An Update from the Chair

I joined the Department of Agriculture as chair on July 1, 2020.  I bring to my job over eight years of experience in Department leadership, however, starting this position in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging.  Despite the pandemic, the Department is in a very stable position given that we have accomplished many things through our great vision, mission, and goals.

Our Mission

Departmental vision is to enhance the global food and agriculture industry by providing a premier educational experience, conducting high-quality research, and providing timely outreach services.  This mission also supports the University’s strategic plan ‘Educate. Connect. Elevate’.

 List of Major Accomplishments

  • The Department awarded approximately $62,400 in scholarships.
  • The Department boasts state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities, including the 600 acres Teaching and Research Farm and the 25 acres Horticulture Center.
  • The Department continues to actively pursue virtual recruiting activities amid COVID-19. Undergraduate enrollment remained strong at 425.
  • We hosted a virtual Agriculture Career Fair.
  • Very strong internship opportunities and job placement.
  • 17 agriculture students participated in the Honors program.
  • Purchased new rolling tables for the greenhouse to improve teaching and research.
  • Purchased new van to transport students to and from teaching and research facilities off-campus.
  • Exploring new sequences in Precision Agriculture and Equine Science and Management.
  • Hosted FFA Day at Illinois State University event on June 1, 2021.

Graduate Program

  • Graduate Program Committee is formed.
  • Eliminated a comprehensive exam for the non-thesis M.S. program.
  • Removed GRE requirement for graduate admissions.
  • Planning to introduce an accelerated (4+1) M.S. program.
  • Funded nine graduate assistantships; six from general revenue and three from external funding
  • Many professional meetings were canceled due to COVID-19, but during non-pandemic times faculty routinely present research findings with their students at the ISU Graduate Symposium and at state, regional and national meetings virtually.
  • Many of the faculty publications are co-authored by graduate students.

Upcoming Events

I am very excited to join the Department of Agriculture here at ISU.  A department that is full of energy from faculty, students and staff who are working hard to plant their passion.  If we have accomplished what we have shared in this newsletter under COVID-19 pandemic, imagine what we can accomplish together post COVID-19.  I am very excited about the bright future of the department and looking forward to resuming of face-to-face instruction in the Fall of 2021.  It will be great to meet with faculty and students face-to-face as we chart an exciting future of our department.  The future of ISU Department of Agriculture is very bright.  I invite you to follow us on Department of Agriculture WebsiteFacebook, Instagram, and YouTube channel. Thank you all for your support.

Dr. Fanson Kidwaro

Department Chair


Another semester draws to a close as the grass turns green and spring planting is well underway.  I want to first congratulate each of the Ag Department’s graduates on their accomplishments, it has certainly been an interesting end to their academic career.  I also want to welcome our new graduates as the newest members of the Ag Alumni Association.  This is certainly my favorite time of year and I get energized when I think about the contributions that our newest Ag Alumni members will make in the world as they embark on their respective career paths.  I often think about my time in the classroom and how each of those experiences prepared me for each step of my career journey.  The experiences and learning made available to students at Illinois State University are unique and irreplaceable.

We are rolling out this newsletter as a means of keeping everyone appraised of the happenings and achievements in the department.  There are great things happening in our department, but we sometimes don’t do a good job celebrating these accomplishments.  We have some fantastic momentum within our alumni group and I am looking forward to working with the leadership team and the Ag Department faculty to further support our association’s mission.  Please be on the lookout for upcoming updates and opportunities for involvement.

Please fill out the form and let us know what you are up to. We would love to include you in our Alumni Spotlight (newsletter and Social Media posts).

Kyle Earing ’04

President of Agriculture Alumni Association


Derek Durdle ’20 and Kelsey Grindle ’15  are the new owners of Casey’s Garden Shop and Florist.

Kevin “KJ” Johnson ’04 was named interim president and CEO of the Bloomington-based Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA).

Matt Ginder ’06 is inducted into the College of Applied Science Technology Hall of Fame.


  • Gardens at the Horticulture Center provided an opportunity for more than 4,000 visitors to learn about horticulture.
  • Horticulture Center Hatch Fundraising for the Pinetum raised $15,200. The goal was $9,000!
  • Continued a partnership with GROWMARK to culture turf variety plots and host its annual professional field day event.
  • Hosted 17th Annual Autumnal Festival at the Horticulture Center.
  • The Department of Agriculture is actively involved with the Renewable Energy major.
  • Celebrated Earth Day and Arbor Day with prairie restoration work. Planted about 40 trees in the last year.
  • Getting WiFi at the Center this summer.

Jessica Chambers, Director of the Horticulture Center


  • Renovated Lexington farm classroom and installed new technology.
  • Purchased a new Grain Drill.
  • Planning to purchase a Kubota (RTV).
  • Working with equipment company to provide modern technology equipment for teaching and research.
  • Sheep will be grazing the newly designed pasture.
  • The farm is fully staffed from all the retirements since 2017.
  • Jeff Bender, a long-time GROWMARK/ISU employee of 42 years is retiring at the end of June 2021. So just as we were fully staffed another retirement is in the works.

Jason Lindbom, Farm Manager


Cori Malone has assumed the responsibilities of Chair of our Recruitment and Retention Committee and Advisor to our Agriculture Ambassadors.  Agriculture Ambassadors continue to hold virtual High School visits to assist with our recruitment efforts.  Cori and David Malone host virtual tours to local Community Colleges.  They also host prospective student tours both virtual and any who wish to visit campus.

Illinois State University Admissions hosted two Redbird Days on campus this April that brought 1,200 prospective students and their families to campus. The Agriculture Department hosted special sessions on these days for students interested in further their education in an Agriculture discipline.

The recruitment activities are starting to yield positive results.  Our plan is to increase these activities post COVID-19.  Faculty and staff met monthly to discuss Recruitment and Retention efforts.

Post COVID-19 the Department will continue to host individual student visits on an ongoing basis.  Visits may include appointments with the academic advisor, department chair, faculty in the area students are interested in, a campus tour with a student ambassador, Admissions, and tours of the Horticulture Center and University Farm.  The Department has traditionally hosted approximately 50 of these visits per year, but we plan to double this number to 100.


Our amazing students are accomplishing great things!

Redbird Marketing Team

Remote learning does not hinder the ISU NAMA (Department of Agriculture RSO) Marketing Competition team’s success

Student planting in Horticulture Center garden

Looking at the bright yellow fist-sized blooms of marigolds, Katie Robinson said she was happy. Happy? She was in the second week of classes kneeling in the dirt, in the middle of a heat wave. But the senior horticulture major was right where she wanted to be.

Julissa Navarrete holds a 2-day-old lamb in the larger lamb barn at the University Farm in Lexington.

In February, University Marketing and Communications senior photographer Lyndsie Schlink followed Julissa Navarrete through a day in her life as an agriscience graduate student doing research at the University Farm at Lexington.

In a time when so many events are being delayed or simply canceled, some Department of Agriculture students were able to take part in an annual event for food and agricultural students from across the United States.

Joseph Jangulo (left), Zambia, and Frederick Adomako and Godfred Ankomah, Ghana.

We celebrate scholars from around the world and encourage them with tools and resources to ensure all-round success at Illinois State


We are shaping the future through teaching.

students in classroom with masks on

Many of the students, faculty, and staff around Illinois State University have had to adapt to a new and different learning environment put in place at the beginning of the academic school year. While most courses were either taught in online or hybrid formats last semester, there are several that are meeting in-person this spring—something that students and faculty are excited to talk about.

Julissa Navarrete '19, a graduate student in animal sciences, ractices using the ultrasound while Assistant Professor Dr. Drew Lugar and classmates observe.

Illinois agriculture remains rooted in tradition, but emerging technologies are continually advancing the industry. For students in Illinois State’s Agriculture Department, hands-on learning opportunities are essential for merging the past and present with classroom theory and current best practices.

Graduate student Julissa Navarette '19 holds a newborn at the University Farm.

Students are on call for deliveries as part of the Department of Agriculture’s calf and lamb watch program, which has grown in popularity.


Our faculty are making great contributions via research.

  • Submitted 13 external proposals requesting $2,342,963 in grants. Received five awards totaling $68,792.
  • Dr. Heller is collaborating on three projects (more than $23 million) funded by USDA NIFA (Pennycress Domestication and Commercialization), DOE IPReP (Pennycress Resilience), and USDA Research, Education, and Economics Information System (REEIS) (Training Statisticians).
  • Dr. Boerngen is collaborating on a project (A Research Agenda for Cooperatives) funded by the USDA Non-Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture and another 4-year, $4 million USDA NIFA project (Improving the Economic and Ecological Sustainability of US Crop Production through On-Farm Precision Experimentation).
  • Dr. Tetteh and Dr. Spaulding received a grant from the U.S. Popcorn Board to learn about the popcorn producers’ best management practices.
  • Dr. Kopsell is collaborating on a project funded by the USDA NIFA to create research opportunities for faculty and students in the investigation of the energy potential and feasibility of incorporating anaerobic digestion of plant wastes in small to medium-sized conventional and organic farming composting operations.
  • Published 15 Refereed Manuscripts.
  • Published 7 Refereed Abstracts.
  • 23 Invited Presentations.
  • 20 Refereed Presentations.
  • Many faculty serve on editorial boards for publications in their discipline and serve on selected committees for their professional societies.
  • Many faculty review manuscripts and grant proposals.
Two Agriculture professors standing in a corn field

It wasn’t long into her teaching tenure at Illinois State University that Dr. Iuliia Tetteh, an assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture, noticed that learning tactics she found interesting and exciting as a student didn’t catch the attention of the young people she was teaching.

four people in a field

Illinois State is part of a $10 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture that looks to turn a cover crop into biodiesel, jet fuel, and animal feed.

Felmley Hall of Science

Dr. David Kopsell, professor of horticulture, and Dr. LC (Liangcheng) Yang, assistant professor of environmental health, have received a two-year, nearly $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).


Few articles about us in the media.

Solving ag teacher shortages by learning what motivates them to stay

Facing cancer, mom sees daughter in ISU graduation a year early.

Growing the future of farming Illinois Farm Bureau invests in agriculture at ISU.



Our faculty and staff are recognized for their accomplishments and dedication.

  • Dr. Boerngen received the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Teaching Award of Merit.
  • Dr. Earing and Dr. Heller received the RISE Award. The Redbirds RISE to the COVID Challenge award acknowledges the work of faculty and staff who have exemplified one or more of the RISE attributes (Resilience, Innovation, Service, Empathy) in the performance of their job functions, and in doing so, have positively impacted the Division of Academic Affairs.
  • Dr. Solomonson received the Section 3 Honorary FFA Degree.
  • Dr. Solomonson received two research awards at the 2020 North Central American Association for Agricultural Education (AAAE) Research Conference: First Runner Up in the Innovative Poster Division and Second Runner Up in the Innovative Poster Division.
  • Dr. Spaulding and Dr. Tetteh received the 2020 Impact Award.
  • Dr. Spaulding received the University Outstanding Researcher Award.
  • Dr. Boerngen received the Department of Agriculture Research Award.
  • Dr. Barrowclough received the Department of Agriculture Teaching Award.
  • Dr. Tetteh and Dr. Spaulding received the Department of Agriculture Service Award.
overhead view of Redbird Plaza

New freshmen and new transfer students nominated the following Illinois State faculty, staff, and students for a 2020 Impact Award.

Fell Gate

The Office of the Provost named Dr. Lara Hansfield and Dr. Aslihan Spaulding winners of the Outstanding University Researcher Award, and Dr. Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum and Tyler Lotz winners of the Outstanding University Creative Activity Award.


We are making a difference in the community.


Please join the director of the Illinois State University Horticulture Center, Jessica Chambers ’93, as she guides guests through the beautiful gardens of the Center in a two-part virtual video series.