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 Dr. Sean Fox
 Dr. Sean Fox

I sometimes tell people about how I crammed a four-year undergraduate degree program into a seven year odyssey, punctuated by an extended study abroad experience. The truth is slightly different, but the story gives me an opening to talk about one of my favorite topics – study abroad.  I’m continually inspired when I meet people my own age who fondly remember their own study-abroad semester as an undergraduate and how much of a life-changing experience it was for them.  In fact, this week my wife and I are visiting our daughter who is spending her junior year in France. I know the year abroad will be a life-changing experience for her.

Here in ACE, we’d like to see more of our undergraduates take advantage of our study abroad opportunities. This semester, I had an opportunity to meet most of our new first-year students in our sections of ACES 101. One of my messages was to strongly encourage them to include study-abroad – whether a faculty-led program such as our International Business Immersion Program (IBIP) or a semester overseas (see the next story about our program in Sierra Leone) - as part of their college experience.  (Incidentally, I’m delighted to report that Dean Emeritus Bob Hauser will be leading our next IBIP program to Brazil during the winter 2018-19 break.)

Speaking of first-year students, another of our goals is to see more of them in fall 2018, and every fall thereafter!  In recent years, our College has seen small but steady declines in enrollment and, with budgets tied to enrollment, that’s a trend we have to reverse. We should be able to do that because we have a lot going for us – outstanding programs, instructors who are enthusiastic, talented, and approachable, excellent advising, and an array of experiential learning opportunities including internships and the aforementioned study abroad opportunities. Importantly, we have a host of potential employers who are incredibly eager to meet our students in our classrooms. Why?  One simple reason – they want to hire them.

Some things I’d like prospective students to know are:

  1. They will be welcome in our classrooms where they will meet peers from a multitude of backgrounds – urban and rural, domestic and international.
  2. We have an outstanding reputation reflected in high rankings – such as this one which puts our College of ACES at #2 in the country
  3. Our graduation rate is among the very best. For the University of Illinois, the 4-year graduation rate is 71% compared to a national average below 40%! Our College graduation rate is even better at over 76%. 
  4. Close to 80% of our graduates are in full-time employment or in graduate school within 6 months of graduating. In fact, most have their job secured long in advance of graduation. The most recent data show that for graduates in Farm Management, Finance in Agribusiness, and Agribusiness Markets & Management the average starting salary is over $50k.  

So, we do have a lot going for us but one inescapable fact is that tuition here at Illinois is high compared to other land-grant institutions in neighboring states. But when we account for the higher likelihood of graduating on time and how competitive our graduates are in the job market, the comparisons look a lot better.  Add to that the fact that the College of ACES distributes around $3.5 million in scholarships every year! With help from our friends, we’ll be offering more of those scholarships.  This year for example, each of the 27 Extension Units in the State is offering two new scholarships worth $2,500 each (see Extension to ACES Scholarship).

I’ll close with this request – if you are an alum, please join us in getting the word out about the opportunities we offer our undergrads and how we believe an Illinois education is an excellent investment. Finally, if you’d like to support our study abroad scholarships, here’s a link to our ACE Education Fund

Thank you for supporting our students!

Sean Fox
Professor and Head

Cynthia and fellow ACE Students in Sierra Leone 
Cynthia and fellow ACE Students in Sierra Leone 

In the most recent Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education, data show that nearly 50% of undergraduate students in the United States who study abroad choose a European country as their destination (Institute of International Education, 2016). Typically, these students talk about sightseeing, eating new but relatively familiar cuisine, and living in comfortable housing similar to U of I dorms. These are not the kinds of experiences Cynthia Markstahler, senior in Policy, International Trade, and Development, craved when she sought to study abroad.

“Africa is super far away,” she reflected. “So it was appealing to me, and it was unknown.” After extensive encouragement from Ann Finnegan, her academic advisor, Cynthia decided to apply to study for a semester on the Illinois in Sierra Leone program, administered primarily by Dr. Paul McNamara and the Department of ACE. The program affords students the opportunity to take courses at Njala University then a 6-week  internship to which they are matched based on their skills, interests, and passions. Cynthia interned with an organization called World Fish whose goal is to help community members establish local fishponds, making fish more affordable and accessible. She was assigned to educate youth in her village about the nutritional benefits of fishponds, which proved to be a much more challenging task than she expected.

Cynthia stayed in Kamankay, a small village in Sierra Leone that followed traditional Sierra Leonean social practices. In this village, as is common throughout the region, household roles dictate the amount and type of food each individual gets. Cynthia stayed with the village chief’s brother and quickly realized that teaching youth about the nutritional value of fishponds would be relatively ineffective if the youth had limited access to protein. As she talked with youth ages 17-25 years old, Cynthia learned that young people identified problems with the food distribution but felt that they had little opportunity to address these issues.

Through a variety of interactive discussions, presentations, and educational activities, Cynthia presented concepts focused on food education, gender roles, food distribution, and more. At the end of her internship, Cynthia arranged a large event where youth who participated in these programs had the opportunity to create and present posters about what they had learned and what was most resonant to them. In so doing, Cynthia created a platform for youth to have open and meaningful conversations with elders in their communities about their concerns, desires, and perceived opportunities for growth. Although Cynthia admitted that it was a somewhat uncomfortable experience for many in attendance, she also cited this as her most meaningful experience in Sierra Leone.

Cynthia went on to spend her summer in Sierra Leone volunteering at an orphanage run by Champaign native Katie Milazzo. Her time abroad helped her realize that she wants to work with a non-government organization that does meaningful work supported by research, which empowers community members to take ownership of policy changes. She is sensitive to the fact that many organizations have the best intentions but end up harming the very communities they seek to help. Cynthia is determined to create sustainable positive change after graduating in May 2018.


Institute of International Education. (2016). "Top 25 Destinations of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2013/14 -2014/15." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

 Metr: by Thiago Silva (
 Metr: by Thiago Silva (

The Lemann Institute for Brazilian studies created a fellowship this year in honor of Werner Baer, a professor in economics who did influential work on the Brazilian economy.  The fellowship was created to provide generous support for doctoral students at Illinois who are doing innovative social science research in Brazil.  This fellowship is internal to the university and is a true honor as it reflects Baer’s legacy here.  The inaugural fellowship has been awarded to ACE’s Renato Schwambach-Vieira, who is doing cutting-edge and highly relevant public policy evaluation in Brazil. This fellowship provides a tuition waiver as well as funds to travel to and conduct research in Brazil.

Renato is a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of ACE. His research focuses on evaluating policies in Brazil. After receiving his master’s degree in finance in Sweden and working in finance in Brazil, Renato changed career directions and began working on city projects and engaging concepts of consumer economics. He chose to attend the University of Illinois because of his interactions with Professor Werner Baer, a renowned professor of economics at the U of I. Renato met Dr. Baer in 2012 at a research institute in Brazil where  Baer encouraged him to pursue a doctorate in the United States. At the time, Renato was working at a research institute at the University of Sao Paulo, focusing his efforts on projects relating to public transportation.

At Illinois, Renato’s work examines how federal transportation subsidies influence consumer choices. In Sao Paulo, each male over the age of 65 and female over the age of 60 can utilize public transit free of charge. Renato questioned whether free access to public transportation increased the likelihood that women ages 60-64 would leave their homes more often than men over the age of 65. In his previous studies, Renato described how transportation affects individuals, providing access to necessities such as groceries, medical facilities, and other services, particularly to individuals with limited incomes.

This research comes at a particularly important time in Brazil’s history. After a recent mayoral election, the newly elected mayor of Sao Paulo proposed cutting the rule allowing women over the age of 60 free access to transit, instead providing free transit to all individuals over 65. Renato is interested in discovering specific ways these changes will impact consumers and hopes that his research can inform the debate and ensure that vulnerable communities in Sao Paulo have access to the basic goods and services they need to thrive. Renato hopes to graduate in May 2018.

 Dr. Michel Robe
 Dr. Michel Robe

Michel Robe is The Clearing Corporation Foundation Professor in Derivatives Trading in the College of ACES at U of I. He has written numerous articles on the financialization of commodity markets ("who trades what, when, and does it matter?"), informed trading, financial regulation, international financial flows, and the causes and consequences of volatility. His work has appeared in the Journal of Financial Economics, the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, the International Economic Review, the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the Energy Journal, the Journal of Banking and Finance, the Journal of Futures Markets, numerous other academic journals, and in books. His current work deals with commodity volatility, the organization of derivatives markets and their microstructure, and investor protection.

Professor Robe was born in Belgium, and he received his Ph.D. in financial economics from Carnegie Mellon University. He previously taught at the University of Miami, McGill University, and American University in Washington, D.C. He was detailed to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as a senior economist in 2006, and again in 2008 and 2009 amid unprecedented volatility in financial and commodity markets. He has since continued to advise the CFTC as a senior consulting economist. He has also worked on research programs sponsored by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy , the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Dr. Bob Bentz 
Dr. Bob Bentz 

Dr. Bob Bentz joined the Agricultural Economics Department, now known as ACE, as an assistant professor in 1961. Prior to coming to Champaign-Urbana, he served as an extension specialist at Louisiana State University. His academic training included two years at Southern Methodist University, B.S. and M.S. degrees in animal science from Texas Technological University (1953 and 1957, respectively), an M.S. degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University (1958), and a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Louisiana State University (1961). In 1953, Bentz attended a four-month officer candidate school in Newport, Rhode Island, then served as a naval officer on a Pacific Fleet destroyer during the Korean War  from 1953 until 1956. He experienced three, six-month deployments to the Far East during his time aboard the destroyer, serving as head of the ship’s gunnery department during the third deployment.

Bentz served as an extension specialist in the Agricultural Economics Department, conducting applied research and leading extension marketing programs relative to the poultry industry from 1961-1967. Although he stepped in for several semesters to teach a basic agricultural marketing class for staff who were on overseas assignments, Bentz primarily focused his departmental work off campus.

In 1966, shortly after his promotion to associate professor, President Henry’s office contacted Bentz to inform him that they were interested in recommending him for one of 30 national fellowships awarded 

by the American Council on Education. This fellowship focused primarily on academic administration and involved a yearlong assignment in an administrative role at a different institution.  Bentz had the honor of receiving the award and took an assignment to the president’s office at the University of Maryland.

Bentz nearly declined the offer, however, due to an exciting development in his personal life. Along with his wife, Marilyn, and children, Eileen and Steven, Bentz was in the final stages of adopting a child and learned that families could not take adopted children out of state until the adoption was finalized. The family immediately packed up and traveled to Chicago to appear before a judge who awarded them permanent custody of their new family member, Michael. The family breathed a sigh of relief: they all knew that there would be no assignment in Maryland without Michael!

Upon returning to campus in 1968, Bentz was offered a position as assistant to Vice President Eldon Jonson. His administrative career at the university also included appointments as assistant vice chancellor, associate vice chancellor for administration, vice chancellor for operations (all at the University of Illinois at Chicago), and state leader for administration and associate director of Cooperative Extension in the College of Agriculture. Following his retirement in 1992, he worked part time for as senior advisor for Interpaks in the Office of International Agriculture. His team taught the organization’s short courses, served as editor of its newsletter, and was involved in short-term overseas assignments in several countries.

In retirement, Bentz and his wife, Marilyn, traveled extensively. Since her death in 2002, Bentz has spent a lot of time in various volunteer capacities at his church. He also served as a volunteer in the Champaign County State’s Attorney Office as a driver for Family Services. He is an active member of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Associate. He currently serves as president of the local chapter as well as adviser to a social fraternity on campus.