2024 College of ACES awards recognize outstanding students

Three-panel image showing headshots of the award winners
Olivia Messerges (left), Emma Kuhns (center), and Carmen Trotta (right)

Each year, the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign honors high-achieving juniors and seniors who demonstrate leadership, academic excellence, and a commitment to the ACES mission. This year, the Hugh P. Morrison Award and Warren K. Wessels Award went to seniors Olivia Messerges and Emma Kuhns, respectively. Junior Carmen Trotta received the Robert M. Harrison Leadership Award. 

Hugh P. Morrison Award 

The Hugh P. Morrison Award is funded in honor and memory of its namesake, former president of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. This scholarship is awarded annually to students with senior standing in an agricultural program who display substantial academic achievement, leadership, and an overall demonstrated commitment to the field of agriculture.

Olivia Messerges of Schaumburg, Illinois, was selected as the 2024 Morrison Award recipient. Messerges will graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and consumer economics, a concentration in environmental economics and policy, and minors in legal studies and sustainability and sustainability, energy, and environment. After graduation, Messerges plans to pursue a career as an environmental attorney, bringing a unique agricultural economics perspective to the field of environmental law.

Messerges gained valuable experience in pursuit of her passions during her undergraduate career. She served as an environmental policy intern at the Illinois Farm Bureau during the summer of 2023, working closely with the IFB’s Environmental Grant Program to provide financial assistance for farmers seeking to implement climate-smart practices. During an undergraduate research project with the Illinois State Climatologist at the Illinois State Water Survey, part of the Praire Research Institute at Illinois, she helped create a climate-smart agriculture resource portal. She also served as the Transportation Climate Action Plan (iCAP) Team Clerk for the Illinois Institute of Sustainability, Energy, and Environment, and completed an undergraduate sustainability capstone project with American Seafoods. 

Warren K. Wessels Achievement Award

The Warren K. Wessels Achievement Award is dedicated in memory of its namesake, who was an assistant dean in the College of ACES, then called the College of Agriculture, from 1958-1994. During that time, Wessels worked with thousands of students as a recruitment coordinator, orientation class instructor, and placement director. Wessels was well known for his encouragement of excellence, demanding yet fun-loving personality, and commitment to each individual student. Student recipients of the Wessels Award are chosen based on above-and-beyond academics, leadership record, participation in development activities, and their contributions to improving the overall quality of life for others as a part of ACES.

Emma Kuhns of Mason, Illinois, was selected as the 2024 Wessels Achievement Award recipient. Kuhns will graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and consumer economics and a concentration in public policy and law. After graduation, Kuhns plans to continue her education at the Illinois College of Law to pursue a career as an agriculture and rural affairs-focused attorney.

Service has been a hallmark of Kuhns’ undergraduate career. She proudly revived the defunct Morrow Chapter of the Alpha Zeta Society, founded in 1900 and dedicated to scholarship, leadership, service, and the advancement of agriculture on campus. She also shaped the new Student Leadership Council for ACES and served the larger campus community during her tenure on the Provost's Undergraduate Advising Committee and the Campus Climate Survey Committee. Kuhns also conceptualized and executed an alumni event designed to create mentorship opportunities for ACES students. 

During her senior year, Kuhns worked as a student leader for the Student Advisory Team at Agriculture Future of America and as a research assistant for a Department of ACE study on rural development efforts in Northern Illinois. Kuhns is currently an agricultural legal intern at Maatuka Al-Heeti Emkes LLC, where she strives to learn more about the legal system in preparation for her career as an attorney.

Robert M. Harrison Leadership Award

The Robert M. Harrison Leadership Award recognizes a College of ACES junior who has demonstrated a commitment to service, achievement, and leadership. The award’s namesake was involved with various campus activities from 1929-1933, including agriculture clubs and the Sachem and MaWanda honoraries. He was also the senior manager of the football team during the 1933 season. Harrison graduated from the U. of I. in 1933 and started working as a sales advertiser for numerous agriculture magazines. He was also employed by the Livestock Bureau of Armour and Company, the War Food Administration, and the Rural Electrification Program.

Carmen Trotta, of Chicago, Illinois, was selected as the 2024 Harrison Leadership Award recipient. Trotta will graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural leadership, education and communications (ALEC), a concentration in agricultural education, and minors in leadership studies and food and agribusiness management. After graduation, Trotta plans to pursue a career as a high school agriculture teacher.

Since the start of his undergraduate career, Trotta’s experience has been exemplary. During his junior year, Trotta, a Jonathan Baldwin Turner Scholar, served as the Vice Chair of Advancement for the College of ACES Student Advancement Committee (SAC), helping to raise funds for the College of ACES Scholarship. Trotta also served as the Vice President of Professional Development for Alpha Tau Alpha, as an ALEC Program Student Ambassador, and as a University of Illinois Collegiate Farm Bureau representative. Trotta has since revived the Golden Apple Illini while serving on the Cook County Farm Bureau Young Leaders Committee, University of Illinois FFA Greenhand Conference planning committee, and interning for the College of ACES Alumni Association.

To learn more about ACES majors and programs, check out our interactive program explorer.