Seven teams funded to provide University of Illinois research for Illinois communities

Urbana, Ill. – Seven projects have been selected to receive funding in the 2018 Interdisciplinary Collaboration Extension (ICE) grant competition.

ICE grants fund partnerships between University of Illinois Extension personnel and faculty in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences for projects that will use campus-based research to enhance the quality of life of people in communities across Illinois. Project themes vary widely – from improving school nutrition programs to helping farmers manage nitrogen application – but all focus on research with practical applications for Illinois residents.

Each winning team will receive up to $60,000 that can be spent over two years to enact their projects. Of 22 total proposals submitted for review, seven were selected for funding, described below. All departmental affiliations are in the College of ACES unless noted otherwise.

An interdisciplinary collaboration to improve child diet quality and reduce wasted food in school nutrition programs

Principal Investigator: Melissa Pflugh Prescott, Assistant Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition

Co-Principal Investigators: Kristin Bogdonas, Nutrition and Wellness Extension Educator; Brenna Ellison, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics; Ashley Hoffman, SNAP-Ed Extension Educator


Over 29,000 U.S. schools have implemented Smarter Lunchroom strategies, which aim to reduce food waste and encourage students to increase their consumption of vegetables and healthy foods. Recent critiques have questioned whether the program’s effects on consumer behavior are meaningful or overstated. This project will implement and evaluate Smarter Lunchrooms interventions at two schools – Stark County Elementary School and Bethel Grade School District 82 – in order to develop a simulation tool that identifies effective Smarter Lunchroom techniques and addresses food waste concerns.


Chicago safe soils initiative: developing and disseminating tools to identify and mitigate soil heavy metal risks to urban stakeholders

Principal Investigators: Andrew Margenot, Assistant Professor, Crop Sciences; Zack Grant, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Extension Educator

Co-Principal Investigator: Nico Martin, Assistant Professor, Crop Sciences

Collaborators: Laura Calvert, Executive Director, Advocates for Urban Agriculture; Mark Clark, Clinical Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northwestern University


In the Chicago metropolitan region, Extension and College of ACES researchers have identified hotspots of lead in soils being used for food production and uncertainty from stakeholders on how to identify and manage soil lead contamination. This project will develop open-access tools to identify soil contamination, inform stakeholder decision-making, and develop evidence-based guidelines for managing soil lead risk to food production in the Chicago metropolitan region.


Pest and beneficial insects in Illinois cover crops

Principal Investigators: Nicholas Seiter, Research Assistant Professor, Crop Sciences; Duane Friend, Energy and Environmental Stewardship Extension Educator; Nathan Johanning, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Extension Educator; Ken Johnson, Horticulture Extension Educator


Practical recommendations for integrated pest management are still evolving for systems that incorporate cover crops, and are currently based largely on anecdotal information rather than empirical data. This project will identify the pest and beneficial insect complex that inhabits rye cover crops in Illinois and develop appropriate monitoring recommendations for producers.


Putting University of Illinois Extension at the forefront of the coming data-intensive farm management revolution: A tool to help farmers turn on-farm experiments into profitable decisions

Principal Investigator: N. Dennis Bowman, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator

Co-Principal Investigators: David Bullock, Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics; Nicolas Martin, Assistant Professor, Crop Sciences

Collaborators: Shaowen Wang, Professor, Geography and Geographic Information Science; Phillip Alberti,  Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator; Talon Becker, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator; Russel Higgins, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator; Jessica Soule, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator


Inefficient application of nitrogen fertilizer on farm fields lowers both farm income and water quality. This project will test and refine a new decision tool software package designed to enable extension personnel and certified crop advisors (CCAs) to discuss nitrogen management with farmers, based on data from their own farms. It will also offer training to Extension professionals to train CCAs to run on-farm trials with their farmer clients, and use the resulting data to improve input management.


Rainbow Extension 3.0: Building supportive communities through Extension programming

Co-Principal Investigators: Ramona Faith Oswald, Professor and Interim Head, Human Development and Family Studies; Anne Silvis, Extension Program Leader, Community and Economic Development

Collaborators: Annie Hobson, 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator; Laura L. Payne, Professor and Extension Specialist, Recreation, Sport and Tourism; Lisa Diaz, Extension Program Leader, 4-H


According to the 2013 Williams Institute report, there are 368,700 individuals in Illinois who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ). Research shows that LGBTQ individuals experience amplified risk for poor physical and mental health and that building community supports can buffer these outcomes. This project will engage Extension educators statewide to survey the needs, barriers, and social climate experienced by LGBTQ individuals in their communities, to better address the physical and mental health disparities faced by LGBTQ individuals and work toward building more supportive and affirming communities.


Reducing the impacts of phytophthora root rot and stem blight through outreach and the development of molecular-based management tools

Principal Investigator: Nathan Kleczewski, Research Assistant Professor and Extension Pathologist, Crop Sciences

Co-Principal Investigator: Santiago Mideros-Mora; Assistant Professor, Crop Sciences

Collaborators: Phillip Alberti, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator; Russel Higgins, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator; Jesse Soule, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator; Talon Becker, Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator


Phytophthora root rot and stem blight, caused by Phytophthora sojae, is a common disease impacting soybean production in Illinois. Developing a molecular tool to determine the different strains, or pathotypes, of P. sojae present could improve testing services, cultivar selection, and data for soybean breeding. This project will conduct statewide pathotype surveys to increase grower awareness of current pathotype diversity and to further develop and implement a molecular tool to determine P. sojae pathotypes.


Targeting natural lawn care communications to homeowners in Illinois

Principal Investigator: Sarah Zack, Pollution Prevention Extension Specialist, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Co-Principal Investigator: Lulu Rodriguez, Agricultural Communications Program Director

Collaborators: Allison Neubauer, Great Lakes Outreach Associate, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant; Haley Haverback, Extension Watershed Outreach Associate; Jennifer Woodyard, Extension Watershed Outreach Associate


Conventional lawn care methods are resource intensive: Approximately 89 million pounds of pesticide-fertilizer products (weed and feed) are applied annually, and outdoor irrigation comprises 30 percent of community water demand in summer. In this project, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and College of ACES Agricultural Communications investigators will address lawn care-related pollution in watersheds by developing, piloting, and assessing a natural lawn care communication campaign in three Illinois communities.


Sources: Shelly Nickols-Richardson, 217-244-4498,; Kim Kidwell, 217-333-0460,

Media contacts: Deborah Seiler, 217-300-5571,; LeAnn Ormsby, 217-244-4786,