Quarterly newsletter from ACES International at the University of Illinois.
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ACES International Newsletter - May 2020

ACES International is published twice per semester. Please click on the links for more information about these news items presented by the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

 Burt Swanson working in Liberia, 2011.

The international agricultural and rural development community lost an influential and passionate advocate last week. Burton Swanson, professor emeritus of rural development in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, passed away after a long illness on April 23, 2020.

Swanson, who was a College of ACES alumnus (BS, 1961) returned to ACES as a professor in 1975, where he remained for the rest of his career. One of his capstone achievements was securing the $9 million USAID-funded Modernizing Extension and Advisory Service (MEAS) project in 2010, which led to much exposure and additional extension strengthening projects for ACES. Through this project and many others, he became renowned in ACES and beyond for his career-long devotion to international extension and the livelihoods of rural people around the world.

“Burt dedicated himself to extension aimed at poverty alleviation, and he preferred to get involved in international extension approaches that targeted poorer farmers, smaller farmers, and especially women farmers,” remembers Paul McNamara, professor of agricultural and consumer economics and director of AgReach, who worked with Swanson on the MEAS project and considered him a mentor and a friend.

Swanson’s legacy will live on in all people he inspired and within the communities he helped. An international study abroad scholarship, The Burt Swanson Scholarship in Rural Development (Fund #11774812) has been established in his memory. 


Two international grant programs coordinated by the Office of International Programs are helping ACES faculty gain exposure, forge new connections, and procure additional funding for their research projects.

The most recent reporting shows that our internal international grant programs from 2017 to 2018 helped ACES faculty procure over $312,000 in additional funding. Even more awards are pending.

The ACES international grant recipients have also published numerous papers and presented their research all over the United States and around the world, including in China, Brazil, Germany, South Korea, Benin, and Guatemala.  

The grants led to new collaborations with other institutions, including CIAT, UC-Davis, Instituto de Agrobiotecnología del Litoral, Argentina; University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; the World Bank, Texas A&M Coffee Research & Education Center, Frinj Coffee, Whittier College, Sussex Medical School (United Kingdom), and the School of Pharmacy at the College of London.


The goal of the ACES International Seed Grant program is to support awardees in establishing a strong international relationship that will continue to expand and flourish into a larger and substantial international collaborative effort that will ultimately benefit departments, programs, the College of ACES, and the University of Illinois.

The Spring 2020 recipients are:
Neslihan Akdeniz, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, "How to dispose of hatchery waste in the egg industry: developing collaboration with the largest layer hen hatching company in Japan”
Yi-Cheng Wang, Food Science and Human Nutrition, “Developing Biosensors for the Detection of Foodborne Contaminants” (China)
Soybean Innovation Lab will join researchers from Lilongwe University to identify and create sustainable market-based nutrition solutions to address food and nutrition insecurity among smallholder farmer households across Malawi. 

The Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) was awarded a $335,005 grant from the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) to address malnutrition in Malawi.

SIL’s nutrition team is led by Juan Andrade, associate professor of global nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Annette Donnelly, SIL program specialist. The team joins researchers from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) led by Kingsley Masamba to identify locally grown and processed foods and assess their capacity to enhance smallholder farmer households’ nutritional status by broadening dietary diversity throughout the calendar year.

Andrade states that the team is focused on “the critical drivers affecting the availability of delicious, inexpensive, nutritious, environmentally and culturally friendly, and safe food products available for smallholder households. We call this our DINES criteria.”

This latest grant adds to the extensive work already being conducted by SIL, housed in ACES and funded by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, to help bring research-based innovation and technology to develop soybean production in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Women sun-drying paddy near Mymensingh, Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Sarah Schwartz. 

The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss (ADMI) is working with Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) to consider and address gender dimensions and constraints to ensure that women smallholder farmers can benefit from new technologies.

ADMI’s current involvement in the project as part of the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest (PHLIL) follows earlier contributions of several ACES-based research groups. A main component of the work, the INGENAES Gender Technology Assessment tool, was originally developed by AgReach in 2017. In 2019, the ACES-based, USAID-funded Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium (ASMC) adapted the tool and built the capacity of BAU researchers to assess gendered barriers and enablers at various stages of technology uptake. BAU researchers use the tool to assess hermetically sealed storage bags and the BAU-STR grain dryer. 


To drive progress toward higher-yielding crops, a team from the University of Illinois is revolutionizing the ability to screen plants for key traits across an entire field. This work is supported by Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is creating more productive food crops by improving photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yields. 

ACES student Erin Henderson was studying abroad in Granada, Spain before returning home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In early 2020, the College of ACES had 88 students who were studying abroad across 32 different universities on five different continents. Most were able to experience about 6-8 weeks at their host university before the severity of the pandemic required action to return back to the United States, where they finished up their semester.

“Almost all of our university partners pivoted quickly and allowed our students to stay enrolled at their host universities when they returned back to the U.S. For one situation where the virtual option didn’t materialize in time, these students switched to Illinois courses,” said Jessa Barnard, director of ACES study abroad.

Even in the most challenging circumstances, the value of what study abroad can provide shines through. These students expressed a distinctively positive attitude about how their independence and flexibility guided their response through this crisis. They are grateful for what they were able to experience and would take the opportunity to do it again.


Five ACES graduate students, including Tess Lallemant for her photo titled "Deforestation Along the Araguaia River Corridor (Brazil)" were named among the 25 semifinalists in the Image of Research, an annual multidisciplinary competition celebrating the diversity and breadth of graduate student research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Please click the link above to view the photo.

"I took this picture during a field visit of the Araguaia River in November 2019. It shows how the forest was cleared and burned to be converted for other purposes, most likely for soy production or pasture," says Lallemant, who is a student in Agricultural and Consumer Economics advised by Madhu Khanna.


The Office of International Programs newsletter highlights the international activities in the College of ACES. If you have any comments, questions, or news items, please contact Leslie Sweet Myrick at lsweet@illinois.edu. Click here to: subscribe or unsubscribe from ACES international e-news.

Stay informed and involved! The Office of International Programs maintains lists of current international funding opportunities and upcoming international events.