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Expo8.jpg (25750 bytes) Raison d’Ítre of the Entomology Graduate Student Association...
by Mark Carroll
The existence of EGSA reveals that, after courses, prelims, research, teaching, and other commitments, we graduate students still have a lot of love for entomology to go around. The outward manifestation of this love is our goal to promote a better understanding of entomology through community outreach. Its expression has not escaped those around us: a recurrent theme I hear around the community is the enthusiasm we have for entomology, followed by surprise at the small size of our department. Thus goes our mission to engage kids who haven’t been indoctrinated yet into the bug-squashing, bee-swatting hate choir of our society, and to deprogram adults who have joined this cult. Who hasn’t smiled as first-graders clamor to hold a tobacco hornworm, while adults cringe in horror at the disease-carrying, wriggling, filthy vermin before their eyes? We aim to change those adult attitudes.

The Insect Expo allows us to reach the community en masse by the thousands. Almost all of our graduate students contribute to the displays, games, and exhibitions. The 2-day event opens Friday morning with the rumble of thousands of little feet as schoolchildren completely fill the Union ballroom. As teachers, parents, and chaperones barely maintain control of the excited masses, it is a interesting to see what entomology is to a child with minimal adult interference. Children get the chance to pick up live cockroaches, look at Dan Capp’s amazing insect collection, sport some insect ink (temporary tattoos), and check out dozens of different displays. In the midst of this lovable chaos, graduate students talk entomology to folks at all levels and all ages.

Our second major public education event is the Insect Fear Film Festival, in its 16th year and co-sponsored by EGSA and the department. The popularity of this event has grown such that we have moved to Foellinger Auditorium to accommodate everyone. Lest you think that the IFFF has turned into a slick media production, the Festival remains the grassroots creation of May Berenbaum, the graduate students, and the loving public in its spirit. Our graduate students start the evening by providing vivid reminders of the mosquito theme with live insects and displays. Brave souls place a hand into the mosquito petting zoo—did they choose the right sex? Then there’s face painting and origami to recreate a favorite insect. It’s all learning cleverly disguised as fun before the films begin.

Our creative urges take altruistic turns, too. In the vein of this year’s mosquito theme, we co-sponsored a blood drive with Community Blood Services at the Festival. The response from the entomologists and community was a success, as 22 volunteers followed the mantra of "Give before they take..." with blood donations.

This spring we revived the Bug-O’-Lunch, an informal lunch seminar series held every Wednesday. Where else can you munch on a ham-and-cheese sand-wich while viewing slides of flies? Just about any entomological topic from anyone is game in this brown bag series. Bug-O’-Lunch also allows us to learn more about our colleagues, as they recount travels and research from years past.

Of course, these events are just the official public expressions of EGSA. We also engage in group stress alleviation sessions, where we eat food, drink beer, listen to guitar, watch movies, and talk. Sometimes this falls under the guise of a Halloween Party, Superbowl Party, or John Carpenter Film Fest, while other times indulgence for its own sake is freely admitted. The key is that we find camaraderie in entomology alongside purpose, and we enjoy ourselves in the process.

Entomology

Integrative Biology University of Illinois

Updated 12/09/99