  By the end of this project, our team will have played a critical role in the development of a novel method to keep frogs out of lettuce fields - and prevent unwanted salad surprises!

[Matthew Niewiara is a senior in Agricultural and Biological Engineering]

Decision Day

Apr 30
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

Decision Day – it’s tomorrow. You have a few precious hours left to make your final decision about which college you’ll enroll in for the fall. The college that will help define the rest of your life – no pressure at all I’m sure. To help, I’d recommend approaching the decision from this perspective…since I’m more of an end goal type of person I like to ask “where do you want to be in 4 years?” Most would say graduated, starting a successful career in X area. Well, let me tell you my friends, not all colleges are created equal in this regard. However, ACES at Illinois offers you a strong opportunity to complete these goals with a 76% graduation rate (well over the national average) and phenomenal career placement opportunities.

The next question I’d recommend contemplating is “what types of experiences to you want to have during these next four years?” Do you want to try something new, something never before done by anyone from your hometown? ACES can provides that opportunity. We offer classes in multiple areas including chainsaw safety, restaurant management, marketing, and oh so much more. Let’s not forget about the classes you can take about food and culture while living in Italy or studying international business while globetrotting through the mountains of Brazil.  Or how about the exciting clubs and organizations you can join while on campus?! How many other schools can say they have a group where you help train service animals or travel to Puerto Rico over spring break to help rebuild a community devastated by hurricanes. Not many – not many at all, but ACES at Illinois does all of this plus so much more.

This is your decision ultimately, but the choice is clear to me. Start your story with ACES. We’ll help you write an excellent next chapter in your book of life.


Advice from a graduating senior

Apr 26
Nicole Chance, Sophomore in Agricultural Communications

It is so hard to believe this my last full week of classes (enter sob face emoji). As my last semester of college is winding down, I have been looking back on my college career and wishing I had done some things that I never got to do, now it’s too late. But for you freshman, sophomores and juniors it’s not too late for you! Here is some advice from a graduating senior:

Study Abroad – This is seriously my biggest regret. I wish that while I had the time in college I would have studied more about the culture of different countries, seen how agriculture differs from U.S. ag, and simply just explore new and beautiful places!

Take a class that’ll teach you a valuable life skill – Did you know there is a class that you can take that teaches you how to prepare meals (FSHN 232)? Or a class that teaches you how to grow your own vegetables (HORT 105)? I put off some of my required classes to the very end and I so wish I could go back and take some of these classes!

Take advantage of local attractions – Champaign –Urbana is more than just the two cities. It is surrounded by small town communities that contribute to the uniqueness of this area. You could visit Arthur, Illinois and get a homemade Amish pie from Beachy’s Bulk Foods. Or attend a real-life authentic rodeo or horse show at Gordyville USA in Gifford, Illinois. Personally, I wish I would have gone to the Sidney Dairy Barn and gotten one of their famous tornadoes!

Don’t wish college away- All throughout my junior and senior year I kept telling myself that I was ready to get out of here and graduate college. But, as I look back on my years at U of I, I am reminded that some of my best memories were made at this university, and what I wouldn’t give to relive some of those! I’ll miss this the most, no doubt.

College is a unique time in our young adult lives. It’s the experiences that teach us and mold us into who we will be when we enter the real-world. Take advantage of everything amazing this place gives you. Trust me, you won’t ever regret it!

Raise Your Hand for Illinois

Apr 25
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

I believe in you, and I believe you can make a difference.

Illinois 4-H is in a contest to win $20,000, and we need your help. All you have to do is raise your digital hand. Go to Register and vote for Illinois! That’s it.

4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. That makes us all cousins! Extension’s mission, “Extending Knowledge, Changing Lives,” acknowledges the importance of extending research-based knowledge of the University to people in all areas of the state to help solve problems and improve the lives of families, businesses, and communities.

Whether you were a 4-H member or not, I bet you have been part of a 4-H Extension program. Wherever you live, 4-H is there. Whatever your interests or talents, 4-H is the place to help youth channel their many gifts and achieve their personal goals.

So today, I’m asking for your help in landing us a $20,000 prize. When you register, go online and tell your friends to do the same. Post it. Tweet it. Snap it. Text it. Just do it today.
Raise Your Hand For 4-H