As of today I have been with the Pesticide Information Office for one month. I am delighted to introduce myself and my new role! They say the devil is in the details and I intend to embed myself in the details of safe pesticide application and compliance. So, I ask that you have some sympathy for this devil as I share how I came to be spending my spare time scalloping in Florida, and my career time working in pesticide safety. Please allow me to introduce myself!
I grew up in small town Indiana where I thought I would become a veterinarian. I went to Purdue University to meet this goal and quickly went off track. In one of the first courses I took an entomologist visited and caught enough of my attention to take his spider biology course. From there, I took medical and veterinary entomology, and then accepted a position in a biological control laboratory. In this lab we did a lot of field work and reared insect colonies of ladybugs and parasitic wasps. I was pretty much hooked then and decided to change my major to Entomology. It seemed to me that insects affected every aspect of our lives from human and animal health, to agriculture, and even as a part of the food chains which make up our natural world. I thought that I would never be able to learn it all and would never get bored. I am happy to say that I was right! In addition to the work in biological control, I was also able to work in a medical entomology lab where we studied mosquitos and the human body louse. I learned a lot about insects as vectors of disease and their importance in public health. I graduated with my B.S. in entomology at Purdue in 2007 and moved on to Kansas State University. There I continued work in mosquitoes and debated what I would do next.
This was a hard point in my life because I was tired of school! I wasn’t sure what a 9-5 job would be like in the world of the public health industry and I wasn’t confident enough yet to try for something with the seemingly huge agricultural industry. The USDA seemed like a huge organization, way too big for someone little like me.
I decided to apply for a volunteer position in the Peace Corps, and before I knew it I was off to Senegal, West Africa! I served as a Sustainable Agriculture Extension Agent for two years in a small village.
There was no electricity or plumbing and life in general was much more challenging. Little things like doing the laundry became big time and energy consuming chores. I spent most of my days helping people increase production in their gardens. With the support of other volunteers, I also helped to build up the community by sharing information on mosquitoes as vectors of malaria, and nutritional information to improve overall health. I was fully entrenched in the culture, learned to speak Wolof, and ate whatever my host family was eating.
When I came back to the U.S. I spent some time working in the Agricultural Industry with a company then known as Monsanto. After a few months of this I decided I’d had enough of a break from academia and began applying to graduate schools. A year later I packed up my bags and headed to LSU. There I began to study induced resistance in rice to insect herbivores and various roles of pesticides in Integrated Pest Management (IPM). I became very interested and invested in this work and was able to combine my love of the plant and insect world and love of traveling through university and industry sponsored trips around the world.
One opportunity I had was to do a short course with the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Philippines. I attended the course Rice Research to Production while learning the local cultural methods of IPM. It was an amazing trip that helped me to understand the diverse array of methods in agricultural pest management.
I made connections at the short course that benefited me years later when I was awarded funds for an internship. I had met a scientist Buyung Hadi, who was an entomologist, and he was willing to host me in Cambodia. While there we did a huge project on extension and communication about pesticides. I learned a lot about how the information available to the Cambodian farmers strongly affected their choice of pesticide use.
My final trip as a PhD student was to Nicaragua. There I was a consultant on a rice farm. We were working to determine the most economic means to control a relatively new pest, the rice delphacid. This was an important project because the pest had made it all the way into Texas on a couple occasions and with the way pests have been expanding our range we wanted to be prepared in the case this insect became a problem in rice in the US.
After I graduated, I took an opportunity to work in biological control at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. Here I was able to see insects and other animals I had only seen in books or never even imagined! It was another great opportunity to expand my horizons as far as understanding more of the tolls we can use in pest control. I also gained appreciation for another new culture as I continued to open my mind to different foods, music, and languages.
Putting Down Roots
Then I began applying to positions with the University of Florida. I wasn’t offered an interview for one of those positions right away but was offered a position at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). I learned that, you can’t always get what you want but if you try, sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. At FDACS I was the head of the air potato beetle program. We distributed hundreds of thousands of beetles throughout the southern U.S. to help manage the invasive air potato vine. I was able to meet many people in the organization and learn how our state agriculture department is run. This position gave me more background and experience in the right areas to prepare for my new position here at the PIO. I guess I got what I needed!
At the PIO I will be working to help pesticide applicators find the right certification, the path to recertification, helping the general public with questions they have about pesticide safety, and much more. I am very excited to learn more about my new role and how I can help my community and serve the state of Florida!
I’ve referenced The Rolling Stones throughout this post and I think one of the lyrics that most suits my career path is, “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind”. This is because I have clearly not had a straight path to my current role and there were times when I felt I would lose my mind! I have always been happiest when pursuing my dreams including my love of insects, plants, travel, and sharing my knowledge to the benefit of those around me. I’m so happy to have landed in a dream position where I can enjoy the things I love. Thank you for allowing me to introduce myself! I am looking forward to serving my community by providing information on safe and appropriate use of pesticides. Please reach out if ever you have a question that I might be able to help you with!