Dr. Anna Dilger Q&A

Get to know CAST’s incoming President-Elect, Dr. Anna Dilger! Dr. Dilger is an associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois. She is a member of the American Meat Science Association and the American Society of Animal Science. She joined CAST during the strategic planning process and has been impressed with the accomplishments CAST has made. Dr. Dilger plans to continue on the path to connect more people with the work of CAST. She believes one role of the president, along with the CAST staff, is to identify and pursue new funding opportunities to support CAST’s mission.

What are your reactions and thoughts to being selected as President-Elect?

I am excited to continue working with CAST. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with this prolific organization—the projects I’ve been a part of, the people I have met—and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to continue those efforts.

How did you become involved in agriculture? Did you show animals growing up?

I certainly grew up around agriculture. My grandfather, Marvin Luellen who will be 95 years old in just a few days, farms in east central Indiana so that has always been part of my life. Then, when I was nine years old, my family started raising sheep. We’ve had Columbia, Dorset, Romney, Rambouillet, and Corriedale breeds, and now, my father and brother have Lincoln and Texel sheep. I showed sheep in 4-H and exhibited wool and other items I made from the wool of our sheep. I was also involved in FFA throughout high school, mainly in the public speaking events. Therefore, when it was time for me to think about college and careers, being involved in agriculture was important to me.

What led you to your current position as Associate Professor at the University of Illinois?

I enrolled at Purdue University in the Department of Animal Science with every intention of becoming a geneticist and college professor. An undergraduate research project led me to the field of muscle biology, and I stayed with that project through my Master’s degree at Purdue. But then my husband, also an animal scientist, was offered a dream opportunity to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois and away we went. The lab I landed in there allowed me to continue my work in muscle growth but also introduced me to meat science. We were both fortunate to be hired as assistant professors at Illinois in 2010. I do get to dabble in genetics from time to time, but love the work I do in meat science as it has immediate impacts in the industry. Plus, it makes a great conversation starter as most everyone loves to talk about bacon!

Do you have a favorite course that you teach? Why is it your favorite?

I am involved in several different courses but have two favorites. In the fall, I teach animal growth and development to mostly seniors and graduate students. For many students, this is a class that helps them pull together previous courses and make some sense of it all. As a teacher, it is fun to help students make those connections. Then, in the spring, I teach a class on contemporary issues of animal science to mostly freshman. Given my passion for communicating about agriculture issues, this course is right up my alley. I like being able to have this freshmen-oriented course because at that level, students have strong opinions but open minds. They are curious about the issues and eager to know more.

Do you have any hobbies?

Outside of work, I spend most of my time with my family. My husband is also an animal science professor, and we have two kids—ages 9 and 12. We work quite a bit but love being outside, playing board games, and watching movies. I also read a lot, mainly fiction, and am about 3 years into an epic counted cross-stitch project for my mom.

Do you have any suggestions for people on the best ways to communicate with the public about agriculture and science?

Sometimes the idea of taking on all the misconceptions and bad information about agriculture can seem daunting. One thing I try to remember is that I don’t have to take on the whole world. By staying local, talking with your friends and family about what you do and what you know, you can make a big difference. In fact, most of the research would suggest that people are more willing to listen to and trust people that they know. So my advice is for people involved in agriculture to talk about what they do with the people in their lives. Tell people about the good and the not-so-good. It is okay to admit that there are improvements to be made in our fields but also great to highlight all the wonderful things that are happening.

Dr. Dilger will officially assume her responsibilities as President-Elect at the conclusion of CAST’s fall board meeting in October. In 2021-2022, she will become the 49th president of CAST, a singular honor and responsibility dating back to 1972, when Dr. Charles A. Black, Dr. Norman Borlaug, and other committed scientists spearheaded the movement to “bring science-based information to policymaking and the public.”

CAST members and staff are excited about her continued input and involvement.

Read her President-Elect press release here.

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