What Purdue means to me…
In the winter of 1992, at the age of 33, I made the most important decision of my life. It wasn’t buying stock, changing jobs, or getting married and having children (I already had three daughters, the oldest was 4 years of age). The important decision was my commitment to an idea. That idea was to improve my understanding of the science of entomology by seeking an advanced degree, and in doing so, improve my career potential.
Being from the mid-west (born and raised in Ohio), the very first university entomology department I thought of was Purdue. Purdue was at the forefront of my thoughts because at almost every pest management conference or state association meeting I attended, there was usually someone teaching from Purdue University’s Entomology Urban Center. Not only were these Purdue entomologists experts in their respective fields of science, but anyone who sat and listened to the teachings of John Osmun, Tom Turpin, Gary Bennett, Arwin Provonsha, or John MacDonald could hear the passion they shared for their profession. These one-on-one experiences hooked me on my own idea, and I knew that Purdue was where I wanted to learn entomology and help accelerate my career.
In retrospect, l knew this path wouldn’t be easy for several reasons: 1) While I had completed my B.S. in biology, I had scored very inconsistent grades, 2) I was supporting a young family of 5 which presented financial challenges, and 3) I was also battling my own lack of confidence. I knew it would be essential for me to continue building on my foundation of a good attitude, increase my knowledge level, and the development of skills to strengthen confidence in myself. The experience as a corporate educator and trainer in the pest management industry had helped to build teaching confidence, but knew I still had more to achieve. I was certain Purdue and the Department of Entomology was the answer.
Upon arriving in West Lafayette, a host of faculty and students came to my rescue in helping me move into town. My co-advisors Gary Bennett and Tim Gibb, as well as Wayne Buhler, Bobby Corrigan, and several students pitched in and strained a few muscles on a Saturday to get us moved in. This set the stage for the next three years. I felt like I was part of a team.
To start, the department admitted me on a temporary basis as a “non-degree seeking post baccalaureate” student. I used to joke about what a mouthful of title it was, and not where I wanted to be as an unofficial student. I took that opportunity with my foot in the door to prove that I could make the grade. However, to qualify as an official graduate student, the graduate committee required me to take three graduate courses of their choosing and have a 4.0 grade average for admission. With the department’s challenge delivered, everything was on the line for me.
I successfully completed my trial semester course work fulfilling the requirements, and was admitted to the department as an official Purdue graduate student! My advisors (Tim Gibb and Gary Bennett), promptly placed me in the turfgrass program, which I resisted at first. As I explained to Gary Bennett, “I have 12 years of experience in structural pest management,” and he said to me; “that’s why I’m not putting you there!” He explained that I needed to understand other disciplines related to, and that surround structural pest management. I conceded to Gary’s advice and accepted my fate.
When I first met the turfgrass entomology team, I found they were phenomenal people. It didn’t take long before I found out that I really enjoyed the turfgrass discipline, and it was great working with the new team from a different perspective.
Doing well in class and helping other graduate students with projects were fun learning experiences. While I was there to take classes and work on projects, the turf entomology crew never missed a chance to have some fun. There were Christmas parties, complete with sliding down the fire escape silos, summer picnics, fireworks gatherings at Linda Mason’s house, field crop harvests (free graduate student food!), and three summer softball championships were some of the highlights.
In December of 1996, I graduated with my M.S. degree, and while I wanted to stay for a PhD in Adult Education, my children were in demand of additional resources. Therefore, I chose to go back to industry, and to the same company I came from, Rose Pest Solutions in Troy, MI. The added knowledge and skills I had gained at Purdue enriched my teaching ability and I passed hundreds, if not well over a thousand employees through training courses I developed.
In 2013, I was asked to join the Rentokil North American team as the Central Market’s Technical Director which included Canada and Mexico. This was a busy time since this market segment was the strongest in the company. In 2015, a promotion to Technical Director of North America with a technical team of 27 happened.
In 2018, the company was expanding its reach into the mosquito and vector management global markets. I was asked to guide that program as the Global Director of Vector Management, the position I still hold today.
Another highlight of my post-graduate time working with Purdue Entomology was serving on the Entomology Development Council as chair of our committee. During my tenure we worked as a team with department head Steve Yaninek, to oversee the Centennial Celebration and other projects that enhanced the entomology experience. Our committee was one of the first to hear Tom Turpin’s proposal (what sounded at first like a crazy idea) for the development of a statue entitled “The Entomologist.” After hearing Tom’s idea, there was not one committee member who said it couldn’t be done, but that it should be done! The now famous statue sits proudly on campus, and still gives me chills when I think about its inauguration day.
In 2019, PCT Magazine presented me with the Crown Leadership Award for excellence of service to our industry. While personally, it was a really great and humbling moment for me. My greater reward though, came from the children at “bug” related events who smiled and said they “loved bugs and the bug show,” from students who wrote evaluations and said “thanks for teaching me this, it helped me on my job today,” and from the conference attendee that said they “got more than just certification credits from my presentation.”
So, when someone asks me what Purdue means to me… The easy answer is everything; Purdue built on my foundation, strengthened my relationships, and added credibility and confidence to do things and go places that were only dreams of my past. Purdue entomology provided to me the opportunity of a better future…
Gene White, M.S., BCE
Global Director of Vector Management
Rentokil – Initial