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December Newsletter

ACE Newsletter

From the Department Head

As the last leaves drop here in Urbana, we in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics have much to be grateful about.  Nearly 700 undergraduate majors and 80 graduate students keep us energized, The College of ACES welcomed a new Dean, Dr. Kim Kidwell, an Illinois native and distinguished Crop Scientist.  Dr. Kidwell formerly served at Washington State University. She succeeds our ACE colleague, Dr. Robert Hauser, who served as Dean for the past seven years and will retire in January.  We also welcomed a new head of Academic Programs in the College, Dr. Prasanta Kalita of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.  The Department welcomed a new undergraduate advisor, Caroline Ewing (who, along with her predecessor Theresa Miller, crafted this Newletter) and a new Assistant Head, Daniele Frerichs.  We are having successes in recruiting new faculty – to be announced later. Last, but importantly, the Department of ACE will soon have a new Head.  Dr. Paul Ellinger, Head for the last seven years, became Vice Provost for Budget and Resource Planning at the University of Illinois in April.  I now sit as the Interim Head of Department as the process of identifying Paul’s successor moves toward conclusion.  Please check the website for breaking information about a new leader. 

In my short time in the Department’s Main Office, I have been awed by the work of the faculty and staff.  They are superb and caring teachers.  They are deeply engaged in work of great import, from delivering breaking news and analysis to farm operators, to determining how best to promote energy conservation, to improving livelihoods in developing countries. They are winning highly competitive grants for research and outreach. They are publishing cutting edge research findings.  They are definitely playing in the “big leagues.”  I am humbled to help escort this very active and exciting department through to the arrival of a new torch bearer.

In this Newsletter, you will learn about some outstanding student accomplishments, meet a new faculty member, and learn where one of our retired colleagues is today. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us any time. Go Illini!  Go Department of ACE!

John Braden, Ph.D.
Interim Head, ACE Department

ACE Team Advances to Final Four of Competition in Las Vegas

ACE professor, Brenna Ellison, led a team of ACE students to the top four competitors in the National Gorcers' Association (NGA) Student Case Study Competition in Las Vegas last March.

Final Four Student GroupThe NGA is the national trade association for independent grocers. For the case competition, student teams developed an e-commerce model for a small independent grocer based out of Utah. The competition required the students to indentify key target markets for e-commerce, select an appropriate platform for online shopping, and develop effective marketing strategies to promote the new e-commerce solution. In each round of competition, student teams had 20 minutes to present their proposed strategy to a panel of industry judges, with a question and answer session. ACE junior Gaby Kreissler said, "I most appreciated the opportunity to learn confidence in speaking in front of professionals and networking with future employers."

Illinois alum, President and CEO of Niemann Foods, Rich Niemann worked with Ellison to help involve U of I in the competition. This is the third year of Illinois' participation in the competition. 

"It was a great learning experience to learn about an actual business, implement a business plan for them, and share it to a room full of people," said Kreissler. Team members included (in photo L-R): Kreissler, Sierra Beery, Austin Fee, and Connor Sommer.

Project Hart

Project Hart Logo

"Imagine a world where every child carries around a wealth of knowledge at his or her fingertips. Imagine a world where every child can grow to love reading because he or she has access to a virtually unlimited collection of written works."

ACE senior, Jorian Heal, is making this dream a reality. After receiving thank you notes from kids in Ferguson, Missouri, who had received donations from her charity Project Hart, Heal knew that the work her and her team were doing was impactful and had the power to make a major difference in lives across the world. 

Project Hart participantsA group of University of Illinois students, led by Heal, created Project Hart one year ago. Project Hart's mission is to provide free e-readers to young people in need. Their goal is to eliminate the issue of accessibility of books for individuals around the world. Project Hart enables individuals from all over the world make either monetary contributions or new or used e-reader donations.

"I truly believe a love of reading is the best gift you can give a person because it is so much more than just books. When you read, you learn about different cultures, different perspectives, different lifestyles, and different worlds," says Heal.

So far, the team has been able to donate 16 e-readers to individuals, and have also made donations to the Ferguson Youth Initiative set up in Missouri last spring. Heal says, "We are poised to reach many more people, which I am excited about." The team has set up a mailing system and have been receiving e-readers from all over the country.

When asked what Project Hart meant to her, Heal responded, "Project Hart means leveling the playing field. There is a great deal of inequality when it comes to accessibility to books."

For more information, visit

New Faculty Profile

Peter Christensen

Dr. Peter Christensen joined the ACE faculty in fall 2015 as an assistant professor. In 2004, Dr. Christensen earned his B.A. at UC Davis in Psychology. He then continued his education at Berkley University where he researched Environmental and Resource Economics, and International, Regional, and Development Economics for three years. In 2009, Christensen received his M.E.Sc. from Yale, then continued his Ph.D. in Environmental and Resource Economics. Throughout his education, Christensen has had the opportunity to focus on his empirical research. His interests have centered around climate change and its impacts on agriculture and the economy, coupled with energy and transportation policies.Dr. Peter Christensen

As a researcher, he focuses on making use of information that already exists and answering questions that we have not already been able to answer. He works closely with the National Center for Super Computing Applications, and is currently collaborating with students to further develop an infrastructure for economics and large data. He wants to continue to bridge the gap between the ACE department and the field of empirical economics. He believes the strengths of both departments coupled with the resources of computer sciences will assist in the growth of knowledge for both programs. Aside from his research, Christensen taught Environmental Economics (ACE 210) in the fall, and is working to develop a course in Big Data and Economics Application for graduate students.

Christensen moved his family of four to Urbana in July and says so far he loves the college town. He gets to walk his two young daughters, ages 5 and 2, to school everyday when he walks to work. Aside from spending time with his family, he enjoys attending events at the Krannert Art Museum, sampling the variety of restaurants offered in the area, biking, and playing guitar. He says he was intrigued at the idea of coming to the University of Illinois because of the world-recognized strengths of the university and ACE department specifically.

Where are they Now?  

Bob Spitze

Professor Emeritus Bob SpitzeProfessor Emeritus Bob Spitze began his education in a one room school-house in Berryville, Arkansas. He was raised during the Great Depression on a farm in Northern Arkansas that, according to him, "had just about a little bit of everything." After being highly devoted to his grades and studies, in 1938 he received a scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas to study Vocational Education through the FFA. During his second year at Arkansas he met his wife, Hazel, and by their junior year the two were engaged. He then enlisted in the military service that took him to New York City. After he joined the Navy Corp, he then took military classes at Columbia University.

Following their marriage, he served in the war for two and a half years and she taught high school economics classes. At the end of the war, the two moved to the University of Wisconsin, where they attended Graduate School. Spitze received his Maser's Degree in Agricultural Economics, while Hazel received her degree in Home Economics Education. Then they traveled to Europe and explored ten different countries to learn more about the war, governmental systems, and culture. Their first child, a daughter, was born. Spitze continued to study Agricultural Economics with a focus in Public Policy and later received his Doctorate Degree from Wisconsin.

The first job he was offered was at the University of Tennessee. While he taught there, their second child, and first son was born. Hazel went back to school while he taught and received her doctorate from the University of Tennessee. When the University of Illinois first offered him a job to come to Champaign-Urbana in 1960, the Spitzes had just constructed a new house and both of their children were in school. Despite all these, the family packed their things and became Illini.

His biggest pride, in 35 years at U of I, is seemingly in his family's accomplishments. Spitze's wife, Hazel, became the first spouse of a faculty member to ever be granted tenure. Both of their children received their doctorate degrees from Illinois. During their time here, amongst many things, they set up multiple scholarship and award programs to pay back to the four universities for students and other awardees. One supports students involved in internships in both Washington, D.C. and the state capital in Springfield.

He taught a variety of Public Policy courses and led research within policy topics. He was awarded with endless faculty recognition throughout his career and received American Ag-Econ Association Awards. He was also awarded the University of Illinois Outstanding Teacher Award and National Association for Outstanding Work in Public Policy Award. Hazel received similar professional and university recognitions as well.

Since his retirement, he has spent as much of his time as possible traveling with family. The two attended meetings on every continent for the International Home-Economics and Agricultural Economics associations. He is extremely grateful for the multitude of opportunities his work and travel presented to him. Spitze most enjoyed his work with the students through teaching and counseling, and still has students come visit him today. He attributes teaching thousands of students about Public Policy as his greatest professional accomplishment to date.

ACE Newsletter

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Research and Outreach


Contact Us

Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics
Dr. Paul N. Ellinger
Head of Department

326 Mumford Hall
1301 W. Gregory Drive
Urbana, IL 61801-3605
Phone: (217)333-1810
Fax: (217)333-5538