I entered Purdue as a Ph.D. graduate student in August 1991. I entered with a large class of graduate students, (nearly twenty of us!) most of whom, strangely enough, had little entomology in their backgrounds. I had an M.S. from Clemson University in Marine Zoology and had taught freshman biology for three years as a junior faculty member at NC State University before coming to Purdue’s Entomology Department. At Clemson I had had one Insect ID class and of course, I knew the marine invertebrates very well. As it turned out, there were two other folks in the entering class that also had marine biology backgrounds. So, an introductory class of General Entomology was immediately organized by Dr. John MacDonald to teach us the basics. All of us were enrolled in the class, and we became rather tightknit. (Dr. Barry Pittendrigh was a new student in my class as well. He also became my graduate student officemate along with Dr. Mike Scharf.) Dr. Oseto was Department Head and saw the need for this basic class for the new grad students.
Dr. Gary Bennett heavily recruited me, and as I have heard so many colleagues in the Integrated Pest Management Industry tell me, I never set out to be in Pest Management. I would have never imagined this as a career in a million years! I was going to be a faculty member at a small liberal arts college and teach invertebrate zoology – my goal at the time. Thank goodness for Gary’s intervention in my life, as what a wonderful and rewarding career it has turned out to be.
I currently work for American Pest (AP) in the DMV (DC metro area of Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia) as an entomologist. I’ve been at AP now almost 13 years. Essentially, I am the professor I wanted to be, but of adult students (pest management technicians) that are learning invertebrate zoology – about arthropods, some crustaceans (sowbugs), some mollusks (slugs), lots of arachnids, and some myriapods (millipedes and centipedes). So I make a trip to the beach each year, to see the lacking echinoderms!
In my current role, I oversee one of our largest government accounts (NIH) and a crew of dedicated supervisors and technicians to keep this huge account and their various campuses at Bethesda, Ft. Detrick and Johns Hopkins pest free. Due to NIH’s sensitive nature – very sick persons come here to be treated from around the world and clinical studies of such things as Ebola and Covid are going on on campuses, we attempt to do IPM with very minimal usage of pesticides. It requires a lot of thinking creatively – using exclusion, lighting changes, landscaping changes, sanitation, etc. That is very appealing and rewarding to me. Prior to working at American Pest, I was the senior technical entomologist at the pest management industry’s trade association, NPMA (the National Pest Management Association) for 5 years. Prior to that, I got my start straight out of Purdue at Western Pest Services in Region 3 (also MD/DC/VA) as an entomologist for 8 years.
The really cool things about these jobs have been seeing the behind the scenes of pretty much everything, including some impressive places, like the White House, the Supreme Court, the Capitol, the House of Representatives and the Senate Office Buildings, the Smithsonian, Nationals Park and Camden Yards, Anheuser Brewing, Reynolds Aluminum, Phillip Morris, Dominos Sugar, and various celebrities’ homes and offices, like Sandra Day O’Connor, Hillary Clinton, Dr. Fauci, Ted Koppel and Wolf Blitzer. But the next day, I might also find myself in DC, Richmond, or Baltimore City public housing chasing rodents, cockroaches or bed bugs. Pests are equal opportunists and great equalizers. They cut across all socioeconomic lines. That is also VERY appealing to me about this business and industry. I love diagnosing and solving pest problems and making customers happy. What is more, I seem to have a natural knack for doing it. But I got my start at Purdue with the Bennett lab in the Center for Urban and Industrial Pest Management!
My research was with the German cockroach, Blattella germanica and the effects of Fenoxycarb on the reproductive behavior and morphology of said creature. Ciba-Geigy supported my research, since they made a pesticide at the time called Torus that was in use. It was an IGR (insect growth regulator – a juvenile hormone mimic in this case) that if applied at a certain point in the lifecycle of the cockroach, would disrupt courtship and mating behavior. I documented this with ethograms of courtship behavior of treated vs control cockroaches and with SEM of the various structures involved in courtship behaviors. (All cuticular components – antennae, wings, genitalia, and the tergal glands were affected and mating behavior was reduced significantly.) Ootheca production before and after treatments and numbers of offspring were also enumerated and shown to be reduced by the IGR. Most of my work was done up in the Flight Room of then Entomology Hall. So, I spent a lot of time in that architecturally beautiful old building.
So, what was it like being a graduate student at Purdue Entomology in the early to mid-1990s? When I wasn’t doing research, I was summer gardening at the graduate student garden plots by the Purdue airport with Dr. Gary Bennett. He and I are both Southerners and wanted to show others peanuts and okra growing. I was co-captain of the Bugs in the Hall co-ed softball team with Dr. Ray Cloyd, another classmate. I babysat, housesat or dog sat respectively for Larry and Janet Bledsoe, the Bennetts and Dr. John and Dottie Osmun. I loved the Osmun’s Blue English Cocker spaniel, Cordon Bleu. Just ask Larry Bledsoe about my expert pinning of the diaper backwards on his toddler son! (He only recently told me this, more than 25 years later!) Hey, I’d never had kids before! The child survived and is now an adult and doing well.
Other highlights were helping Dr. Tom Turpin start the original and then subsequently annual spring Bug Bowl. I had the Insects as Food booth (also sponsored by IPCA) and was interviewed during the same week by both National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) Scott Simon and People Magazine – unfortunately, the magazine cover shows Princess Diana and not me with my chocolate chirpy chip cookies for some reason – even though they make you jump for joy!
Drs. Wayne Buhler and Colwell Cook coached the Linnaean Team, a quiz bowl type game that I was a member of with Dr. Barry Pittendrigh and Dr. John McHugh, Gene White, and Dr. Hal Meyers. We traveled to regional and National ESA meetings to compete as well as to give our individual research talks in our various sections. We were Linnaean team champs! We went to beautiful Fargo, ND in a van together in the early spring with Wayne at the helm. I was the only female! We came back with the trophy!
Dr. Joe Demark and his wife Paula and their dog Maggie would have me over for Wisconsin Beer and Brats, which until meeting them, I’d never had. Joe was also working in Gary’s lab. We became lifelong friends. He works for the former DOW, now Corteva. DOW supported many of Gary’s students’ research projects, and in May each year, they would invite us (the whole Urban lab) to the Indy 500 prerace time trials. What a thrill to have those cars rumble by where you were sitting, while networking with future colleagues in the industry. To sit there we had to sign a liability waiver form in case some flying tire or fender came our way. I recall we got to meet the driver Mario Andretti in the pit afterward. I had no idea the cars and drivers were so small.
In the fall months near Halloween there were hayrides and barn parties at Chris and Tom Turpin’s and Dr. Neal Haskell’s farms. Chris’s roses were always so beautiful, and their pond was fun to paddle a canoe on under the changing leaves. We might get recruited to help Tom with his sheep feeding or other chores along the way.
At Christmas time, there was a departmental dinner, held in Entomology Hall. All the faculty and all the students (grad and undergrad alike) brought their families and covered dishes to share, and we sat at a long table running down the lobby all together. Santa (John Obermeyer) would have all the kids come up and receive a gift. We’d sing carols. Photos were made, and then two events would occur: 1) everyone would get a ride around campus on the Boilermaker Special train vehicle, and 2) the old spiral sliding fire escape hatches on the second floor of Entomology Hall would be dusted out, unlocked, and square pieces of carpets provided for young and young at heart to ride down the spiraling chute slide and land in the parking lot outside. I will never forget Dr. John Osmun in line behind me to do so, and he was an emeritus professor, and 85 at that time! I stood at the bottom of the door to sort of catch him when he was thrust out the chute! (I was a little concerned, but he seemed to really enjoy himself.)
In January (and really all year preparing), all of Gary’s Urban students were on call to assist with the annual Purdue Pest Management Conference organization and preparation. What an opportunity to have as a student! We organized and ran the conference under the watchful eyes of Gary and Sandra Stephens-Reeves. (Barry and Holly Fletcher-Timmons now do this quite ably as well!) All of us were expected to also give talks on our research topics and findings, or a class for technicians to earn CCH/CEU credits. We were introduced to the Pest Management Fraternity Pi Chi Omega founded by Dr. John (and Dottie) Osmun and his earliest students. Many of us received scholarships from this wonderful organization that helped to fund our research; I remain grateful for the three I received. That was where we met our future employers and networked among the industry greats for almost a week each year. I was recruited by Dick Sameth of Western Pest Services when he attended a class I was giving for CCH/CEU’s and then met him at a Pi Chi Omega dinner that week. Of course, at the time I told him thank you very much, but I was going to be a small liberal arts college invertebrate zoology professor! He nodded politely, and invited me to breakfast the next day, and gave me his card, and told me to just think about it. I could always go back to academia after working in the industry for a couple of years. Then he generously invited me out to interview and stay with his family during the interview. How could I say no?
In the winter months, usually in February, Gary and Milta Bennett would host the wild game feast at their home. All urban lab students and staff and really anyone in the department was invited to bring some game animal they had caught and cook it and share it with others. There were always several adult beverages involved. (There had to be to devour groundhog and possum.) My dad overnighted me some fresh oysters from Folly Beach, SC where I’m from to share on one such occasion. Most of the Hoosiers did not touch them, but Gary and I lit into them as the Coastal Southerners that we are! I remember a favorite recipe for all at the party was always Dr. Mike Scharf’s Duck Rumaki. I’d still like to have it, Mike! No offense, but I don’t need the groundhog or possum ones.
One of my greatest accomplishments as a grad student at Purdue was my role in saving Entomology (now Pfendler) Hall. The building was built in 1901 and has a beautiful oaken staircase and interior foyer. It is a sister building to the Chicago Art Institute and on the exterior the Architect (Robert Frost Dagget) used the same features of the main and side areas with the denticles along the roofline. With support from many faculty members, fellow students, and Dr. John Osmun himself, we were able to connect with Indiana and Federal Historical Registry and Society and have the building recognized as a historical landmark. Consequently, I received a lesson in civics, history, architecture, feasibility and ADA studies, and local government and activism while also learning about the German cockroach.
There are so many life lessons in this story. Suffice it to say, Purdue taught me so much about life and career opportunities. They launched me into the world ready to take on Integrated Pest Management with a host of colleagues and lifelong friends. It was the best move I have ever made.