Kadie Britt, Jacqueline Brown and Grant Schiermeyer, students in the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, recently won the 2019 Alwood Extension Award.
Dr. Michael Weaver, director of Virginia Tech pesticide programs and professor emeritus in entomology, presented the awards on March 15 at the Hokie BugFest volunteer and sponsor celebration held at Frank Theatres CineBowl and Grille in Blacksburg.
Since its inception in 2014, the Alwood Extension Award has celebrated the work of 13 entomology students who dedicate themselves to Cooperative Extension and outreach service. Each award recipient receives a $500 scholarship, a plaque and a commemorative print. The award honors the legacy of William Bradford Alwood, Virginia Tech’s first entomologist and a world-renowned scientist.
Britt, a Ph.D. candidate, is studying integrated pest management of insects in hemp (Cannabis sativa). “I am interested in insect relationships with cannabis systems, particularly on a chemical level,” she explains. Her research addresses the impact of hemp defoliation by the corn ear worm and brown marmorated stink bug, as well as suitable host plants of the cannabis aphid in Virginia.
Originally from Wingate, North Carolina, Britt received her Bachelor of Science from Emory and Henry College in 2013 and her Master of Science from the University of Tennessee in 2016. She credits her start in entomology to summer courses and post-baccalaureate research at Wingate University where she says she “fell in love with bugs!”
Since arriving at Virginia Tech in 2016, Britt has been an active member of the W.B. Alwood Society, serving as fundraising chair, vice president and president. She has dedicated countless hours as a counselor and presenter at the 2017 and 2018 Hokie BugCamp, Hokie BugFest organizer and volunteer for entomology outreach programs for schools and science museums. Britt is the senior author of three Extension publications and has participated as a panelist and guest speaker at several Extension workshops. Additionally,she has mentored two Virginia Tech undergraduate students.
In the future, Britt hopes to dive deeper into agricultural entomology and Extension, linking her research to the needs of growers. “It’s absolutely the most interesting thing to me,” she said, adding that she also wants to “spread the word that entomology exists, and that it’s an exciting and important career option.”
Brown, a Master of Science candidate, is studying 4-H entomology curriculum for youth ages 6 to 8 years. Anyone who meets her knows immediately her love for outreach, extension and interpretation as well as her magical ability to connect with kids. Brown’s other research interests include pesticide safety education, biodiversity conservation, science communication and management of human-wildlife interactions.
Originally from Crofton, Maryland, Brown received her Bachelor of Science in fisheries science from Virginia Tech in 2010. She first became interested in entomology in elementary school when she found a Hercules beetle and took it to a local university to learn more. Years later as an undergraduate, “I took several courses in aquatic entomology and that got me hooked!" she said. "The importance of insects in ecosystems and the fascinating diversity of behaviors they have evolved never ceases to amaze me.”
As an entomology graduate student, Brown has been instrumental in the growth and development of many of the department’s outreach activities, including building online Extension courses in pesticide safety education, teaching in the Virginia Cooperative Extension annual conference, and helping to plan and organize Hokie BugCamp and Hokie BugFest. She has presented numerous insect-themed programs at museums and local schools, and currently works as a lead teacher at the Blacksburg Nature Center on “Entomology Wednesdays.” She also has a love for natural history curation and can be credited with pioneering innovative methods of animal husbandry to build the department’s extensive Hokie BugZoo.
When asked about her long-term goals as an entomologist, Brown said, “I would like to continue teaching the public about all sorts of entomology-related topics, while making it easier for scientists to communicate their findings to diverse audiences.”
Schiermeyer, the Alwood Award’s first undergraduate recipient, is a wildlife conservation major and entomology minor. He currently works with entomology outreach and curation of educational and scientific resources. His research interests include habitat conservation, effects of urbanization on invertebrate communities, biogeography and phylogenetics.
Originally from Culpeper, Schiermeyer’s fascination with entomology started at a young age. He describes watching and catching bugs often as a child, including the day he found a Carolina dung beetle. “It was the largest beetle I had ever seen and I was amazed by how strong it was when it pushed my fingers apart as it tried to get away,” he reflected.
Over the past two years, Schiermeyer has volunteered countless hours with the Virginia Tech Entomology Department. He has assisted with Hokie BugCamp, Hokie BugFest, 4-H camps and club visits, school tours and insect-inspired exhibits at museums, festivals and local libraries. He currently works as the head curator of the Hokie BugZoo. In 2018, he worked with Brown to enable the blue death-feigning beetle to reproduce in captivity -- an accomplishment previously reported by only the Cincinnati Zoo.
A senior at Virginia Tech, Schiermeyer plans to continue as curator of the Hokie BugZoo, and eventually go on to graduate school. Long-term, he hopes to “foster a greater understanding and respect for invertebrates with the public.”
Britt, Brown and Schiermeyer are outstanding examples of the best Virginia Tech students and of the meaning of "Ut Prosim." They easily fit the criteria of the Alwood Extension Award, which includes selfless dedication, patience, leadership, integrity, honesty, a positive attitude and scholarship.
Submitted by Dana Beegle