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Area Director's Office

On This Page:

  • ARS Mission & Vision
  • Meet the Directors
  • Staff

Midwest Area Links:

Welcome to the Midwest Area
Midwest Area Council for Office Professionals
Midwest Area Diversity and Equal Opportunity Council

ARS Mission & Vision

Vision: Leading America towards a better future through agricultural research and information.

Mission: ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to:

Meet the Directors

JL Willett, Area Director

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Dr. Willett was selected as the Director of the Midwest Area stationed in Peoria, Illinois in September of 2017. Dr. Willett most recently served as MWA Associate Area Director since 2012. He joined the MWA leadership team in 2009 following his successful completion of the USDA Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program.

Dr. Willett earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Textile Chemistry from North Carolina State University in 1981, followed by a Ph.D. in Metallurgy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1988. After earning his Ph.D., he was Manager of Research for Agri-Tech Industries, a start-up company developing starch-based biodegradable materials using ARS-licensed technology. In 1988, he co-founded Fully Compounded Plastics and developed the patented technology base for the company’s starch-based materials. Dr. Willett joined ARS in 1992 and was appointed Research Leader of the Plant Polymer Research Unit at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in 1995. His research focused on modification of starch by reactive extrusion, characterization and modification of cereal proteins, and development of starch-based responsive materials. Dr. Willett has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and holds 12 U.S. Patents. 

Alberto Pantoja, Associate Director

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Dr. Alberto Pantoja was selected as the Associate Director of the Midwest Area stationed in Peoria, Illinois in July of 2015. Dr. Pantoja is internationally recognized for developing practical approaches for biological control of insect pests. 

Dr. Pantoja received a B.S degree in Agronomy and Soils from the University of Puerto Rico, in 1978. He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Agronomy Entomology from Louisiana State University in 1982 and 1985, respectively. Dr. Pantoja initiated his career as Pesticides Inspector and Pesticides Liaison Officer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture. He subsequently worked as an entomologist for the Puerto Rico Agricultural Experiment Station.

In 1989, Dr. Pantoja joined the International Center for Tropical Agriculture where he occupied the position of Research Fellow and Chief Rice Entomologist. Here he led a multidisciplinary and international team of scientists to publish the first book on integrated pest management devoted to rice management in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 1993, he returned to the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, where he progressed through the ranks to Full Professor, Department Head, Deputy Director for Research, and Associate Dean for Research.

Dr. Pantoja joined ARS in 2003 as a Research Leader and Location Coordinator for the Subarctic Agricultural Research Unit in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he was elected as President of the Circumpolar Agricultural Association and served in the Advisory Board for Alaska’s Division of Agriculture.

In 2011, Dr. Pantoja joined the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization Regional Office in Santiago, Chile as Crop Production and Protection Officer (CPPO) for South America. In 2012, he was appointed CPPO for Latin America and the Caribbean. From 2014 to 2015 he completed a detail in Asuncion, Paraguay as Technical Officer in charge of the FAO Paraguay office. Dr. Pantoja has published over 100-peer-reviewed articles in scientific literature and 75 lay articles for growers and crop protection specialists.


JL Willett 
Midwest Area Director

Phone: (309) 681 – 6602

Alberto Pantoja
Associate Director

Phone: (309) 681 – 6601

Sherri Buxton
Management Analyst

Phone: (309) 681 – 6602

Renee Wagner
Technology Transfer Coordinator

Phone: (309) 681 – 6565

Babette Davis
Technology Transfer Assistant

Phone: (309) 681 – 6503

Tracy Durre
Administrative Support Assistant

Phone: (309) 681 – 6110

Deb Palmquist
Area Statistician

Phone: (309) 681 – 6587

Lori Wilson-Voss
Program Analyst

Phone: (515) 694 - 5148

VacantExecutive Assistant


Vacant, Equal Employment Manager