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Campus Chatter - November 2, 2017

World Food Prize selects 15 students for internship program

DES MOINES, Iowa — The World Food Prize Foundation announced the selection of its 2017 Fall George Washington Carver (GWC) Interns. This unique internship will allow these students to take on key roles in the international nonprofit organization as well as assume significant responsibility in planning and carrying out a wide range of the Foundation’s projects.

Fifteen interns from Iowa State University, Drake University, Grinnell College and Grand View University will learn firsthand both the public and private side of operating an international nonprofit organization. Working one-on-one with a staff mentor, each intern will play an integral role of this internationally renowned organization as well as the fall Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium.

"The George Washington Carver Internship is an unsurpassed professional development experience that provides exceptional opportunities in program design and implementation, as well as interaction with an array of international leaders in global food security,” said Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize.

“Carver Interns work directly with World Food Prize professional staff in planning the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, guiding the Global Youth Institute, staging the Iowa Hunger Summit and welcoming Laureates, government officials, business leaders and research scientists from over 40 countries."

This year’s interns are, from ISU, Sierra Becker, Kayla Kaalberg, Madison Lapke, Katherine Stewart, Victoria Butt, Michele Frederickson, Emma Robinson and Hannah Soma; from Drake, Lauren Blum, Madeline Cheek, Caroline Hogan, Sarah Schroeder and Gustav Swanson; from Grand View, Missy Farni; and from Grinnell, William Hamilton.

Apply for scholarship to National Biodiesel Conference

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is offering scholarships for students interested in attending the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo, Jan. 22-25, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas.

The application process for no-cost registration, travel scholarships, biodiesel poster presentations and even a shot at the podium is open for members of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel. The program is intended to foster professional relationships between budding and established scientists, share accurate information and increase collaboration with academia and the biodiesel industry.

Student opportunities include a poster session on biodiesel-related research or activities, a student-led breakout session to present their research, a pre-conference biodiesel educational overview and a mentoring session with prominent biodiesel scientists.

The NBB, USDA Biodiesel Education Program, United Soybean Board and the National Biodiesel Foundation sponsor the scholarships, which amount to a $1,200 conference registration and a $600 travel reimbursement. Apply by Nov. 19 at

Kentucky Ag Department seeking interns for next summer

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — College students pursuing careers in agriculture or government can apply for internships in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA).

State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said the internship program gives students a hands-on work experience that helps prepare them for future careers. In addition to agriculture, KDA interns can work in education, computer science, marketing, communications, pre-law and other fields.

Internships for the summer of 2018 will run from June-August. KDA said applicants must be currently enrolled in a college, university or vocational-technical program. Applicants can be enrolled in either undergraduate or graduate school.

Applications must be postmarked no later than Dec. 8. To learn more, visit

Syngenta Crop Challenge in Analytics contest kicks off

URBANA, Ill. — Food security relies on breeding crops that yield well no matter the conditions. Every year, seed companies test new hybrids in locations across the United States, in hopes of identifying the best out of thousands of hybrid/location combinations.

Syngenta, together with INFORMS Analytics Society, is asking for help in the form of a contest. “In the last two years, I have been a witness of the impact of the Syngenta Crop Challenge,” said Nicolas Martin, assistant professor of bioinformatics in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois and chair of the Crop Challenge prize committee.

“With hundreds of participants and submissions from all over the world from teams with backgrounds in engineering, computer sciences and economics, they provide unparalleled insights to solve complex problems in agriculture."

Martin encourages everyone with interest in big data to give the challenge a try. This year’s challenge is to predict the performance of new hybrids in untested environments, using data from past years. Contestants download and analyze real data – some 4.8 million data points from eight years of Syngenta’s hybrid tests in more than 2,000 locations – and use that to develop predictions about hybrids they tested this year.

There is no one right answer. The judges determine whether answers are reasonable from a biological standpoint, but they also take into account the methods, use of creativity and clarity of the presentation. Martin calls it an academic exercise and points to the many scientific papers that have been published by past contestants.

“The contest is unique because it’s making proprietary data from the company available to the public, and allowing the winning group to retain intellectual property rights to the solution and to publish their work. Syngenta just provides the money, the challenge and the data,” he said.

Data and more information are available at and submissions are due Jan. 11, 2018. The first-prize winner takes home $5,000. The Informs Analytics Society sponsors the contest, and it is made available by IdeaConnection.

2017 Illinois Friend of ACES award recipients honored

URBANA, Ill. — The University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) bestowed the 2017 Friend of ACES award on two remarkable individuals.

Evelyn Brandt Thomas of Springfield and George Obernagel III of Waterloo were honored on Oct. 7 as this year’s recipients during the Illinois 4-H Recognition Program in Champaign. The Friend of ACES Award recognizes non-alumni friends who have made outstanding contributions to the growth and success of the College of ACES.

Brandt Thomas is a businesswoman, philanthropist and civic leader. Growing up on a small family farm near Pleasant Plains, she was active in 4H. After graduating from Springfield High School in 1940, she earned an accounting degree from Illinois Business College, an unusual step for a young woman of that era. She and her brother Glen started a fertilizer business in the early 1950s to supplement the family’s income on the farm.

For more than 60 years, she and Glen have remained active in leading the family business, which has grown to become BRANDT Consolidated, Inc., a multimillion-dollar international company dedicated to helping farmers adopt new and profitable technologies to enable their success on the family farm.

In 2012, BRANDT was named to Inc. magazine’s list of 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies. Brandt Thomas also has a personal passion for NASCAR; she and BRANDT have been sponsors for several racers.

“Evelyn knows the importance of supporting young people in their pursuit of a college education,” said Angie Barnard, executive director of the Illinois 4-H Foundation, who nominated her for the award. “In addition to scholarships for 4H members, she and her late husband, Gordon, provided scholarship funds at Lincoln Land Community College, the University of Illinois-Springfield, the College of ACES and for the National FFA Organization.

“Evelyn and Gordon hoped to reduce the debt, and related stress, that young people have to accept in order to obtain higher education. She strives to make the lives of scholarship recipients a little easier and hopes they are able and willing to pay the generosity forward in the future.”

Obernagel graduated from McKendree College in Lebanon and completed graduate trust school at Northwestern University. In addition to his successful career in the financial industry, he is the owner/operator of a family farm with acreage in Nebraska, Arkansas and Illinois.

He also manages a purebred Angus herd, is part owner of seven Wm. Nobbe & Co. John Deere dealerships, and owns the Waterloo Republic Times newspaper and other businesses.

“George Obernagel is no stranger to the University of Illinois, College of ACES, 4-H or community service,” said Steve Loerch, former professor and head of the College of ACES Department of Animal Sciences, who nominated him for the award. “His dedication to U of I puts him in the same category as loyal alumni.

“In fact, many have suggested that it seemed that George is an ACES alumnus based on his commitment. He is an avid supporter of 4-H and FFA, and encourages opportunities for College of ACES students. He values hands-on learning and supports travel and professional development activities for the University of Illinois livestock judging and evaluation team.”

USDA funds $2M organic corn breeding, testing at U of I

URBANA, Ill. — The USDA announced it will invest nearly $2 million toward a University of Illinois project that will allow farmers, researchers and consumers to participate in breeding corn optimized for organic production.

Farmers will help test maize germplasm developed at U of I and the Mandaamin Institute in Wisconsin, and consumers will give their opinions on the quality of the grain and products made with each line of organic corn.

“The project is unique because it integrates all the components of the food chain, from the field to table, connecting researchers, producers, and consumers,” says Carmen Ugarte, research specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I, and the lead investigator on the project. “Traditionally, farmers stop worrying about what happens to their corn after it is delivered to the grain elevator. But we’re trying to breed with the end product in mind, and we are keen to connect producers and consumers.”

Martin Bohn, corn breeder and geneticist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and co-principal investigator, notes this project will provide the scientific insights needed to design cutting-edge breeding strategies for the development of cultivars wanted in the organic market.

“To be successful, each breeding program needs well-defined objectives, and in the organic marketplace, it isn’t only about yield. Processing and nutritional quality are of great importance for the consumer, and the farmer needs cultivars that compete well with weeds, are resistant to pests and diseases, and tolerate stresses like drought, heat, and low nutrient availability,” Bohn says.

Bill Davison, a U of I Extension educator and co-investigator on the project, says that growers currently do not have many choices in the marketplace when it comes to organically produced corn. But, he says, some top-performing genetic lines have been tested at U of I. These need to be evaluated across a variety of conditions to make further improvements, and that’s where participating farmers come in.

The project will develop a participatory testing network with farmers from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York. “At each location, our researchers will work with farmers to establish variety trials to assess the agronomic performance of elite corn hybrids developed at U of I and the Mandaamin Institute, with co-investigator Walter Goldstein,” Ugarte says.

The researchers will also evaluate the influence of soil health on yield and grain quality and processing characteristics. “This will let us test theories about the ties between soil and crop health,” says Michelle Wander, co-principal investigator and soil scientist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I.

All materials tested under field conditions will also be evaluated for quality and performance of the end products. Corn will be processed into several different types of food products, such as corn bread or tortilla chips, at the Pilot Processing Plant on the U of I campus and then tested by consumers and researchers. Co-investigator Juan Andrade from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I will evaluate nutrient content and things like volatile aromatic compounds that influence our sensory experience of food.

Finally, co-investigator Bryan Endres, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at U of I, Wander, and others will work with private breeders and processors and an advisory board consisting of industry leaders to identify and promote organizational structures and legal agreements that support participatory breeding networks to improve the organic seed supply. Materials produced by the effort will be made available through eOrganic, eXtensions’ organic community of practice. 

Wintersteen named Iowa State University president

AMES, Iowa — The Board of Regents, state of Iowa, has named Wendy Wintersteen the 16th president of Iowa State University.


Her appointment concludes a nearly six-month national search. She will take office on Nov. 20. Wintersteen, endowed dean of ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, will succeed Benjamin Allen, who has served as interim president since May 8.

Steven Leath, ISU’s 15th president, assumed the presidency at Auburn University last spring.

Wintersteen, 61, has led the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences since 2006. During her 11 years as dean, she helped raise more than $247 million in donor support for students, faculty and staff. Undergraduate enrollment in the college has grown by 90 percent, and the college’s placement rate for recent graduates has consistently been 97 percent or higher.

She has been with ISU since 1979, leaving only briefly (1989-90) to serve as acting National Pesticide Education Program leader for the USDA’s Extension Service, Washington, D.C. Prior to becoming dean, she served as the college’s senior associate dean and associate director of the Experiment Station. In her career at ISU, she also has served as professor of entomology, director of extension to Agriculture and Natural Resources and coordinator of pesticide management and pesticide applicator training programs.

She serves on the board of trustees of the Farm Foundation and the board of directors of the U.S.-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund. She is president of the board of directors for the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation.

Wintersteen received the Carl F. Hertz Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award from the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers in 2016. She was honored as a Kansas State University Alumni Fellow for professional accomplishments and distinguished service in 2007. She also is a member of the Entomological Society of America and the American Assoc. of University Women.

She earned a bachelor of science in crop protection (1978) from K-State and her doctorate in entomology (1988) from ISU.

Her annual salary at Iowa State has been set at $525,000 in year one, $550,000 in year two and $590,000 in year three. She also will receive a three-year deferred compensation plan with an annual contribution of $125,000 in year one, $150,000 in year two and $200,000 in year three. Wintersteen’s contract is for five years.

The 21-member presidential search committee was co-chaired by College of Design Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez and Dan Houston, chair, president and CEO of Principal Financial Group. Washington, D.C.-based AGB Search guided the recruitment process at the direction of the Board of Regents.