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Joel Balentyne
I draw from the foundation of knowledge the U of I provided me every day. I am able to answer nearly every question regarding plant material and give helpful insight throughout the design process due to the array of topics that I learned about through U of I’s comprehensive program.
Crop Sciences

Joel Balentyne, a University of Illinois graduate, said he enjoys the unpredictability of his job as a customer service representative for Midwest Arbor Corporation in Spring Grove, Ill.

“I love that every day is an adventure,” he said. “I am able to go from home to home and enhance their living environment. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.”

His job responsibilities include meeting with clients to determine their landscaping needs and presenting new concepts, designs and ideas to customers for review. He manages personnel including foremen and crew members, and organizes their daily tasks. He purchases materials and completes site inventories and layouts. In addition, he diagnoses turf, trees, shrubs and hardscape problems.

“I enjoy meeting new people daily as well as expressing creativity,” he said. “Most of all, I enjoy working in an industry which that me to create a backyard oasis for my clients.”

He said it takes a strong work ethic and other leadership qualities to excel as a customer service representative.

“My acute attention to detail and my ability to communicate with others has allowed me to excel
in my position,” he said. “Listening to the needs of my customers and being personable is also important.”

Balentyne believes his U of I experience gave him the foundation to succeed in the landscape industry.

“I draw from the foundation of knowledge the U of I provided me every day,” he said. “I am able to answer nearly every question regarding plant material and give helpful insight throughout the design process due to the array of topics that I learned about through U of I’s comprehensive program.”

Jeff Firkins
Becoming a professor is very rewarding if you have a real passion, if you want to have questions answered, and if you want to be on the leading edge of finding that information.
Animal Sciences
Delaware, Ohio

Jeff Firkins quenches his thirst for knowledge as an animal sciences professor at The Ohio State University.

“I judge every day based on whether or not I learned something,” said Firkins, a University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences graduate. “The best part about my job is that almost every day I learn something that I didn’t know the day before.”

Firkins has a 70 percent research and 30 percent teaching appointment. He studies dairy nutrition, including alternatives to starch, digestibility and rumen microbial production.

“Becoming a professor is very rewarding if you have a real passion, if you want to have questions answered, and if you want to be on the leading edge of finding that information,” he said.

Firkins enjoys teaching students in the classroom as well as in the laboratory.

“The best part is when I see the students’ light bulbs turn on and they have this ‘aha’ moment and when they really understand it,” he said.

Firkins said it charges him to know his opinion and perspective are valued as a researcher and professor.

“It gives me reinforcement for what I do,” he said. “It is important to me that I don’t ever lose sight of the importance of researching and discussing a topic.”

Firkins said your reputation means everything in the field of research.

“You need to be known as the go-to person. While I don’t need to be the go-to person for everything, for a few things, I want to be the person people want to talk to,” he said. “All researchers need to make their mark.”

Gregg Rentfrow
The most rewarding aspect of my job is working with my undergraduate students and the 4-H youth throughout the Commonwealth. It was once said that a good teacher teaches, but a great teacher inspires. I try to remember that philosophy when I work with UK’s students and Kentucky’s youth.
Animal Sciences
Richmond, Kentucky

Gregg Rentfrow, a graduate of the University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences, said his degree allowed him to marry practical knowledge with science.

“I learn better by doing, so the hands-on experiences I received in U of I laboratories and on the meats judging and meat evaluation teams helped me tremendously,” said Rentfrow, a University of Kentucky (UK) meat science assistant Extension professor.

Rentfrow said he believes his career is a calling. 

“I work closely with Kentucky’s meat processors, livestock producers, and local food entrepreneurs, as well as collaborate with more than 120 county Extension offices throughout the Commonwealth and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to promote the meat and livestock industries.”

In addition, Rentfrow teaches a meat science class, which covers everything from growth and development to hot dogs. He also oversees more than 600 youth participating in Kentucky’s 4-H Country Ham Project and 4-H Meats Judging Contest.

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is working with my undergraduate students and the 4-H youth throughout the Commonwealth,” he said. “It was once said that a good teacher teaches, but a great teacher inspires. I try to remember that philosophy when I work with UK’s students and Kentucky’s youth.”    

Rentfrow also tries to pass on the same lessons and experiences he gained at the U of I to his students.

Grant Grebner
Whether I’m judging a livestock show or lecturing to a classroom of incoming freshmen, I have the opportunity and responsibility to make a positive influence in students’ lives.
Animal Sciences

Animal science, agricultural economics, and pork production are just a few courses taught by Grant Grebner at Illinois Central College (ICC) in East Peoria, Illinois.

“I teach both transfer and occupational classes in a variety of areas and coordinate schedules, teaching loads and course content,” he said. “I also coach the college’s livestock judging and meat animal evaluation teams, and I serve as advisor to the Agri-Business Club and the Postsecondary Agricultural Students organization.”

Before joining the teaching staff at ICC, Grant worked on his family farm, was the managing editor of the Hampshire Herdsman and judged livestock shows across the country.

“Whatever my career at the time, I find the people associated with agriculture to be the most fascinating and passionate people I have met,” he said. “My career in agriculture has been an experience in itself, and I am fortunate to teach the youth of the industry.”

Grant said his time at the University of Illinois had a major impact on his life. The instructors he learned from influenced his career as a teacher tremendously and he is grateful to have studied under some of the best agricultural higher education.

“Whether it’s judging a livestock show or lecturing to a classroom of incoming freshman students, I have the opportunity and responsibility to make a positive influence in the students’ lives.”

Craig Steck
The pork producers I work with are self-made, successful, and intelligent people. Being able to learn from them as well as add value to their businesses is extremely rewarding. Our interactions and relationships have made me a better consultant and have taught me how to be more successful in my personal endeavors.
Animal Sciences

Craig Steck works with pork producers to help them produce high-quality, nutritious pork day after day.

“It’s a great job with a great company in a great industry,” he said.

It’s the day-to-day interactions with clients that Craig enjoys the most about his job.

“The producers I work with are self-made, successful, and intelligent people,” Craig said. “Being able to learn from them as well as add value to their businesses is extremely rewarding. Our interactions and relationships have made me a better consultant and have taught me how to be more successful in my personal endeavors.”

Craig said achieving his personal and career goals has been made possible by his degree in animal science from the University of Illinois.

“My education is invaluable,” he said. “The animal sciences department offered in-class projects and hands-on experience,” Craig said, “which gave me a leg up in the professional world. My involvement in university-supported extracurricular activities developed my skills to interact, communicate, and debate with others, which provided me the experience to be successful in my career today.”

Becky Carlisle Doyle
The knowledge I gained from the University of Illinois jumpstarted my career, but the contacts I developed have been even more beneficial to me.
Agricultural Communications

When choosing a college, Becky Carlisle Doyle said it is important to consider the career networking opportunities that an institution offers.

“If you know what you will be doing after college, consider the network you can build in college that will benefit your future career,” said Carlisle Doyle, an agricultural communications graduate.

She found value in attending a university that provides students with knowledge, in addition to vital networking opportunities.

“The knowledge I gained from the University of Illinois jumpstarted my career, but the contacts I developed have been even more beneficial to me,” she said.

She participated in Ag Council, Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, Hoof ‘n Horn, and 4-H House. She also wrote for the Student News and Information Bureau’s student-run newsletter, worked in the photo lab and produced radio tapes.

“Every day I interacted with smart, forward-thinking, energetic people, including my professors, students, friends and mentors,” she said.

She also developed many important skills through her course work and extracurricular activities.

“My communication skills, especially my writing and presentation skills, were honed. I learned the basics of fiscal, project and personnel management,” she said. “My U of I degrees gave me a skill set that facilitated my career path.”

Today Carlisle Doyle is responsible for project management as a senior consultant for The Context Network. She and her husband, Ken, a U of I animal sciences graduate, are also partners of Oak Grove Pork Farm near Gillespie. She provides strategic direction and manages regulatory compliance.

“To excel, students need to fulfill their responsibilities and add value to their client’s efforts. They need to solve problems effectively and efficiently,” she said. “They must develop interpersonal and external communications skills and they must surround themselves with smart people and challenging ideas. The U of I is the perfect place to do that.”

Taylor Mason
Wherever I am, at a comedy club in New York City, on a Disney cruise ship, in a theater in Dallas or filming a TV show in Hollywood, I constantly meet U of I alumni. We have an instant bond, and I’m always proud to claim my Illini heritage.
Agricultural Communications
Moorestown, Illinois

At the University of Illinois, Taylor Mason was a varsity football player, a ventriloquist, a boyfriend to the dean’s daughter, and a student in agricultural communications.

Yes, he remains a jack of all trades to this day. Mason is a comedian, author, musician and ventriloquist in Moorestown, N.J.

“My responsibility is to make people laugh hard – in TV studios, theaters, clubs, colleges, cruise ships and churches,” he said. “I don’t really have a job. In fact, I’ve never had a job. I love what I do and get paid to do it. I’m very lucky.”

Mason’s career in comedy began when he was a student at the U of I.

“Those were very fun shows in the beginning. As a rule, I was always supported by my fellow students, professors and the university itself,” he said.

Without question, he believes his time at the U of I set him up for success for the rest of his life.

“My job is to communicate ideas to a vast array of people,” he said. “My agricultural communications classes were instrumental in making me the kind of writer and presenter who can relate ideas in a fast, efficient and well-worded way.”

From the inside of a cow to an auction call, Mason said that everything he learned as an agricultural major has played directly into his career as a comedian.

“As an undergraduate, I did some radio work for the U of I and the Illinois Farm Bureau. Thirty-two years later, I have just completed a one-year television and billboard campaign for the Missouri Farm Bureau. All that information I learned as an undergraduate came in handy,” he said.

He said there is nothing he would change about his time at the University of Illinois.

“I learned a lot about writing, chemistry, farming, agronomy, agribusiness and people,” he said. “I had great professors. I made lifelong friends. I earned varsity letters. I began a career that inspires me to this day. I even graduated.”

He said that when it comes to choosing a college, students should not base their decision on the success of the university’s sports teams.

“Talk to students at the university about what’s good and what’s not so good about the school,” he said. “Talk to students in your major about what they’re doing, where they’re spending their time after school, what they’re doing during the summer, and what they want to do in the future.”

Mason said prospective students who consider the U of I will discover students who are ambitious, focused and confident.

“The U of I has reached incredible heights because the people who make that place go are a special group from the head of the departments to the people who cook in the dining halls, from the professors to the students,” Mason said.

The U of I is not like any school in the nation, he said. And he would know. Mason did a college tour for 14 years, performing at more than 2,500 different institutions.

“Wherever I am, at a comedy club in New York City, on a Disney cruise ship, in a theater in Dallas or filming a TV show in Hollywood, I constantly meet U of I alumni,” he said. “We have an instant bond, and I’m always proud to claim my Illini heritage.”

Rosie Connor
I didn't recognize my potential, but my mentors in the College of ACES did. They made a huge difference in my life. If it had not been for them, I'm not sure where I would be today.
Agricultural Communications

“My only advice would be to follow your dreams and don't let others discourage you in the pursuit of your dreams,” said Connor, a University of Illinois graduate in agricultural communications.

Connor discovered the encouragement and support she needed to pursue her dreams from her advisor and professors at the U of I.

“I didn't recognize my potential, but my mentors in the College of ACES did. They made a huge difference in my life,” she said. “If it had not been for them, I'm not sure where I would be today.”

Connor also credits her success to hard work, integrity and her world-class education.

Today she is the director of philanthropic initiatives and partnerships at Snow College and is the executive director of the Snow College Foundation in Ephraim, Utah. She spearheads fundraising, grant writing and alumni outreach functions.

“I enjoy the fact that I make a difference in the lives of thousands of students that need financial assistance to achieve their educational dreams,” she said. “Knowing that my efforts can help others is extremely rewarding.”

Implications of Bt hybrid use in Illinois

Published April 5, 2012
Ninety-five percent of the producers who participated in the regional 2012 Corn and Soybean Classic meetings last January said they planted a Bt hybrid in 2011. This very high use rate has been common for several years across Illinois in spite of low numbers of key insect pests such as the European corn borer and the western corn rootworm.

Intense use of Bt hybrids is also anticipated for the 2012 growing season. "I have questioned the wisdom of applying such intense selection pressure on insect populations when many of the pest species are well below economic levels in most producers' fields," said Gray. Nonetheless, this pattern is not expected to change.

When Bt hybrids entered the market place in 1996 and for many years thereafter, the use of a 20 percent refuge was the standard protocol for the Corn Belt, based upon the use of Bt hybrids aimed primarily at the European corn borer, which express a high dosage level of Cry proteins. In 2003, Bt hybrids were commercialized for corn rootworms, and similar refuge requirements were implemented across the Midwest, even though the Bt hybrids targeted at corn rootworms were not high dose and the mating characteristics, along with dispersal patterns of adult corn rootworms, are different than those of corn borers.

Why were the refuge requirements similar for such distinctly different insects?

"Because of familiarity, convenience, and thus, the greater likelihood of implementation of the 20 percent structured refuge by producers rather than tailoring refuge requirements to the unique biological characteristics of corn rootworms," said Gray.

Today producers have more flexibility with respect to the type of refuge they implement. Although more than half of the producers at the 2012 Classics indicate they intend to use the 20 percent structured refuge this growing season, the seed blend (refuge-in-a-bag) strategy is gaining popularity as more pyramided Bt hybrids enter the marketplace.

At the 2012 Classics, producers were asked if they planted a refuge in 2011. On average, 83 percent of producers said they had established a refuge. The proper establishment of refuges will become increasingly important as more acres are planted to Bt hybrids, selection pressure increases, and the threat of the development of western corn rootworm resistance looms.

Approximately 37 percent of the producers who took part in the 2012 Classics will use a seed blend as their refuge and hedge against insect resistance development.

"From a convenience angle, it's easy to see why this approach will increase in popularity," said Gray. Of concern is the anticipated reduction in the volume of non-Bt seed produced by the seed industry as refuge requirements drop from 20 percent levels, which could make it more difficult for producers to purchase elite germplasm from non-Bt product lines. Access to non-Bt hybrids by producers is important if the industry wants to maintain an integrated approach to pest management across the Corn Belt.

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Black cutworm moths abundant and on the move

Published April 5, 2012

Editor's note: High-resolution digital files are available to use with this story at http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/news/News_Photos/weeds

Professor of entomology and crop sciences Extension coordinator Mike Gray urges producers to look for early signs of leaf-feeding injury from black cutworm larvae. The migratory moths, which lay eggs on winter annual weeds in producers' fields, have been captured in pheromone traps throughout much of Illinois. Following hatch from the eggs, the larvae begin to feed on weeds, but they eventually have the potential to cut seedling corn plants.

Record-breaking warm temperatures in March persisted into early April, and as a consequence many fields across southern and central Illinois have been planted and are beginning to emerge. Corn in the one- to four-leaf stage of development is most susceptible to cutting by black cutworm larvae.

"Even if you planted a Bt hybrid, don't be lulled into complacency," said Gray. Under heavy infestations, control afforded by some Bt hybrids may be inadequate. University of Illinois Extension personnel Dale Baird (Lee County) and John Fulton (Logan, Menard, and Sangamon) reported captures of nine or more moths over a one- to two-day period on March 24 and March 30. Retired crop systems Extension educator Jim Morrison reported that 16 moths were caught on April 2, the earliest and most significant capture in many years.

Fields most at risk from black cutworm injury include those heavily infested with winter annual weeds. Favorite targets for egg-laying black cutworm moths include mouse-eared chickweed, bitter cress, shepherd's purse, yellow rocket, and pepper grass. More information about the biology, life history, and scouting procedures for the black cutworm is available at: http://extension.cropsci.illinois.edu/content/black-cutworm.

Gray encourages readers to visit the following North Central IPM PIPE website (http://apps.csi.iastate.edu/pipe/?c=entry) to view captures of black cutworm moths. According to Kelly Estes, State Survey Coordinator, Illinois Natural History Survey, trapping for other insect pests -- the European corn borer, corn earworm, western bean cutworm, and fall armyworm -- will also be reported on this site throughout the summer.

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