Michael Gunderson Headshot

Michael Gunderson

Michael Gunderson graduated from ACE in 2001 with a concentration in Agribusiness, Farm, and Financial Management. After 18 years in academia, including seven years as a professor at Purdue University, he transitioned to working in agriculture finance. He is now Chief Credit Officer at Farm Credit Illinois. He credits the faculty and staff in ACE for illuminating the possibilities for him as a first-generation college student and for helping him understand the pros and cons of attending graduate school, which changed the trajectory of his career.

Outside of work, Michael stays busy with his wife and four kids. On top of their own activities and attending as many Illini sporting and cultural events as possible, Michael is also on the ACES Alumni Association Board.

Michael shared some advice for students and alumni, "Use the time on campus to build your network as much as possible and don't hesitate to leverage that network to your benefit after graduation. As an ACES Alumni Association Board member, I also encourage friends to be engaged in the Association and events."

Alum LaVontae Brooks posing for headshot

LaVontae Brooks

LaVontae Brooks graduated from ACE in 2015 with his BS in ACE with a concentration in Public Policy and Law. After graduation, he relocated to Washington, DC to work on Capitol Hill. Beginning as a Staff Assistant for a US Senator in 2016, his resume shows many steps up the ladder, landing him in his current role as the Deputy Chief of Staff for a Congressman in the US House of Representatives.

Beginning this fall, LaVontae will be pursuing a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in International Development and Policy at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy. Upon completion of his degree, he will be sworn in as a United States Diplomat working for the US State Department.

LaVontae not only credits his Public Policy and Law education in ACE for preparing him well for his career on Capitol Hill, but he also says that his experience going to the Dominican Republic his freshman year to learn about the country's agriculture and economic systems shaped his career. "That experience undoubtedly ignited my interest in traveling abroad, learning about other cultures, and now becoming a Diplomat within the next two years after I complete graduate school."

Alumna Carol Wallace posing in backyard

Carol Wallace

Carol Wallace graduated with her MS in Agricultural and Applied Economics in 2013. Originally from Zimbabwe, Carol lives in Bloomington, Illinois and is a Senior Program Coordinator for Context Global Development.

Carol calls her path since graduation "non-linear and full of adventure." After graduation, she made a significant career change from working in Ag Development in Zimbabwe to the insurance industry at State Farm. Spending seven years in insurance, a part of her always wanted to be back working in ag, specifically implementing social impact programs in Africa. Two years ago, that opportunity came for Carol when she started at Context Global Development (CGD) - a nonprofit providing think tank advisory and supporting program implementation for agricultural and social impact development donors.

Outside of work, traveling, and spending time with her family, Carol serves on the ACES Alumni Association Board as the ACE Vocational Director. She's excited about this role and encourages students and alumni to find ways to give back.

Alumna Molly Messner posing for headshot

Molly Messner

Molly Messner graduated in 2016 with a BS in ACE and a Public Policy and Law concentration. Upon graduation, she moved to Washington, DC for two years, working for a commodity brokerage firm and for a private-label grocery company. She returned to Illinois to start a job at Kraft Heinz in Chicago in 2018. Currently, she is a Manager of the Quaker Sourcing and Procurement team at PepsiCo, managing the procurement of seasonings, spices, flavors and chocolate that go into Quaker Oatmeal and Chewy bars!

Molly credits ACE for laying the foundation and background for a career in Supply Chain within the Consumer Packaged Goods industry. ACE allowed her to explore many different sectors within Food and Agriculture through coursework, experiential learning opportunities and internships. She also shared, "The small classes and close-knit alumni network have made it very easy to find an ACES alumni in most of the spaces I have navigated since graduation!"

Outside of work, Molly enjoys hanging out with her big, goofy dog and getting outside, especially during the Chicago summers. She also serves on the ACES Alumni Association Board as the Young Alumni Director - Chicago.