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 Dr. Sean Fox
 Dr. Sean Fox

This fall, after being at UI for a year and a half, I finally found myself back in an undergrad classroom on a regular basis. The class was ACE 341 (Issues and Careers in Applied Econ), and the section was targeted to students in our Agribusiness Markets and Management concentration. Dana Wennerberg was the instructor – my own role was that of a glorified TA!

The class focused on career prep – writing a cover letter and resume, preparing for an interview, developing an elevator speech, etc. – and providing opportunities to interact with potential employers. Dana organized an impressive line-up of guest speakers with representatives from companies including PepsiCo, Wells Fargo, Farm Credit Illinois, and Granular. Students attended the ACES Career Fair, as did I, and I was amazed by the number of employers looking to recruit our students. There is a huge and varied array of internship and career opportunities available to our students and graduates. These are great times to be entering the workforce with a degree from ACE– long may they last!

Word about those great career opportunities is apparently filtering down to the high school level as we are seeing a dramatic increase in undergraduate applications. As of early November, we had over 300 applications for our 2019 freshman class – up more than 50% from the same time last year! With our budget becoming more closely tied to enrollment, this is welcome news indeed. But we still have a lot of work to do to get those students in the seats. And that’s where our alums can help – by spreading the word about the ACE undergrad experience and how it set them up for the careers they have today. One program already seeing growth is our Financial Planning concentration with enrollment up from 82 to 96 over the past year. Last year, 92% of graduating seniors in financial planning found jobs in the financial services industry.

ACE faculty are enjoying a productive year on the research front. As of early November, Illinois Experts, a website that showcases the research produced by Illinois faculty, showed that ACE faculty had published 57 journal articles in 2018. Illustrating the breadth of topics in applied economics covered by the faculty, the first two articles listed were about financial security and aging (Angela Lyons) and the use of precision agriculture technology to manage tomato blight (Ben Gramig).

Department faculty have also been widely quoted in media outlets on a range of in-the-news topics including trade tariffs (Todd Hubbs), climate change (Peter Christensen), farm income (Gary Schnitkey), biofuel policy (Scott Irwin), farm bill negotiations (Jonathan Coppess) and the SNAP (former food stamp) program (Craig Gundersen). Among recent award winners in the Department were Gary Schnitkey, honored at the recent American Ag. Econ Association (AAEA) meeting as the winner of the Distinguished Extension/Outreach Program award. Also receiving a prestigious AAEA award was Scott Irwin who co-authored the article (“The Impact of Index and Swap Funds on Commodity Futures Markets”) that won the association’s Bruce Gardner Memorial Prize.

Finally, we have a new non-thesis master’s degree program making its way through the campus approval process. We appear to be on track to welcome the first students in the fall of 2019. Our initial target audience for the program is our own undergraduate students, who should be able to complete a combined bachelors/masters program in 5 years. Once we have approval, marketing efforts for the program will begin in earnest.

In what follows below, you will hear from our growing Financial Planning program as well as many recent alums who are eager to share how their time in the Department of ACE has shaped their careers and lives. Thank you for your continued support of the Department of ACE!

Financial Planning Students at FPA National Conference 
Financial Planning Students at FPA National Conference 

For the last nine years, the Financial Planning Association (FPA) has hosted a collegiate competition at their annual conference. The contest gives students the opportunity to showcase what they know on a national stage and win significant scholarships for their schools. Students come out of the competition with stronger résumés and life-long friendships.

Our financial planning program at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana began ten years ago, and last year (2017) was our first time fielding a team. We won second place and turned some heads in the process. After that success, our 2018 team had great ambition.

This competition has three rounds. In the first round, teams submit a written financial plan to a panel of judges. The top eight schools advance in the contest and are invited to the national conference. This year, the FPA national conference was in Chicago. We have nine years of alumni in Chicago; firms recruit out of our program from Chicago. We were thrilled at the idea of competing in the windy city.

Then, on a fortuitous day in July, our team received an email with the subject line “Financial Planning Challenge 2018 Results”. It started with the word unfortunately – and went on to share that – UIUC would not be advancing. The sting was palatable. We had just won second place, and the FPA conference was in Chicago this year! We were mad. We were embarrassed. We felt defeated.

As the corn grew around us, students arrived back to campus. The sun beat down on our tent at Quad Day, and student leaders, including our FPA contest team, shared about the Financial Planning Club and our program. We spoke in classrooms, interviewed students, and grew what had been a club of twenty-five into one of sixty. Our concentration in the ACE major flourished as well, growing from 82 students to 96 this year.

Growth and enthusiasm are contagious. We spent the fall raising money and with the help of alumni, friends, and Financial Planning Association’s generous scholarship program, we sent two dozen students to attend this year’s FPA conference in early October. Over three days, we networked with more than 1500 financial planners. Our students attended every keynote and dove into discussions, panels, and dinners. We made new friends, interviewed with companies, and connected with mentors. We learned about client behavior, retirement longevity, dreaming big, and the global economy. By the end, our fuses were lit with a passion for this great profession.

But the moment of the conference that will always stay with me: after two days of answering, “Why aren’t you guys competing again?” and, “What happened?”, our students were asked to volunteer to help with the last round of the contest. They all came to watch, cheer, and pitch in. On the final day of the conference, the Chairman of the Financial Planning Association, Shannon Pike, opened the general session with a picture of our group, chanting ILL (with a robust INI response). Shannon recognized the growth and spirit of our program, then by name, praised the professionalism and character of three of our students: Madison Meridian, Gwendolyn Orr, and Jack Petras. Those were the same three who received the fortuitous email in July, dusted themselves off, and helped build something amazing. After the last keynote, we took the stage with Shannon – all of us grinning ear to ear. We were on the main stage after all and for something so much greater than winning. Our students had been generous, professional and embodied the spirit of the University of Illinois. They had made an exceptional impression which will pay our alumni, students and program dividends for years to come.


This article was written by Dr. Craig Lemoine, Director of Financial Planning in ACE.

 Dr. Eeshani hiking in New Zealand
 Dr. Eeshani hiking in New Zealand

Dr. Eeshani Kandpal received her M.S. degree from the Department of ACE in 2007 and her PhD from ACE in 2011. After her award-winning time in graduate school, she became an economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank where she still works today.

Eeshani’s childhood set the stage for her lifelong interest in doing work to help women and children in developing countries. “I was raised in north India by a mother who for several years headed the department of health for one of India’s largest and poorest states. Some of my earliest memories are of accompanying her on field trips as she visited remote primary health centers. I heard her informal discussions with local women, asking about their experiences at the health center at a time when 855 women there died in childbirth for every 100,000 live births, compared to 15 in the US and below 5 in much of Western Europe.”

After coming to the U.S. for college, Eeshani grew to appreciate the tools that economics provides for work to improve nutrition and health in developing countries. “Economics particularly appealed to me because it took important but really difficult questions—why are some people so much poorer than others? Why do famines occur? (Hint: not because of a shortage of food!)— and applied mathematical formalization to them which allows us to be systematic in our approach to these questions. I decided to go to graduate school to continue studying economic development.”

The Department of ACE proved to be fertile ground for Eeshani’s studies and research and a good launch point for her career. “One of my first impressions of ACE was how collegial the faculty and graduate students were, and how the faculty seemed happy to engage with students. At ACE, I continued studying and researching questions related to economic development, focusing on women and children. As I completed my PhD, the World Bank came calling and was the perfect fit given my interest in economics but also my desire to do research that had an impact, however small, on people’s lives.”

Eeshani has published several papers evaluating programs in developing countries to reduce illness and improve child nutrition outcomes. And her position at the World Bank allows her work to have those impacts on people’s lives. “My research at the World Bank feeds directly into the programs we invest in and that we recommend to governments. For example, on one of my first trips for the Bank, I was visiting a hospital where a woman died during a routine cesarean-section surgery for childbirth. It turned out she had received too much anesthesia. We worked with the ministry of health to implement a program that pays health workers bonuses for improving the quality of care they provide. I recently completed an evaluation of this program and found that it made childbirth significantly safer for mothers and babies. Not every project is as rewarding, but I live for days like this!”


This article was written by Dr. Eeshani Kandpal


When many students learn about Agricultural and Consumer Economics, their minds tend to focus on a very narrow, albeit very important, agricultural sector, oftentimes ignoring the subsequent words in the title of the major. They are admitted to the University of Illinois and tend to question whether they belong in ACE because they do not believe they have a background in agriculture. For Molly Messner, this apprehension fell away as she moved through her time in ACE and found herself working in the very industry that she felt was unfamiliar.

Molly’s first exposure to ACE, the College of ACES, and the University of Illinois was during a general campus visit. She was impressed by the size of campus, the number of students, and all of the opportunities afforded to her by such a prestigious institution. Wishing to pursue Public Policy and Law, an interest cultivated by high school coursework and leadership experiences, Molly joined Agricultural and Consumer Economics as a freshman and watched her interests evolve. She wasted no time, getting involved in multiple social and service organizations, serving as an ACE Ambassador, and working as a Research Intern with the Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENEAS) project and the Soybean Innovation Lab. Molly’s career trajectory was particularly impacted by her time as a research intern as it ignited in her a passion for food and environmental sustainability.

Two years after her May 2016 graduation, Molly’s resume reflects work on both the buying and vending sides of retail. She is currently working for Kraft Heinz on the packaging procurement team, a position that allows her to be involved in the sustainability side of packaging. Molly’s team is on the forefront of the Kraft Heinz goal of making their packaging 100% globally recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025, an initiative that is incredibly exciting for her.

Molly credits her time in ACE as the place where she discovered unknown passions, saying, “ACE opened a whole world up to me and an industry that I am passionate about.” She reports that the study of agricultural economics made her aware of the various stakeholders involved in moving food from farm to plate and gave her opportunities to build the business acumen that has made her so successful in corporate environments. Molly has stayed connected with ACE, returning often to speak to students about her experiences and to encourage them to utilize their time on campus to step outside of their comfort zones, learn something new, and identify and pursue work that excites them.


Professor Emeritus Dr. Jim Roush left his legacy on ACE and the University of Illinois through his receipt of the Faculty Award for Excellence and the Karle E. Gardner Outstanding Undergraduate Advisor Award. Roush’s educational experience began in a one-room school in Sycamore, Illinois. Roush left his home to be the first of his family to attend college. With the intentions of becoming a lawyer, Roush studied at the University of Illinois’ School of Vocational Agriculture. After one year of school, he joined the service and left for Korea. Upon his return, Roush worked toward his Bachelor of Science and in 1951 graduated as a Bronze Tablet Award Winner. He continued his education and received his Masters Degree in Ag Economics (‘53) and Ph.D. in Economics (‘57). Between receiving his Masters and Doctorate, Roush married his wife of now over 60 years, Dorris. It was at this time that he became increasingly interested in marketing and prices, so Roush stayed after his Ph.D. to work as a graduate student in research. Throughout his 42 years at the University, Roush worked primarily in research and extension. The research side of his work focused heavily on poultry, particularly egg pricing, and agricultural marketing. The extension side of his work primarily consisted of outlook meetings and publications. Much of Roush’s time was spent researching Chicago prices compared to those of the University of Illinois and finding weak supply and demand correlations. Roush’s teaching career began in 1957 when he became an assistant professor, then continued when he became an associate professor (‘61). From ‘69-’92, Roush was a full professor, teaching three different sections of Introduction to Marketing. During this time, Roush became the assistant head of the Agricultural Economics Department and worked as an advisor to students.

Upon his retirement, Roush stayed in Urbana. He spent much of his time reading the paper, exercising, crafting antique furniture, and advancing his computer skills. Roush and his wife also grew six acres of sweet corn, which they sold for missionaries to raise money for their church. The two had one daughter together, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, all of whom live in the St. Louis area. Roush said that while he misses the students and faculty of the University, the football atmosphere and Illini Spirit on game days is something he will never forget. Dr. Jim Roush passed away in May of 2017 and is dearly missed.

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