Taking science out of the lab and into the hands—and minds—of kids

May 10
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

Nutrition researchers in the Department of Animal Sciences are telling the ACES story by finding new ways to take science out of the laboratory and into the hands—and minds—of kids.  

Austin Mudd, a doctoral student in the U of I neuroscience program, and Ryan Dilger, an associate professor of nutrition, study how early-life nutrition affects brain development. They have published several scientific journal papers on the subject, which have helped lead to advances in pediatric nutrition. 

But their findings aren’t just meant for laboratories or science journals. What if everyone could learn a little bit more about the way nutrition affects our everyday lives? 
For a scientist, though, talking about brain development and the thousands of different components in milk and the role each plays in this process is complicated.  It’s fascinating, but it can be difficult for anyone, especially kids, to digest. 

But recently Mudd and Dilger jumped at the opportunity to re-write one of their research papers for a kid audience. Their work appears in Frontiers for Young Minds, a scientific journal for kids, in which articles are written by distinguished scientists, and then edited and reviewed by kids. After writing a recent article in the journal, Mudd learned that if the science is communicated the right way, kids are interested in and inspired by the work he and his colleagues have done.

The process wasn’t easy. Kids can be brutally honest after all, and Mudd said the kid reviewers were tougher than some peer-reviewers have been for previous papers.  After back-and-forth edits with the kid reviewers, Mudd and his co-authors finally had a paper the kids could understand and were happy with. Some of the kids were even inspired to look at nutrition and babies in a completely different way.

And maybe some of those kid reviewers will be inspired to become the next generation of nutritionists or neuroscientists because of the experience. 

Read more about the project here.

Austin Mudd looking at brain scans
Austin Mudd, University of Illinois neuroscience doctoral student, examines brain scans of piglets in the Beckman Institute.

ACES Family

May 8
Kendra Courson, Director for Special Events

The LIAC is a pretty awesome place to hold meetings, conferences, and poster sessions, and an even better place for very important events, including the past two college investitures. But this place doesn’t run by itself. Hours of operation are typically 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday with some weekend hours when events important to the college are held. As the semester draws to a close, I want to recognize the people who really make the conference rooms a place to want to be: the Special Events Office interns.

This group of wonderful ACES students does everything from make coffee to arrange conference rooms set ups to assist with technology needs. They are there to open the rooms, close the rooms and act as a security presence in between. And, what most people don’t realize is they are oftentimes the college ambassadors who greet first time visitors to campus. These visitors can be prospective or admitted students and their families, alumni who have not returned to campus for many years, or an international student who has never been to the United States. They are also the second, third, and fourth set of eyes for every name tag created, every program that is edited, and they are there to warmly greet you at many of the annual college special events. Their role in this intern position encompasses so much, and they are beyond valuable and irreplaceable in my eyes.

So, with graduation right around the corner sharing the same weekend with Mother’s Day, I want to thank them for all they have done for the college and for me. The word family is used a lot in this college. When I think about my ACES family, I think about the students who I am blessed to spend my days with.

LIAC Interns
Kelsey Litchfield, Sara Tondini, Rachel Hawk, Sydney Miller, Jerry Brockett, Matt Raab, and Michael Wetherell at this year's Funk Awards at Pear Tree Estate. Not pictured are Annie Ryan and Megan Vogt.

Dear incoming freshmen...

May 5
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

I attended my last class as an undergrad in ACES this week, so I feel like I am now qualified to give my two cents to the incoming freshmen :) these are not the first or last cents you will receive, but they are valuable ones!

1. Learn stuff

You're going to spend a lot of time memorizing definitions, making flash cards, attending lectures, doing group projects. Soak it in. Don't just go to class for the I-clicker points. You're going to learn so much in the next four years, and if you can retain the good stuff, you will be a happier, wiser person. I don't just mean the things you learn in class either. You'll learn lots between balancing work, and going out with your friends, and adopting a puppy your junior year because you didn't quite understand all the responsibilities it would take at the time (do your research first, but honestly puppies are the best). Take from it all and make good choices, and make mistakes, and then grow and LEARN.

2. Make good connections

All of the really awesome things I've been able to do during my four years here like my internship, my jobs on campus, my research experiences, and being a blogger for the Voices of ACES :) have been the result of knowing some really awesome people. Your professors, your advisors, your co-workers, and guest lecturers are all people you should get to know.

3. Try something new

Those people you made connections with will open the door to new possibilities, and you should take them! I was pretty nervous to move away from home for the first time to spend the summer on a farm in the middle of nowhere hanging out with cows, but I did! It opened my eyes to the area of research which ultimately led to my decision to attend graduate school. You honestly cannot imagine the amount of possibilities that lie ahead of you. Try new things, so you'll know for sure whether you love cows or not.

4. Enjoy it!

You guys, these next four years are going to fly by. I know you have heard it before, but this time I really, really, promise you they are. Four years ago today, I was a completely different person. My experiences have shaped me and changed me and readied me for whatever happens next. So go to class, but sometimes skip it if it's really nice out and your friends ask you to take a walk around the quad. Ask questions and join new clubs and meet new people and move away from home and come back home and seize opportunities that make your heart happy and a little scared. Expect that you will fail now and then and expect to feel elated as you walk across the stage at graduation to accept your diploma. You will live in a crazy world of ups and downs with a bunch of people you don't even know yet. It will make you genuinely grateful for this place you will soon call a second home, and it will make it even harder to say goodbye.


Hit the real world running

May 5
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

Twenty of Illinois’ best and brightest undergraduates are getting ready to Hit the Real World Running. For 15 consecutive years, the International Business Immersion Program (IBIP) has prepared the next generation of globally literate entrepreneurial leaders to identify and respond to challenges associated with business operations in the global marketplace. Premier undergraduate students are selected to work in high-performance, interdisciplinary teams to explore the structure and challenges of the global agriculture and food industry. This year, the students in IBIP have focused on New Zealand, a country whose economy is highly dependent on a successful export-oriented food and agriculture sector. For the past semester, they have studied relevant business cases, conducted team research projects on innovative responses to dynamic market and economic conditions, and learned how to act in simulated and real business situations. During the second half of May, they will be tested on the ground in New Zealand, meeting executives and managers of firms that they read about all semester and seeing their business environment first hand.

Trial runs occurred this week. The students first had the opportunity to visit virtually with Joe Coote, President of NZMP Americas, U.S. subsidiary of Fonterra, which is the world’s largest dairy products company. Dairy is New Zealand’s most valuable export category, and Fonterra is New Zealand’s largest company, a farmer-owned cooperative.

Later in the week, the class traveled to Decatur, to see Illinois’ largest agribusiness company, ADM.  Of course, ADM is a global leader in originating, processing, trading, and moving products to markets in the food and agriculture space. Our hosts were Matthew Hopkins, VP Export Trading (ACE 2003, BS), Kyle Falk, Sr. Trader - Export Feed Grains (ACE 2011, BS), and Megan (Harshbarger) Neibuhr, College Relations Recruiter-Human Resources (UIS, Communications 2012, BA).

Students were able to view the action on the company’s trading floor and Matt gave a great overview of the ADM’s business units. With Kyle’s assistance, Matt also shared a little of his expertise and insights about the Ag Services global segment. Megan shared information on internship and employment opportunities with ADM, as well as giving a nice overview of the WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients, the business unit created from ADM’s most recent major acquisition.

IBIP is sponsored by Bunge, CGB, CoBank, Monsanto, and OSI Group, in addition to: Roberts Experiential Education Fund, International Programs and Studies (IPS), ACES Office of Academic Programs (Study Abroad), and ACES Office of International Programs. Private donors and various corporate sponsors also support the program with generous financial and in-kind donations.

Taught in Agricultural and Consumer Economics, IBIP is cross-listed as ACE/BADM 436, also in the College of Business. Students selected come from diverse backgrounds, majors and interests. After the students return to campus in the fall of 2017, they will synthesize their findings into multi-media projects for public presentation after the ACES career fair. Since 2001, the International Business Immersion Program has been shaping exceptional young leaders through research, networking and experience to prepare them to Hit the Real World Running.

IBIP 2017


May 4
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Spring is so many things.
Soft whispered sounds of morning rain
                 disturbing sleep.
The nonsense talk of baby chicks.
The windmill asking to be free.

From Morning Chores and Other Times Remembered by Hadley Read

I remember that book on my parents’ bookcase growing up. I likely read a few pages from it over the years and have a weak recollection of using it for a homework assignment on poetry at one time. However, as I visited with Mary Read Beth last fall about her father Hadley and his love of writing in free verse, I quickly recalled seeing that title amongst the shelves in my parents’ home.

It was in that visit with Mary and in phone calls and e-mails with her brother Greg Read that I learned more about Hadley Read’s love of communicating with others. And although Greg and Mary admit that while growing up they may not have appreciated their father’s ability to communicate with just about anyone, they now reflect fondly on his abilities in both written and spoken communications.

Now, 30 years after his death, Hadley Read’s third book is in print and a fourth is nearing completion. It was my pleasure to share Mary and Greg’s journey of publishing The Awakening of a Country Boy in the most recent edition of ACES@Illinois. I am both enamored by Hadley Read’s talents in free verse and his children’s appreciation for their parents and their roots. I am equally appreciative of his development of the agricultural communications program at the University of Illinois, and the many things it contributed to who I am today!

Hadley Read's children Greg Read and Mary Read Beth

Why today is perfect

May 4
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

You may be thinking that today is crummy if you are near campus - mid 40s, wicked wind, large puddles, and the all important component of constant precipitation. BUT today is reading day, and what better weather to have on a day where you should be focused on those lecture notes and homework quizzes before the start of finals? So hunker down, warm up that can of soup with the dust on top, and crack open those notes - you’ll be great!

Study hard Illini - and may the fourth be with you.


A new way to explore education

May 2
Alicia Kabat, ITCS Student CDE Coordinator

Spring fever is in swing—warm weather, plants in full bloom, and Illinois high school agricultural education students gearing up for the biggest day of the year. On the last Friday of April, around 1,200 prospective U of I students from across Illinois attended Career Development Events held here on campus. From metro Chicago to every corner of countryside, students converged for a packed day of learning opportunities, friendly encounters, and experiences they will never forget.

I began the spring semester as the Student CDE coordinator intern with ITCS to further my experience. Since day one, high expectations were placed upon me and have been life changing for my upcoming career as an agricultural education teacher. My main duty was to prepare for the state Horticulture/Landscaping CDE, where 250 students would compete to demonstrate their knowledge. My semester’s adventures took me from creating and revising many products for the CDE to coordinating with faculty and staff across the College of ACES and the State FFA Center. I learned that communication is key! Many emails and meetings have taken place throughout the preparation process. With the wonderful support system throughout the Educational Publishing team as I prepared for the CDE, tasks were easy to complete.

The skills and knowledge I learned in my internship as the Student CDE Coordinator will greatly affect the readiness I will feel as an agricultural education teacher. I now know what is needed and how to do it, and what the final product of a Career Development Event that I coordinated feels like.

The University of Illinois has created this opportunity for me to explore education in a way that I never experienced before. The College of ACES has moved me closer to the type of educator I want to be. There’s nothing comparable to the experience I have had as an intern in Information Technology and Communications Services.

State FFA CDE Contest

Making a difference

May 1
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

International Food Security at Illinois (IFSI) along with the Soybean Innovation Lab and European Union Center recently hosted the Third Annual Food Security Symposium. This year’s theme was “Commercial Agriculture in Tropical Environments.”

For two days I listened to presentations and discussion on the challenges, successes, and tradeoffs of growing grains in tropical regions to alleviate food insecurity. The presenters were a diverse group including guests from the public sector, private sector, professional organizations, and environmental think tanks. The locations discussed were also diverse spanning from Brazil to Africa, and even Vietnam.  

These challenges are huge, but I left positive that International Food Security at Illinois (IFSI) can make a difference. Two main take-a-ways for me personally, as a non-scientist, non-economist, were:

  1. How committed at all levels our college and university are to the issue of food security. (Chancellor Robert Jones and Dean Kidwell both attended the symposium.)

“Starvation is a weapon of mass destruction,” said Dean Kimberlee Kidwell, and also “This is an area where doing the right thing really matters.”

  1. How committed everyone was to environmental stewardship while achieving food security goals. (Nearly every presentation addressed this.)

I’ve no doubt the presenters and attendees, including those watching the live webcast from around the world gained many ideas and inspiration for further work and collaborations on these issues. The symposium presentations are archived here in case you missed (or want to revisit) this great event:


Director of Office of International Programs Alex Winter-Nelson (left) listens as keynote speaker Pedro Sanchez (right), former recipient of the World Food Prize, answers questions.

Five lessons every 4-H member knows

May 1
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

Lessons come wrapped in all types of boxes. Here are five lessons every 4-H member knows.

#5: You aren’t going to win every time, and that’s okay. How you lose is just as important as how you win.

There’s no way you’re going to get through life #1 all the time. Real champions accept the judge’s rating, evaluate what they can do to improve, and try again. Time and again, life will give you opportunities to practice winning graciously and losing gracefully. The question to ask yourself is “Did I improve over my last attempt?” If the answer is yes, you’ve won regardless of the color of your ribbon. Perseverance.

#4: Time is your best friend or worst enemy. Learning to juggle multiple responsibilities will be a lifelong benefit.

Those who stay in 4-H through the busy teen years say that 4-H help them prioritize work, allowing them to still participate actively in sports, music, church, or drama while maintaining an active 4-H life. How? They set goals. They communicate their commitments to coaches and leaders. They keep a calendar. They focus on important tasks and discard wasteful activities. They make good use of the time they have. 4-H helps kids learn that waiting to the last minute to finish assignments creates stress and often results in missed opportunities to excel. When they learn that lesson young, they remember it later in college and career. Focus.

#3:  Stand out from the crowd by working harder than everyone else. Excellence shows without ever saying a word.

Just because our logo is a 4-leaf clover, don’t think our success is just dumb luck. 4-H members know it’s hard work, not luck, that produces the results they want. When you put hours of work in, it shows. If you’ve ever broken a calf to lead, rewritten code until the program runs, re-sewn uneven hems, or taught a dog to sit, you know success takes time and consistent effort. 4-H members know that hard work takes sacrifice. While friends are sleeping, 4-H members are up feeding livestock or watering gardens, producing the world’s food. While friends go boating, 4-H members go visit colleges and industries to help determine their future course. While friends sit and visit, 4-H members and fellow club members are visiting with area elderly showing compassion for others. Nothing important is ever earned by being lazy or letting someone else do the work. Determination.

#2: You are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Choose wisely.

You have to show up when people are depending on you. 4-H members know they can’t just walk away when it’s their turn to lead. They don’t sleep in when animals depend on them for daily needs. They don’t turn their heads and assume someone else will cover their empty spot. They don’t walk away when the challenge seems too hard. 4-H members learn to work as a team, knowing they are stronger together than they are individually. 4-H members work the problem in front of them, seek input from others, and then see the plan through. 4-H members become dependable students, employees and entrepreneurs. Dependability.

#1: Create the community in which you want to live. See yourself as a caring citizen of the world.

4-H members are 4 times more likely to engage in their community than their peers are. It’s a researched fact. From a young age, 4-H members are intentionally engaged in community service projects. They are taught the virtues of generosity and given safe environments in which to practice service. They are included in every step of the decision-making process, from concept to action. They see themselves as part of the solution to today’s problems. That’s empowerment! That’s leading with your heart! That’s 4-H. Compassion.


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 theautismprogram.illinois.edu.

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