Texas A&M Entomology Students Receive Numerous Awards during Southwestern Branch Meeting

Derek Woller, left, receives the Comstock Award from Jerry Michels

Derek Woller, left, receives the Comstock Award from Jerry Michels during the awards presentation at the conference.

TYLER, Texas – Seven students walked away winners at the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society meeting February 22-25 in Tyler.

Ph.D. student Derek Woller received the ESA’s Comstock Award. This prestigious award with one graduate student from each branch recognized for their accomplishments in research, service, and public engagement. The award is financial support to attend the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America which this year is co-located with the International Congress of Entomology to be held in September in Orlando, FL.

Woller is a Ph.D student currently studying in Dr. Hojun Song’s lab where his research is focusing on unraveling the evolutionary history of a group composed of 24 flightless, small grasshopper species that inhabit scrubby, xeric habitats in the Southeast.

Woller said that he couldn’t have done it without his advisor, Dr. Hojun Song.

“There is no higher honor for a graduate student in entomology than the Comstock award, so I was thrilled when I received the news!” Woller said. “Looking over the list of past recipients

I see many names of people I know and respect very much in the entomological community, including my advisor, Hojun Song, and I’m proud to be a part of that shared history.”

Song was very proud of Woller’s hard work and dedication to his lab and research.

“The John Henry Comstock Award is the highest honor for graduate students in entomology to receive in this country. Derek has been an exemplar graduate student since 2011. First and foremost, he is an excellent scientist with many ideas. His dissertation research, which focuses on the evolution of flightless grasshopper in Florida, is likely to be a model study for studying the evolution of male genitalia in a phylogenetic framework.”

Isaac Esquivel showing his poster to judges during the Ph.D. poster sessin

Isaac Esquivel showing his poster to judges during the Ph.D. poster session

At the poster session, Erin Maxson received second place in the Master Student category for her poster “Species composition and seasonality of the natural enemies of sugarcane aphid on susceptible and resistant sorghum” and Isaac Esquivel received second in the Ph.D. category for “Spatial relationships of plant bugs in large scale cotton operations: Do edge and ecotone matter.”

Esquivel’s co-advisor Michael Brewer was proud of his accomplishments and said that he was grateful for him being in his lab.

“Isaac brings a fresh perspective to the question of how and why spatial patterns of insect presence of activity are relevant to insects on plants in agricultural lands nested within the coastal environment of South Texas,” Brewer said. “He really brings in the science of landscape ecology to his research. I has been fun to work with Isaac, and serve as his mentor along with Bob Coulson.”

Coulson also praised Esquivel for all of his hard work and dedication with his project.

“Both Dr. Brewer and I are celebrating with Isaac in his success at the Southwestern Branch Meeting. His award was not a surprise to either of us as the story of his poster was significant and interesting and his preparation was meticulous,” he said. “Good work Isaac.”

Shelby Kilpatrick, center, with Blake Bextine, left, and Jerry Michels, right, at the awards ceremony

Shelby Kilpatrick, center, with Blake Bextine, left, and Jerry Michels, right, at the awards ceremony

“Erin has worked very hard on the research that led to this poster, and she worked very hard on the poster itself,” Maxson’s advisor Dr. Jim Woolley said. “Her macrophotography of insects is really superb, and in a class by itself, so we were delighted, but not at all surprised, when her poster won second place in the graduate student competition.”

In the Undergraduate Ten-Minute Paper competition, Shelby Kilpatrick received first place for her talk “An updated checklist of the bees of the Commonwealth of Dominica (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila)”

“Shelby had a lot of fun with this project during our field and tropical biology course in Dominica in summer of 2015, and she worked long hours collecting and identifying the bees,” Woolley said. “As a result she made several interesting new discoveries that she reported in her talk.  The talk itself was very well prepared and she practiced it over and over with different audiences, so again, we were delighted but not at all surprised when she won first prize in the undergraduate competition.”

Masters student Pierre Lau placed second in the Masters talks for his presentation “Analysis of pollen collected by honey bees (Apis mellifera) in developed areas”.

In the Ph.D. Student Ten-Minute Paper competition, Woller received first place for his talk “Exploring the sexy frontiers of functional morphology…in 3D!!! (Orthoptera: Acrididae: Melanoplus rotundipennis)” while Mackenzie Kjeldgaard received second for “Quantifying the diet of the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis

Pierre Lau, center, with Blake Bextine, left, ad Jerry Michels

Pierre Lau, center, with Blake Bextine, left, ad Jerry Michels

invicta): A next-generation sequencing approach to molecular gut content analysis,” and Adrian Fisher received third place for “The synergistic effects of almond protection fungicides on honey bee (Apis mellifera) forager survival.”

Song was very proud of Woller’s communication skills and praised his dedication to his achievements and dedication to teaching entomology.

“Derek is also a fantastic scientific communicator and his passion for outreach is unparalleled. He is dedicated to his teaching, which he takes very seriously, and the students that he interacts with always benefit and learn from him tremendously,” Song said.

Adrian Fisher II, center, with Blake Bextine, left, ad Jerry Michels

Adrian Fisher II, center, with Blake Bextine, left, ad Jerry Michels

“I am very proud of Derek’s achievements so far, including the recent award at the Southwestern Branch meeting, and I feel extremely lucky to have him as my graduate student. I am confident that Derek will be the next rising star in entomology.”

Eubanks was very proud of Kjeldgaard on receiving high marks on her talk.

“MacKenzie is an outstanding young scientist and an incredibly energetic student. This study utilizes the very latest molecular techniques to provide unique insight into the ecology of one of the most serious pests of Texas,” he said.

Rangel was very proud of her students and said their hard work and dedication in the past months had paid off during the meeting.

“I am incredibly proud of Pierre and Adrian because they worked really hard on their presentations,” In my lab we take time to practice every person’s talk at least twice before every meeting,” Rangel said. “Having practiced even the day before the competition one last time helped them to improve their talk and the way in which they presented their research to the audience. These and all the other awards that my students received make me not only proud but encouraged about continuing to excel in honeybee research.”

Woller also won Best Overall Photo for his photo named “Captivating Chrysalis” and Xanthe Shirley received first place in the Microphotography category for her photo called “Contemplating Quantum Physics”.

Photo salon committee chair Carl Hjelmen said that there were a total of 51 submissions in this year’s salon and said the images increased in quality compared to last year’s.

“I was very pleased with the number of submissions, especially that there were representatives from all around the branch,” Hjelmen said. “I hope the trend of increased photo salon entries continue.”

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