From the prairies of Argentina to the Land of Lincoln, Germán Bollero’s path to becoming dean of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is far from conventional.
“If you told me 30 years ago I’d be here, I would have said ‘no way,’” Bollero says. “I thought I’d get a master’s degree and go back home, farm and do some consulting.”
Bollero hails from Rosario, Argentina, where his family has farmed since 1885. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle. He graduated with an agronomy degree from the National University of Rosario, Argentina, and then worked as an agronomist for several years.
“Ever since I was a child, my passion has always been for food and agriculture,” he says.
Curious for a new adventure, Bollero decided to further his education abroad. He toured several Midwest universities, until falling in love with the University of Illinois.
“I thought that the opportunities on this campus were unique,” Bollero explains. “And admittedly, I liked the flat landscape of central Illinois.”
Bollero graduated with a crop sciences master’s degree in 1991 and a doctorate in 1994. He worked at the University of Maryland, College Park, until 1998, when he had an opportunity to come back to Illinois and teach.
Bollero has spent the past 25 years climbing the ranks at the U of I — from postdoctoral research associate to professor, then crop sciences department head to associate dean of research, then interim ACES dean and now permanent ACES dean.
He’s just as excited about the university as he was 30 years ago as a student, and is eager to shape the future of agriculture.
“The University of Illinois is where the discussion about the future of food and agriculture should happen,” he says. “We have quality faculty, staff and students to dream about how we’re going to grow food in the next 150 years.”
Bollero says he’s continuously inspired by the traditions at the University of Illinois — and how the College of ACES has evolved with society since its founding in 1867. But what really inspired him to be dean is the people.
“At the end of the day, this college has always been about people,” Bollero says. “The fact that students can have a sense of family here while they’re being educated, gaining new experiences, and having job opportunities is special. We’re advancing society, and I like being part of that.”
2023 marks a special year for Bollero — it’s not only his first official school year as ACES dean, but also his first year as an Illini dad. His oldest daughter, Amalia, is studying architecture at the university.
“I’m emotional about it,” Bollero says. “She applied several places and had many other opportunities, but she still chose the University of Illinois. It’s a great program, and I can’t wait to see her evolve here.”
Bollero met his wife, Petra Jelinek, at the U of I. Jelinek is also an Illini alum, who now teaches anthropology at the university.
“I wasn’t an undergrad in the United States, so now I’m going to live that through my daughter,” Bollero says.
PEOPLE: “At the end of the day, this college has always been about people. The fact that students can have a sense of family here while they’re being educated, gaining new experiences, and having job opportunities is special. We’re advancing society, and I like being part of that,” Germán Bollero says. (Photo by University of Illinois College of ACES)
Bollero took some time from his office at Mumford Hall at the U of I to talk with Prairie Farmer:
Illinois and Argentina are similar in their ag production, but what are some differences? One of the biggest differences is that the volatility of the economy and politics in Argentina have greatly affected Argentinian farmers. For instance, inflation in Argentina this year is projected to be nearly 154%. Another big difference is that there are no government programs, like crop insurance. In fact, there are tariffs on most products from Argentina, so farmers receive a very reduced price for their exports. My family has to be really tight with finances on the farm.
What is your advice to future generations? Work hard, study hard, be present, and be vocal. We can’t take things for granted because generations in this country worked their tails off to get where they are; we cannot lose that culture.
What is the hardest part of your job? Today, people have such strong, differing opinions that it’s often a challenge bringing people together to rally around the same goal.
What is your favorite part of your job? The students, no doubt about it.
What do you want your legacy to be? Educating the next generation of people involved in food and agriculture in the state of Illinois.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Having dinner and conversation with my family.
What is your greatest fear? Education not being funded — education helped build this country through investments in research, innovation and educating the next generation.
What is the quality you admire most in a person? Empathy, because of my wife’s example.
Which living person do you most admire? My father. He is the most ethical person, a great thinker and hard worker.
What motivates you? The chance to do something better and move forward for a new adventure.
Where is your favorite spot in the world? Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, or Patagonia, Argentina.
How do you spend your free time? Gardening, cooking with my wife or fly-fishing, if I can get to a stream.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Work hard and don’t look back.
What word do you most overuse? Listen.
What’s the best live performance you’ve ever seen? Lyle Lovett in Champaign.
How do you get through hard times? I like to exercise to clear my brain.
If I listened to your Spotify playlist, who would be the artist you’ve listened to most? The Jerry Garcia Band, the lead singer from Grateful Dead.
If your mother wrote a book about you, what would it be called? “Stubborn.”
How have you known when it was time to make a change in your life? I’ve always followed my instincts and trusted my gut.
STATE FAIR: “My days are usually pretty full because part of the job is to be the voice of the college in a lot of different places,” says Germán Bollero, who is pictured at the 2023 Illinois State Fair with Illinois 4-H’ers and University of Illinois Extension and College of ACES staff and faculty. (Photo by University of Illinois College of ACES)
Why should students consider studying agriculture? I would flip that and ask, why wouldn’t you study food and agriculture? If you want to change the world, innovate, help people and have an exciting career, then you should pursue a degree in food, agriculture or natural resources. There are great ag jobs out there, both around the globe and right here in Illinois. How are we going to grow food for the world while sustaining our natural resources? The answer is agriculture.
What are some of your responsibilities as dean? My days are usually pretty full because part of the job is to be the voice of the college in a lot of different places. I meet with department heads regularly for communication between our different programs. I travel quite a bit too — sometimes to different Extension offices around the state and sometimes around the world. The University of Illinois has people everywhere doing work across the globe.
What’s the next renovation scheduled at the college? We’re starting a fundraising campaign to completely renovate Mumford Hall. Mumford Hall means a lot to generations of ACES alums, and we want to transform it into a place that can really be the heartbeat of the college for students. We’re also raising money to renovate the basement of the ACES Library into a place where hybrid courses can be taught and recorded. I’m really excited about developing a long-term infrastructure plan for South Farms. We have some newer technology out there, but most facilities need maintenance or to be replaced.
What is your greatest achievement? When I was department head, we hired a lot of talented faculty members who have been transformational for the Department of Crop Sciences. Also, when I was department head, we renovated Turner Hall with state-of-the-art crops and soils labs, classrooms, and spaces for students to work together. Plus, I’m proud of the changes in curriculum I helped make, like the creation of the computer science plus crop sciences degree, which is the first of its kind in the country.
Bollero in brief
Favorite tractor? John Deere
Livestock? Red Angus, like my brother-in-law raises
Team? Newell’s Old Boys soccer team in Argentina
Book? “The Aleph and Other Stories”
Best decision? Marrying my wife
Family? Wife Petra Jelinek, daughters Amalia,18, and Antje, 15