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Out of the classroom experiences encouraged CALS student to pursue entomology and nematology degree

Soto at Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center in February 2019.

Noemi Soto never thought of pursuing a degree in entomology and nematology. In fact, she was once fearful of insects entirely. However, through an internship and class field trip, Soto was introduced to the world of insects, confirming her path as an entomology and nematology graduate student.

As an undergraduate microbiology and cell science student in CALS, Soto was originally interested in human biology, never thinking of the important role insects play in human, animal and plant health.

In 2017, Soto interned with Dr. Brian Bahder, an assistant professor specializing in insect vector ecology at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, where she gained lab experience.

Under Bahder’s supervision, Soto studied palms, worked closely with insects, walked miles of fields, and learned how to use qPCR and PCR. Soto became more interested in the entomology and nematology department after learning she could conduct research in one of her favorite places – the outdoors.

Soto in Costa Rica collecting research data.

“My whole world and view of insects had changed significantly upon working in my internship…” said Soto.

“Noemi’s experience is one of many reasons Vice President Scott Angle and I feel so strongly that every student should have the opportunity for life-changing experiences like internships, research, study abroad and others,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “The VP Promise initiative seeks to grow funding to support more of these opportunities.”

Soto extracting plant DNA for the first time under the supervision of Dr. Bahder and Ericka Helmick at the Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center.

In addition to her internship, Soto became further inspired to pursue a master’s degree after meeting an inspiring role model on a trip with the microbiology and cell science department to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Georgia.

“I found it to be the most memorable moment because upon my visit I had the opportunity to converse with another woman of color, like me, working in a STEM position,” said Soto. “I hadn’t realized the meaning of representation until I saw someone who looked like me working at the CDC.”

As a graduate student, Soto has overcome her fears and traveled internationally to collect insects, describing her experience as exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Soto in Costa Rica collecting research data.

Sotto said, “I have collected in the dead of night, on the hottest day of June, near the busy streets and highways near my home, and the deep vegetative forest of Costa Rica.”

Soto hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in epidemiology in the future, focusing on statistical knowledge on insect vectored diseases.

Noemi Soto

Entomology and Nematology Major

Fall 2020 Master’s Degree Graduate

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