URBANA, Ill. – In June, University of Illinois Extension’s Public Engagement Connection Center (EPECC) announced the inaugural class of Illini Science Policy Program participants, or Fellows, as part of a new outreach program that matches highly motivated and qualified post-graduate students from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with Illinois public agencies or the legislature for a 12-month paid fellowship.

Illini Science Policy participants
Fellows (L to R) Ruth Adekale, Hannah Price, Diamond Ruffin, Ana Paula Sanchez-Bustamante, and Allison Wheeler begin public policy service projects with hosts.

Through mentorship from both host agencies and Illinois Extension, graduate students who have completed their degree will gain professional experience while exploring public service careers and solutions that contribute to critical issues in Illinois, such as food, economy, environment, community, and health.

“We’re extremely fortunate with the fellows and their host placement,” says Evangeline S. Pianfetti, research and fellowship outreach associate at Illinois Extension. “Despite the challenges of COVID, everyone adapted and moved forward in a positive direction to ensure policies and programs met the needs under new and emerging circumstances.”

The 2020 program participants have completed host agency placement and are now immersed in early stages of projects that focus on solutions for the diverse communities of Illinois. Two fellows have taken roles with Illinois legislative hosts, and three are teaming up with state agencies.

Ruth Adekale earned a master’s degree in business management and brings a passion for mentorship, community support, and entrepreneurship to her fellowship with hosts Rep. Camille Lilly and the Illinois Black Caucus Foundation. Her role supports research and planning for public policy reform to positively impact access to resources and improve environmental and social conditions in under-resourced communities. The project implementation plan combines policy reform with community education and support to drive change.

Hannah Price is a former 4-H member who grew up raising and showing livestock. Price holds a master’s degree in animal science, where her large-scale thesis project investigated the effects of increased swine weight on pork quality and palatability. Price’s collaboration with host Illinois Department of Agriculture, Meat and Poultry Inspection Division explores availability and consumer access to safe and high-quality foods by increasing efficiencies in the meat inspection process.

Diamond Ruffin joins the program to work with Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on broadband equity initiatives, including strategic planning with the Benton Institute for implementation of Illinois Connected Communities grants within 12 Illinois communities. Ruffin earned her master’s degree in social work, with a focus on leadership and social change, and is a founding member of UIUC's Association of Black Social Workers who serve and educate the minority community in Champaign-Urbana.

Ana Paula Sanchez-Bustamante holds a master’s degree in crop science and has been serving as research assistant at I-DROP, researching water quality and nutrient discharge into agricultural ecosystems. She recognizes the link between environmental and social issues and will continue efforts to expand positive social change as she begins work with Sen. Omar Aquino of Illinois District 2 and the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus. Initial projects include research on environmental justice and equitable clean energy legislation for Latino communities.

Allison Wheeler partners with host Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology to build a STEM curriculum and digital literacy outreach programs to support agriculture education in Chicago-area schools. Wheeler holds a master’s degree in European Union studies, and while her educational path leads to international public service, Wheeler believes global change must begin with efforts made at the local community level.

“Our fellows are learning more about the intersections of public policies and their impact on communities,” says Pianfetti. “We look forward to their contributions to improve the lives of Illinois’ residents.”

Watch for updates on Illinois Extension’s Public Engagement Following the Fellows blog as the 2020 awardees engage, innovate, and draw on scientific research to inform public policy and develop projects that tie into the larger Illinois community and contribute to Extension projects that align with their fellowship assignments.

The Illini Science Policy Program is supported by University of Illinois Office of the Provost Investment for Growth Program, participating host offices, University of Illinois Office of Government Relations, and PepsiCo.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

SOURCE: Evangeline S. Pianfetti, Research and Fellowship Outreach Associate, University of Illinois Extension
WRITER: Liz Smith, Communications Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension