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 Dr. Sean Fox
 Dr. Sean Fox


Greetings! Three months into my tenure as the new department head of ACE, I count myself lucky every day that I am surrounded by such exceptionally talented colleagues, a dedicated and supportive staff, and truly outstanding students.  I am grateful for the tremendous support I’ve received, both within the Department and from the UI community, as I transition into this role.  Special thanks go to my predecessor, Dr. John Braden and former head, Dr. Paul Ellinger who have been generous with their time and have provided invaluable advice and support. 

Before I say more, I'd like to briefly introduce myself.  I came to Illinois in January after a twenty plus year career at Kansas State University.  I earned my PhD at Iowa State University in 1994 and my undergraduate degree in 1989 from University College Dublin in my native country of Ireland.  I grew up on a small farm in County Sligo in the northwest of the country.  My wife, Eileen, a native of Boston, and I have three grown sons and a daughter in college.

As I learn more about ACE, one thing I find particularly impressive is its promotion of experiential learning.  In this newsletter you’ll learn more about one of our experiential programs – Jon Scholl’s ACE 292 “Farm, Food, and Environmental Policy” course which recently brought a group of ACE students to California.  Whether through internships, study abroad, or programs like the California trip, experiential learning greatly enriches the college experience for students.  I witnessed this first-hand during my time at K-State when my wife and I led a number of student agri-business tours to Ireland and the U.K.  At some point I hope to do something similar here at Illinois – with students, alums, or both. 

I mentioned the exceptionally talented faculty here in ACE, and recently they have earned a number of prestigious awards from the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association.  Dr. Madhu Khanna was selected as a Fellow, the highest distinction of the Association.  Dr. Phil Garcia and Dr. Scott Irwin won the ‘Quality of Research Discovery Award’ for their work on futures markets, while Dr. Garcia was also honored with the Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award.  It is a rare feat for an individual to simultaneously receive high level recognition for both teaching and research. Well done Phil!

We also had several award winners at the recent Funk Awards banquet, including Melissa Warmbier who received the Marcella M. Nance Staff Award.  Congratulations Melissa – an award that is very well deserved!  And from our faculty, Dr. Madhu Khanna received the Professorial Career Excellence Award, Dr. Paul McNamara the Excellence in Extension Award, and Dr. Nick Paulson the John Clyde and Henrietta Downey Spitler Teaching Award.  Congratulations to all of our award winners. 

In what follows below, Caroline will introduce you to one of our international graduate students and one of our graduating seniors, and she also includes a short article on our former Department Head and Dean, Dr. Bob Hauser.  I first met Bob back in September.  It was the morning of the first day of my interview and we had breakfast at Merry Ann’s.  From the outset I had a sense he would give me a straightforward, unvarnished assessment of how things stood, and I appreciated that.  When we met again the next day he had some unexpected visitors drop by – some alums who had taken his classes twenty odd years ago.  Bob made time for them and I enjoyed chatting to them myself.  And the lesson was important – we make time for our alums.  As Dean and Department Head Bob had to steer the College and Department through some difficult budget challenges.  Back in September, the fact that I found an institution in such good shape, with high morale and optimistic outlooks, I view as a testament to Bob’s leadership and character. And it reminds me that I have some big shoes to fill! 


Sean Fox, Ph.D.
Head, ACE Department

Richa Niraula 
Richa Niraula 

Richa Niraula is not your average student. Many have heard the statistics demonstrating that women are typically underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, but this is even truer in Nepal, where Richa grew up and pursued her undergraduate degree. Richa studied forestry, an industry in which women are strong players, but rarely receive recognition for their labor and dedication. Richa began her studies determined to empower women in her country to join in the important conversations surrounding agro-forestry, specifically setting a goal of changing the lives of 1,000 women in the field. She is currently pursuing her MS in Agricultural and Consumer Economics, Natural Resource Economics.

Richa’s personal and academic experiences have shown her that in her region, women tend to be viewed as ornamental. In reality, they are responsible for maintaining the family and home as well as addressing critical issues such as access to water and food insecurity. This is even truer for unmarried women who are often told that they should not train or pursue education. Richa rejected this narrative. During her second year of undergraduate study, Richa boldly joined a two-week volunteer project in rural Nepal, becoming the only woman in a cohort of 15 students.

As the team prepared to hold a village meeting to discuss local forestry needs and concerns, an individual overseeing the volunteers advised Richa that women were not necessary in the conversation and suggested that she direct her efforts elsewhere. Rather than allowing this negativity to dampen her resolve to impact the community, Richa enlisted the help of a local eighth-grade student and proceeded to stop by every home in the village, inviting women to the meeting and urging them to take pride in the work they do for their community. When she arrived at the meeting, Richa was delighted to find that most the women in the village were in attendance, ready to take part of the conversation and voice their expertise and concerns. To this day, Richa receives regular updates regarding these women who are continuing to engage and lead in their community because of Richa’s efforts during a short volunteer program.

Nearing the end of her undergraduate studies, Richa began investigating post-graduate education, only to be met, once again, by discouragement and lack of support. Despite others’ belief that she would never be selected, Richa applied for and was accepted into the Fulbright Scholars Program. This award allowed her to join the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, studying environmental economics under the tutelage of her mentor and advisor, Professor Amy Ando.

Throughout her time on campus, Richa has relentlessly pursued her goal to impact the lives of 1,000 women in the forestry field. Her most recent endeavor involved starting a Women in Forestry Group. This group is supported by an online platform and features weekly Skype sessions to develop leadership and technical skills of women who are marginalized in their communities. Beginning as a blog and a pipe dream, the Women in Forestry Group has grown over time, attracting an increasing number of individuals and providing opportunities for Richa to deliver presentations and discuss her work. On International Women’s Day, Richa received recognition as an International Women’s Day Distinguished Honoree by the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Richa is slated to graduate in August and hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in forest economics and policy. When asked how the University of Illinois has impacted her personal, academic, and professional trajectory, Richa attributes the influence of her advisor, Amy Ando. “Women in Nepal lack leadership and technical skills, hesitate to speak out, and are often the victims of discrimination,” Richa shared. “Now that I am in the United States, I’ve found freedom and have had the privilege to be around people who are empowered, setting an example for me to empower others.”

 Sarah Sellars presenting her research
 Sarah Sellars presenting her research

Sarah Sellars, a senior in the farm management concentration, experienced firsthand how understanding the agricultural industry and developing expertise in economics are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Coming from a corn and soybean farm in rural Illinois, Sarah entered the University of Illinois expecting to either return to her family farm or to finish her degree and quickly join the industry. However, after entering the James Scholar program and beginning a research project with Professor Gary Schnitkey, Sarah quickly realized that further study might be an exciting opportunity for her.

“Research has been one of the highlights of my time at Illinois,” Sarah reflects. “It has helped me realize my goals and point me to graduate school.” Sarah began her research examining non-land costs on farms, a project for which she received the Orville G. Bentley Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.

In addition to being a committed student and curious researcher, Sarah has been incredibly involved on campus and within the department. Her involvement spans many organizations, affording her such leadership positions as Scholarship Chair and 2nd Vice President of Sigma Alpha, a professional agricultural sorority, as well as an Agriculture Future of America Campus Ambassador, and member of the ACES Council Executive Board. In all of her volunteer capacities, Sarah has found ways to support individuals in the farming community, educate her peers on trends and opportunities in the ag industry, and gain leadership skills.

Although she has treasured each of these experiences, Sarah reported that her time working in the Department of ACE has been among the most beneficial.  Sarah comments, “People in the department don’t treat me like a student – they treat me like a professional.” The department has been fortunate enough to have this bright student assisting in the business office, reconciling statements, stocking supplies, maintaining quality records, and generally jumping at the chance to help in any way possible. From a surprise 21st birthday party to a banner recovery mission (you’ll have to ask Sarah for more details on that one!), Sarah says that she has felt valued, respected, and welcomed as a student and a professional in the Department of ACE.

As Sarah approaches the end of her senior year and prepares to enter a graduate program in agricultural economics, she represents the type of bright student that the Department of ACE has the pleasure of teaching, advising, and preparing for the next step in life. With deep roots in the agricultural industry in Illinois, as well as a passion for understanding economic trends in the field, Sarah shows that the Department of ACE is a unique place in which students can tailor their education to accomplish their goals and pursue their interests.

ACE students pose in front of the Golden Gate Bridge 
ACE students pose in front of the Golden Gate Bridge 

When I was in fourth grade, a friend invited me to a slumber party at her house. This friend lived on a small farm where her family raised horses, and it was common for her slumber parties to involve grooming the animals, pulling weeds from the fields where they graze, and tending to other household chores. When the family received word that one of their horses needed medical attention, my friend offered to take me to observe. Her mom quickly responded, “Don’t show her that! She’s from town!” Although I am a born-and-raised Central Illinoisan with distant farming relatives and an ability to distinguish a harvester from a baler, my agricultural exposure is limited by my being “from town.” It is for this reason that the opportunity to travel with our students to California on the Farm, Food & Environmental Policy experiential learning program was particularly exciting and informative.

Beginning in 2005, the Department of ACE has offered an experiential learning course that exposes students to the opportunities and challenges of local, state, and national policymaking arenas through classroom work and a weeklong trip to either Washington, D.C. or California. Going outside the classroom to interact with policymakers and influencers in Washington, D.C., allows students to build their understanding of how a policy’s impact can vary in different locations. This year’s program in California increased students’ awareness of the diversity of agriculture across regions of the United States and allowed them to engage in issues related to food, agriculture, consumers, and the environment.

Along with Jon Scholl, instructor at Illinois as well as owner and operator of Scholl Farms and former president of American Farmland Trust, I supervised 18 University of Illinois students as we visited conventional and organic farms, Silicon Valley tech startups, environmentalist groups, and lawmakers in the San Francisco and Sacramento areas of California. This diverse group of students (some of whom were, like me, “from town,” whereas others were from farming backgrounds) consistently impressed Jon and me with their insightful questions, critical thinking, and respectful engagement with each of our speakers. Students took opportunities on the bus and at mealtimes to compare practices with which they were familiar to those that are newer to them, weighing the pros and cons of each while reflecting on how California farming and politics compare and contrast to those of Illinois. Many students expressed a desire to pursue jobs and internships with companies like Granular, Hilmar Cheese Company, Gallo Vineyards, and CoBank.

Among several other organizations, the Turlock Irrigation District, as well as a representative from the California Department of Food & Agriculture, provided our group with insight into California policies relating to water and labor laws that affect farmers on a daily basis. Full Belly Farms and Sierra Orchards exposed students to organic farming practices while Turkovich Farm and JS West Family Farm Eggs demonstrated models that are more conventional. At each stop, our group demonstrated the caliber of student at the University of Illinois and in the Department of ACE through lively discourse and an evident eagerness to learn.

This experience, as well as our program to Washington, D.C., is made accessible to students from all walks of life due to the generous donations to the ACE Policy and Leadership Program. This fund empowers students to step outside of the world they know and examine practices, policies, and organizations that expand their perspectives. I am grateful to have experienced this program in California, which has helped develop yet another group of well-trained and knowledgeable leaders in the Department of ACE.

Caroline Ewing is an Academic Advisor in the Department of ACE. This trip provided her with her first opportunity to pet a chicken.

 Dr. Craig Lemoine
 Dr. Craig Lemoine

Dr. Craig Lemoine is excited to join the ACE faculty in August 2017 as the Director of the ACE Financial Planning Program. Craig received his BS from Texas Tech University in 1998 and became a CFP® Professional in 2003. He continued his education at Texas Tech University, earning his PhD in Personal Financial Planning in 2013.

Lemoine brings with him a long history in the field of Financial Planning. He is particularly interested in higher education planning, savings and managing student debt. As a researcher, he focuses on compensation conflicts in financial planning, education savings strategies, and annuity use with clients. Throughout his career, Lemoine has worked as a financial analyst with PIE Technologies as well as with Lincoln Financial Advisers as a team manager and financial planner. He became a CFP® Council member in 2010 and served as the Chairman of the CFP® Council of Examinations in 2013.

Dr. Lemoine joins us after serving as Jarrett L. Davis Distinguished Professor of Financial Planning and Director of the Northwestern Mutual Granum Center for Financial Security at The American College. Craig Joined the American College in 2008, and during his tenure designed a case study course, portions of the RICP® program, and helped create the first PhD in Retirement Income Planning.  

Craig looks forward to moving to Champaign-Urbana with his wife and daughter and their two dogs. When he is not teaching, he enjoys traveling, cooking, and trying to stay fit. He was attracted to the University of Illinois financial planning department for the chance to lead and work with outstanding students and faculty. He looks forward to continuing to develop relationships with alumni and grow the financial planning program.

Bob Hauser 
Bob Hauser 

He can still picture the exact spot in an Iowa State University hallway where Professor George Ladd sat him down to share a bit of advice: “There are a few ways to be successful in this world. One is to be a genius like me. Two is to be lucky. Three is to work really hard. I think you should try that last one, Bob.” ACES dean Robert Hauser laughs out loud remembering that conversation with one of his mentors in agricultural economics. “I did what he told me to do,” Hauser says. “He told me to go work my tail off at Champaign, and good things would happen. And they did.” Hauser is the first to tell you that he had no grand plan to become dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. He simply tried to make the best decision with every opportunity that came his way. Bob Hauser was raised in central Iowa, hunting and fishing for as long as he can remember. Hauser earned his doctorate in agricultural economics from Iowa State University in 1982 and his Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural business at Iowa State University in 1976. After receiving his doctorate at Iowa State University, he joined the ranks of faculty in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences where he spent his entire career. Hauser joined the University of Illinois in 1982 with a research and teaching focus on grain transportation, the use and pricing of options and futures, and the effects of economic and policy changes on Illinois and U.S. agriculture. On August 16, 2009, Hauser was appointed the Clearing Corporation Foundation Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. He became interim dean of the college when Robert Easter, the dean of the college at that time, was named interim chancellor of the Urbana campus. During his time at U of I, Dean Hauser developed and led exceptional U of I Extension programs, taught several undergraduate and graduate courses, and received numerous research and Extension awards. Among the courses he  taught are a doctoral level class on price analysis, a master's course on research methodology, an introductory course on agricultural marketing, a junior-senior legislative seminar course, a Discovery course for freshmen, and a graduate-level economic-theory short course in Spain.

Dr. Robert Hauser retired from his role as Dean of the College of ACES on November 1, 2016. Hauser reflected on his time in the College of ACES, saying:

“I’d like to close by expressing my gratitude to the many, many friends of the College of ACES across Illinois, the U.S., and the world who have helped me serve the college over the past seven years. My biggest surprise as dean has been the incredible support and assistance from ACES alums, friends, and stakeholders. I knew coming into the position that ACES is defined within by first-class people and programs. I did not appreciate, however, the myriad interests and relationships outside the college that have made my tenure as dean the best chapter of my career. Again . . . thank you.”