Dr. Juan Arbelaez

Assistant professor- International plant breeding

Dr. Juan Arbelaez is a plant breeder and geneticist who is passionate about reducing hunger, malnutrition, and poverty around the world. In pursuit of this passion, Juan is focusing on a) developing varieties of spring oat (Avena sativa) and rice (Oryza sativa) with enhanced nutritional quality, b) helping breeders around the world develop and implement cost-effective breeding methods and tools to accelerate breeding for multiple traits including yield and grain quality, and c) developing cover crop oat varieties for the Midwest to help protect life-sustaining natural resources.

Dr. Juan Arbelaez began his career at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia where he worked on developing novel rice germplasm with introgressions from wild rice species to support the global rice community. Juan then went on to do a Ph.D. and a post-doc in Dr. Susan McCouch’s rice genetics lab at Cornell University where he worked on understanding the genetic bases of tolerance to aluminum and iron toxicity, which are critical abiotic stresses affecting rice production in parts of South America and Africa. Prior to joining the University of Illinois, Juan was a rice breeder at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), headquartered in the Philippines, where he played a critical role in the development and deployment of a global genomic selection strategy to accelerate rice improvement in irrigated environments across Southeast Asia and West Africa.

Dr. Jessica Rutkoski

Assistant Professor- Small grains breeding

Dr. Jessica Rutkoski is a small grains breeder and a quantitative geneticist with a passion for putting the principles and techniques of quantitative genetics and statistics to use in applied breeding in order to accelerate rates of genetic gain in ways that benefit people and the environment. Jessica’s main goals are to a) develop winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) varieties that will help improve the profitability of wheat production in Illinois and surrounding states, b) improve levels of quantitative disease resistance in small grains, and c) develop and deploy new breeding methods to accelerate rates of genetic gain in wheat and other self-pollinated crops.

Dr. Jessica Rutkoski received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009 and then went on to get her Ph.D. at Cornell University under the direction of Small Grains Breeder Dr. Mark Sorrells.  In 2014, Jessica completed her Ph.D. and then continued on at Cornell University as an assistant professor where her mission was to innovate and transfer advanced breeding methods like genomic selection to wheat breeding programs globally. In doing so, Jessica conducted her research in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), headquartered in Mexico, where she worked as an Adjunct Associate Scientist in the Global Wheat Breeding Program. In pursuit of new challenges and broader impact, in 2016, Dr. Rutkoski began working as a Scientist in the plant breeding division at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), located in the Philippines. Jessica’s role at IRRI was to improve rice breeding efficiency through more effective use of data and analytical techniques.

Dr. Tadele Kumssa

Senior Research Specialist

Dr. Tadele Kumssa is a senior research specialist working under the direction of Dr. Jessica Rutkoski and Dr. Juan Arbelaez. Tadele manages the research and breeding operations of the small grains improvement program.

Tadele received a Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Production and Dryland Farming from Awassa College of Agriculture, Ethiopia. He later received a Master’s of Science degree in Plant Sciences from Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Tadele then worked on Teff breeding and agronomy at the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute (EIAR) for several years before joining the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) to pursue a Ph.D. in Agronomy under the direction of Dr. Stephen Baenziger. At UNL, Tadele led the barley breeding program and conducted research on the genetic basis of stem rust resistance in wheat.

Before joining the Illinois small grains program, Tadele led and carried out breeding population development, field experiments, data collection, and data processing at the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma to support the development of rye, wheat, triticale, and oat varieties suitable for crop-livestock systems of the Southern Great Plains.

Luis Gehrke

Research specialist

Luis is a research specialist working under the direction of Dr. Jessica Rutkoski and Dr. Juan Arbelaez. Luis manages and carries out all aspects of field research trial operations including planting, fertilization, pest management, irrigation, and harvest.

Luis received a BS degree in Agronomy from the University of Passo Fundo, Brazil and an Executive MBA in Agribusiness. He has extensive experience in crop production. Before joining the University of Illinois, he was the primary manager and technical consultant for his family farm in Brazil and had completed several internships and positions, allowing him to broaden his knowledge on crop production and gain experience in agricultural research. Luis is also an avid content creator on YouTube (luiseduardogehrke) and instagram (@luiseduardogehrke) where he regularly posts agricultural content from his day-to-day experience.

Jeremy Logrono

Ph.D. Student

Jeremy is a Ph.D. student working under the direction of Dr. Rutkoski. His research focuses on developing and implementing a rapid variety development process to generate a set of soft red winter wheat varieties with unique quality traits for high-value markets.

Jeremy completed a Bachelor of Science in Plant Genetics and Breeding at Purdue University. He then went on to work as a researcher in the Multi-environment testing program at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In this role, Jeremy phenotyped and helped coordinate yield trials at 5 sites distributed across the Philippines for 5 growing seasons. Subsequently, Jeremy pursued a Master’s Degree in Horticulture at Colorado State University (CSU). At CSU, Jeremy was part of the potato breeding program where his research focused on evaluating novel screening methodologies for carotenoids in potato to accelerate breeding for nutritional quality.

Sheila Scheffel

Sheila is a Ph.D. student working under the direction of Dr. Arbelaez. Sheila’s research aims to understand the genetic architecture of heat tolerance in small grains and create innovative breeding strategies to ameliorate the effects on climate.

Sheila hails from a family of rice farmers and ranchers in Uruguay. She received a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering and the Republic University of Uruguay and went on to complete a masters’s degree at the National Institute of Agricultural Research under the supervision of Dr. Juan Rosas. In her master’s research Sheila curated and analyzed 20 years of rice breeding data to determine how to best implement utilize pedigree, environmental, and phenotypic data to improve rice breeding decisions to accelerate rice improvement in Uruguay.

Anup Dhakal

Ph.D. Student

Anup is a Ph.D. student working under the direction of Dr. Arbelaez. His research focuses on improving the nutritional value of oats through phenomics and genomics.

Anup received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. His undergraduate research focused on the phenotypic characterization of rice landraces for agronomic and quality traits. After graduation, Anup took a position as a research assistant for the Nepal Agriculture Research Council. In this position, Anup designed, managed, and phenotyped wheat breeding trials and carried out cross-pollinations.

Milcah Kigoni

Ph.D. student

Milcah is a Ph.D. student working under the direction of Dr. Arbelaez. Milcah received a Bachelors of Science and a Masters of Science degree in Biochemistry from Kenyatta University, Kenya. Her Master’s research was on the computational identification of potential transmission-blocking vaccine candidates for East Coast Fever, a lethal disease of cattle.

After her Master’s, Milcah worked as a Bioinformatics fellow at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and then as a data consultant for the High Throughput Genotyping Project (HTGP) headquartered at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). In this role, Milcah developed automated genotyping data analysis tools and pipelines and provided training on DNA sampling, data tracking, and genotypic data analysis for breeding programs serving the developing world. Just before joining the University of Illinois, Milcah worked at Intertek-AgriTech, Sweden as a customer operations manager where she optimized systems and operations to support the delivery of accurate and consistent genotypic data to Intertek’s customers.

Lucas Berger Munaro

Ph.D. student

Lucas is a Ph.D. student working with Dr. Rutkoski on research aiming to improve selection methods for yield and early maturity in winter wheat.

Lucas received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy from the Federal University of Technology of Parana, Brazil. He then worked briefly as a soybean breeder for Nidera Seeds Ltda before taking a position as an agronomist for Coamo Agroindustrial Cooperativa, Brasil’s largest agricultural cooperative. In this position, Lucas provided technical assistance and advice to farmers on various aspects of crop production.

He later began a Master’s of Science degree in Agronomy at São Paulo State University, Brazil, focusing on genetics and plant breeding. For his Master’s research, Lucas evaluated genotype x environment x management patterns in winter wheat across the U.S. Southern Great Plains using 18 years of variety testing data. He continued this work as an Assistant Scientist at Kansas State University under the direction of Dr. Romulo Lollato until beginning his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois.

Raysa Gevartosky

Ph.D. student

Raysa is a Ph.D. student working with Dr. Rutkoski. Her research focuses on developing more efficient yield testing and selection methods that leverage high-throughput phenotyping and genomic prediction.

Raysa received a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Engineering from University of Sao Paulo, Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ), Brazil, and also at Superior Institute of Agriculture (ISA), France as part of double-degree program. While still a bachelor’s student, Raysa gained research experience in plant breeding programs both in Brazil and in France. She then went on to receive a master’s degree in Genetics and Plant Breeding from ESALQ under the supervision of Dr. Roberto Fritsche Neto. Her research, conducted in collaboration with CIMMYT scientists, focused on optimizing genomic selection training sets for predicting multiple traits in multiple environments in tropical maize.

Sophia Aristia

Masters student

Sophia is a Master’s Degree student under the supervision of Dr. Rutkoski. Her research focuses on high-throughput phenotyping and genetic characterization of early-season growth dynamics in winter wheat. This work is especially needed to prevent spring freeze-damage in wheat, a growing problem due to climate change.

Sophia began her post-secondary education at South Texas College and completed her BS degree in Plant and Environmental Soil Science at Texas A&M University. Texas A&M recognized Sophia’s excellence with several awards and scholarships. In addition to her academic work, as an undergraduate student Sophia participated actively in several different student groups and associations, assuming positions of leadership. She also worked as a research assistant in the Sorghum Breeding program at Texas A&M where she impressed her mentors in the Sorghum program with her energy, hard work, diligence, and ability to help coordinate the research activities. 


Zachary Bradley, May 2023-Present

Federico Therisod, May 2023-Present

Vinícius Filgueiras Nogueira, May 2023-Present

Mark Loula, May 2023-August 2023

Helene Collin, August 2021-August 2023

Amelia Nelson, February 2022-Present

Sameer Iyengar, August 2022- Present

Tegan Bollinger, May 2022-November 2022

Grace Evans, May 2022-August 2022

Justin Winge, May 2022-August 2022

Natalie Loos, May 2022-August 2022

Dustan Jones, May 2022- August 2022

Lorena Ramirez-Porter, August 2021-May 2022

Annabelle McCombs, August 2021-May 2022

Ayal Zipris, August 2021-May 2022

Sasha Zvenigorodsky, January 2021-May 2022

Morgan McDonnell, June 2021-August 2021

Justine MacAlindong, June 2021-August 2021

Evan Coey, June 2021- August 2021

Jack Dunscomb, June 2021-August 2021

Tracy Pham, January 2021- August 2021

Grace Finnell-Gudwien, January 2021- August 2021

Tim Kampert, February 2021- May 2021

Megan Choi, August 2020- May 2021

Jack Pickert, May 2020- December 2020