University of Illinois Alumni Awards


Recent awards from the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois were awarded and the recipients include Rachel (Atwell) Vann, formerly of Geneseo, now living in Raleigh, North Carolina, as one of the college’s three outstanding young alumni.

Sue Gray and Janet Mathis, both of Geneseo, were also honored with career achievement and merit awards at the recognition ceremony held in Champaign.

David Gilmore, also of Geneseo, is a recipient of the 2020 award, although there was no ceremony last year due to the pandemic.


-Rachel (Atwell) Vann, daughter of Morrie and Julie Atwell, and a graduate of Geneseo High School, is a soybean extension specialist and assistant professor at North Carolina State University.

She credits her academic career to the good mentorship of her faculty and her undergraduate research experience at the University of Illinois which sparked a passion for agricultural research and awareness.

Vann graduated from the University of Illinois in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and a minor in Agronomy. She then moved on to North Carolina State University where she received her Masters in 2015 and her PhD. in 2017.

Nine years after graduating from the University of Illinois, Dr Vann is the North Carolina State Soybean Extension Specialist, the principal agronomic advisor for the state’s primary crop, which generates up to $ 800 million in production and powers one of the ‘largest producers of poultry and pork, adding $ 48 billion in additional annual sales for the state.

Vann occupies a highly recognized role in North Carolina and quickly influenced soybean production throughout the United States by leading a team of more than 15 state-funded soybean agronomists in a national project that maximized the impact of locally supported applied research. His influence is highly respected and appreciated in North Carolina and recognized by his peers in American soy circles.

In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking from “Barefoot Contessa” cookbooks, cheering on Illinois athletics (and Wolfpack), and spending time with her husband Matthew and their son Orrin.

-Sue Gray exemplifies service to the College of ACES, the University of Illinois and its community, as demonstrated from his graduation in 1980, until his tenure in various positions on the Board of administration of the ACES Alumni Association. Gray has been a key part of the board for over ten years, eventually serving on the board, as chairman and, most recently, past chairman. While on the Board of Directors, she served and chaired the Awards Committee, served as the Director of Professional Crop Science Education, launched the ACES Career Achievement Award, and led Round Education. Barn Society.

Additionally, she was a key member of the Turner Hall Renovation Committee which raised millions of dollars helping to transform meeting and classroom spaces in the building.

She has mentored several ACES students – most recently Ms. Danielle Cooney as part of the Howard Buffett 40 Chances Internship Program.

In addition to his service on the Alumni Council, Gray served on the Crop Sciences External Advisory Board from 2007 to 2013, providing voice and oversight from an agriculture industry perspective.

Gray has enjoyed a 25-year career as an independent agronomic consultant serving customer needs with John Deere as the primary customer. In 2017, she joined John Deere as a senior agronomist of the company staff, guiding their agronomic communication strategy and sharing ideas developed at John Deere and by external parties.

In November 2020, John Deere appointed Gray Global Agronomist, serving three different and newly created production systems: cotton, high-value crops, and dairy and livestock. In 2020, Gray was named a John Deere Fellow and is one of 41 people to receive this honor since its inception in 2015.

-Janet Mathis is a servant leader dedicated to the betterment of the State of Illinois.

His early career informed and influenced stakeholders on soil and water conservation in every county. Working for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, she has had a significant impact on state and county fairs, Illinois horse racing programs, and national marketing.

Mathis led the agricultural trade with Canada while serving as director of the office of the Department of Agriculture in Toronto, Ontario. Mathis’ agriculture and education served as a backdrop to influence bipartisan public policy at all levels of Illinois government, including as a member of Gov. Jim Edgar’s office and as current director of the Edgar Fellows program.

As Managing Director of the Development Consortium, an economic development consulting firm, she is a recognized leader in economic development and workforce development. His efforts have helped create and sustain tens of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars in capital investments in Illinois, including companies such as Deere & Co., Ferrero, and Pioneer.

Last year Mathis and his business partner started the new nonprofit Elevate Illinois. With their statewide board of directors, they aim to reinvigorate Illinois by refocusing its narrative on the many positive people, places, entities, and events that are often overlooked.

Mathis is chairman of the board of directors of the River Bend Food Bank and a member of the board of directors of the Illinois Agri-Food Alliance. She has served as chair of the board of directors of the Illinois Economic Development Association, as well as the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, and has been active in many other professional, civic, and educational boards.

She and her husband, Neil, another UIUC ACES graduate, were both student leaders on campus and continued to be involved. The most rewarding alumni experience has been the ongoing relationships and mentorship with the students who have received the Jonathan Baldwin Turner, which they have helped fund for over a decade.

Mathis obtained his Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Industries / Economics. She is a 2017 Driehaus Fellow, 2014 Award of Excellence recipient from Western Illinois University, 2014 Edgar Fellow, and 2013 Distinguished Developer of the Year recipient from the Illinois Economic Development Association.

-David Gilmore was born in DeKalb County and raised on a family farm near Shabbona, Illinois. He made the decision to attend the University of Illinois after receiving a Jonathan Baldwin Turner scholarship. A graduate in Agricultural Economics, he was an active member of Farm House Fraternity and involved in NAMA, Ag Council, Illini Pride, Orange Krush and several other organizations.

Gilmore joined John Deere shortly after graduation in 1989 and has held a number of positions in outside marketing and sales, inside product manufacturing, and finance. He currently serves as Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, Agriculture and Turf Marketing Division.

Despite a global travel program, he served on the Minnesota FFA Foundation Sponsors Board, the Iowa FFA Foundation Board, and represented Deere & Co. on the National FFA Foundation Sponsors Board. In this capacity, he helped recognize the 75-year partnership between Deere and the Young Leaders Organization at the 2018 Congress. He was also engaged with the FFA Alumni and Supporters section of John Deere.

Gilmore married his college sweetheart, Lori (Aden) (ACES ’91), and they have two children, Kyle and Caitlin. The Gilmores currently reside near Geneseo and are active in their church and community, particularly in youth leadership and spiritual development.

Gilmore served on the board of directors for the Iowa State of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and they both served on the FCA board of the Illowa area.

In addition, Gilmore has represented Deere & Co. on the Board of Directors of the Equipment Lease and Finance Association and currently on the Board of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers Ag Sector Board.

On campus, Gilmore is a business advisor for the University of Illinois’ Hoeft Technology and Management Program, an integrated college minor where engineering and business majors collaborate with industry. Gilmore also served as a mentor to many University of Illinois alumni who worked at John Deere.

Gilmore and his wife contribute to the JBT ACES Alumni for Academics fund. They are life members of the University of Illinois Alumni Association.


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