When Rebecca "RJ" Millena recently received her bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis, it was the culmination of her kindergarten dream. At age 5, she wrote on her "About Me" poster in her Concord (Calif.) kindergarten class: "When I grow up, I want to be an entomologist."
And now she's 22 with a prized diploma in hand and an insect-themed graduation cap on her head.
The graduation cap, featuring the metamorphosis of a butterfly, is lettered with "When I grow up I want to be an entomologist."
The cap and net images are the work of Kalee Fagan, "the older sister of my best friend from high school," RJ related.
RJ's graduation cap is now entered in a UC Davis graduation cap design contest. Folks can vote for her design by simply liking this UC Davis Facebook page or making a comment by noon (Pacific Daylight Time) on June 23. The four winners receive gift cards: first-place, $300; second, $200; third, $100, and editor's choice, $100.
Her contest entry:
Minors: Nematology, and Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity
In kindergarten, I once wrote, “When I grow up, I want to be an Entomologist.” As I graduate and continue studying insect evolution in a PhD program, I celebrate the fulfillment of my childhood dream with my cap. It features the original marker phrase from my kindergarten poster. Additionally, my first college field project involved the California pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor)—here it represents my metamorphosis from a hopeful child to a fully-fledged entomologist.
In her dual roles as an independent student researcher in the laboratory of Jay Rosenheim, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomologist and a scholar with the Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program, RJ is now finishing a research paper on Strepsiptera endoparasites, which attack their hosts, the Ammophila (thread-waisted) wasps. UC LEADS is a two-year program that prepares promising students for advanced education in science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM).
As part of her UC LEADS project, RJ studied specimens at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. As larvae, members of the order Strepsiptera, known as “twisted wings,” enter their hosts, including wasps and bees, through joints or sutures. In its nearly 8 million insect collection, the Bohart houses “about 30,000 specimens of Ammophila from multiple continents,” says director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. Kimsey pointed out that global wasp authority Arnold Menke (a UC Davis alumnus who studied for his 1965 doctorate with Professor Richard Bohart) identified most of them. His publication, "The Ammophila of North and Central America (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae)” is considered the bible of Ammophila research.
What's ahead? RJ has just accepted a four-year, full-ride fellowship offer to a PhD program at the American Museum of Natural History to join the systematics laboratory of Dr. Jessica Ware.
(Editor's note: RJ Millena is one of six UC Davis entomology majors who filed to graduate in the spring or summer of 2021. The others are: Maxwell Koning, Spring 2021; Laura Rivera, Summer 2021; Misa Terrell, Summer 2021; Stephanie Tsai, Spring 2021; and Elizabeth Uemura, Summer 2021)
"Ento-what?" some folks will ask. "What's that?"
Five-year-old Rebecca Jean "RJ" Millena could have told you.
She still can.
When she was a kindergarten student in Concord, Calif., RJ wrote exactly this on her "About Me" poster: "When I grow up, I want to be an entomologist."
Fast forward to today. She's now 22, a senior majoring in entomology at the University of California, Davis, and an outstanding student researcher in the laboratory of UC Davis Distinguished Professor Jay Rosenheim of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. And she's just accepted a four-year, full-ride fellowship offer to a PhD program at the American Museum of Natural History to join the systematics laboratory of Dr. Jessica Ware.
RJ, who studies those bizarre Strepsiptera endoparasites that attack their hosts, the Ammophila (thread-waisted) wasps, spent two years at the Bohart Museum of Entomology studying the specimens. As larvae, members of the order Strepsiptera, known as “twisted wings,” enter their hosts, including wasps and bees, through joints or sutures.
The Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million specimens, houses “about 30,000 specimens of Ammophila from multiple continents,” says director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology. Global wasp authority and UC Davis alumnus Arnold Menke (he studied for his 1965 doctorate with Professor Richard Bohart) identified most of them. Menke's publication, "The Ammophila of North and Central America (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae)” is the bible of Ammophila research.
But back to what children want to be when they grow up. Usually they say cowboy, truck driver, cook, teacher, dancer, actor, musician, artist, athlete, firefighter, detective, writer, police officer, astronaut, pilot, veterinarian, lawyer, doctor and the like.
But rarely "entomologist," the scientific study of insects.
RJ's enthusiasm toward insects is highly contagious. (Read more about her in this news feature.)
'I Wanna Be an Entomologist'
Back in 2011 we were delighted to see UC Davis Regents Scholar Heather Wilson, a researcher/lab technician in the Frank Zalom laboratory, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, create a fun-filled, innovative video, "I Wanna Be an Entomologist," a take-off of "I Wanna Be a Billionaire" from Travie McCoy's Lazarus album.
Heather entered her project in an Entomological Society of America (ESA) contest and won recognition.
In her video, she runs with an insect net, counts bugs in the Zalom lab, watches bees in a hive, and visits the Bohart Museum. At the Bohart, she hugs a display of butterflies and cradles a rose-haired tarantula and Madagascar hissing cockroach from its live "petting zoo."
"I wanna be an entomologist, so freakin' bad," Wilson sings.
"I wanna be on the cover
Of Economic Entomology
Smiling next to Frank and Jim Carey..."
"Frank and Jim" are Frank Zalom and James R. Carey, UC Davis distinguished professors in the Department of Entomology and Nematology. Zalom is a past president of the 7000-member ESA. Both are elected fellows.
Watch Heather Wilson's video at https://youtu.be/rwNbbJgXNXA and you'll probably decide being an entomologist sounds much more fun than being a billionaire. Who wants to be a billionaire, anyway? Let's go check out the insects!
The entomology line forms over there...don't crowd and don't cut in.
Fortunately for the entomological world, he switched majors shortly after he enrolled in an insect science course.
As we mentioned in a piece posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website, Jay was a third-year physics major in 1981 when—“on a lark”--he enrolled in Professor Harry Kaya's Entomology 100 course.
The professor inspired him, the class enthralled him, and insects captivated him.
In mid-term, Jay changed his major to entomology, and went on to earn two degrees in entomology (bachelor's degree from UC Davis in 1983, and doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1987); join the UC Davis faculty in 1990; and become a UC Davis distinguished professor in 2018.
The former UC Davis physics major is now a newly inducted Fellow of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), a global honor accorded to only 10 persons annually.
Marshall Johnson, a 2006 ESA Fellow and an emeritus Cooperative Extension specialist and researcher at UC Riverside, nominated Rosenheim for the award. “Jay was my postdoc at the University of Hawaii,” Johnson said. “He did a great job and I have kept my eye on his career ever since."
“I would say that Jay is the most astounding entomologist that I know, given his broad interests and creative manner in studying biological/ecological questions,” Johnson said. “He is also an excellent human being.”
And it all began four decades ago in a UC Davis classroom. This is what occurred.
“About a month or so before the course was to be taught, I received a call from this physics student, Jay Rosenheim, who wanted to take Entomology 100,” recalled Kaya, now an emeritus professor and himself an ESA Fellow (2007) for his international contributions to insect pathology and nematology. “I asked a few questions on why he wanted to take the course. He said he always loved insects but he said he did not have the prerequisites for the class--no college biology-- but he was keenly interested in insects and really wanted to take the class.”
Kaya was actually teaching the class for Professor Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a bee specialist on sabbatical. “At the time, I had a 25 percent teaching appointment in entomology and a 75 percent research appointment in nematology,” Kaya said. “When Martin Birch, the department chair, asked me to teach the course, I told him that I hoped he could find someone else, but he came back and said I would be the best to teach it.” Birch assigned two of Thorp's graduate students, Evan Sugden and John Skinner, as teaching assistants for the twice-a-week entomology lab.
“Jay also worked briefly in my lab as an undergraduate as well,” Kaya related. “I should add other superlatives as outstanding and world-renowned entomologist. In my view, it did not matter who taught the ENT 100 course. Jay is simply an outstanding individual and has contributed so much on his own merit. Plus, he has a great personality.”
A native of Yorktown, N.Y, young Jay developed an interest in biology while exploring the vernal pools behind his Hudson River Valley home.
His insect interests not only led to his being elected an ESA Fellow but a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; recipient of teaching awards from the Associated Students of UC Davis and the UC Davis Academic Senate; and the Distinguished Student Mentoring Award from ESA's Pacific Branch. He has authored more than 160 peer-reviewed publications, and mentored nearly 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, now in the private sector, conservation nonprofits, journalism, or academia.
And it all began when a physics major named Jay Rosenheim asked to enroll in Professor Harry Kaya's entomology class.
He's known for his scientific intellect, his research, his publications, his dedication, his commitment, his enthusiasm, his caring, and his kindness.
And, did we mention he's internationally known in his field?
We're delighted to see that Jay is now a newly elected Fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA). We wrote about him today in a piece on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.
Each year only 10 are selected for the honor. This year the Board of Governors selected five women and five men. They will be recognized at ESA's virtual annual meeting, Entomology 2020, Nov. 11-25.
Rosenheim, who joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 1990, is internationally known for his research on the ecology of insect parasitoids and predators, insect reproductive behavior, and the application of big data, or "ecoinformatics," methods in agricultural entomology.
“Rosenheim's work has shown that the structure of insect communities is more complex than the archetypal model of three discretetrophic levels, under which predators eat only herbivores and herbivores eat only plants," ESA wrote in a news release. "Instead, widespread predator-predator interactions (intraguild predation), omnivory, and cannibalism create rich and diverse dynamics that can either enhance or disrupt biological control. Rosenheim has also worked to introduce big data techniques to agricultural entomology. By harnessing the decentralized data gathering efforts of farmers, field scouts, and consultants, large data sets can be created and analyzed to reveal important relationships between pests, natural enemies, and crop performance. Rosenheim's research has also examined how organisms evolve to balance multiple factors that can emerge as limits to reproductive success, and how this shapes insect and plant reproductive traits.”
Rosenheim and two other faculty members of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--associate professors Louie Yang and Joanna Chiu-- are co-founders and co-directors of the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, a mentored research program for undergraduates. Founded in 2011, the program has now trained more than 100 undergraduate researchers.
I remember back in 2018 when Jay was nominated for the "Distinguished Student Mentoring Award," given by the ESA's Pacific Branch. The branch encompasses 11 states, plus U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico. Rosenheim won. The praise was long and loud. Students, former students, graduate students and others lauded him. One called him "best teacher on campus--take him if you can." A former graduate student described Rosenheim as a “successful scientist with a brilliant and inquisitive mind.” Another wrote that he is “one of the most dedicated and effective teachers” he's ever encountered. The ultimate compliment: “Someday I hope to be able to teach and inspire students as well as Jay does.”
One student's comments were particularly memorable. "Since I joined his lab, Jay has been a source of inspiration, constructive feedback, and support. Jay is extremely accessible to answer questions, brainstorm ideas, and provide feedback. His kind and supportive demeanor encourages students to make us of his open-door policy."
"Before I joined the lab, Jay was already willing to read over a grant proposal, which resulted in a successful funding by the National Science Foundation's Graduate Student Fellowship. His willingness to give feedback on grant proposals and paper drafts has never waned; Jay always returns thoughtful feedback in a timely fashion. Further, Jay cultivates a laboratory atmosphere that is both collaborative and independent: Jay has never once tried to steer me in a direction I did not want to pursue with my research. Jay does not treat graduate students like employees or inferiors; he treats them as equals, as collaborators, and in doing so encourages independent, rigorous scientific thought. Because of this, I have been able to develop my own research program during my PhD."
Jay Rosenheim: great mentor, great teacher, great human being.
And now, he's achieved the well deserved honor of Fellow of the Entomological Society of America. The Department of Entomology and Nematology, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, UC Davis, and the UC system are fortunate to have him!
Congratulations, UC Davis Distinguished Professor and now ESA Fellow Jay Rosenheim!
Have you ever considered them as important vectors of floral microbes?
Well, they are!
Community ecologist Ash Zemenick, formerly in the graduate student program of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will present an exit seminar, "Do Flower Visitors Network with Floral Microbes?" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 8 in 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus.
"Flowers are colonized by diverse microbial communities that can influence plant and pollinator health and mediate plant-pollinate interactions," says Zemenick, now a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Weber lab at Michigan State University. "Because flower-visiting insects and hummingbirds can harbor high densities of microbial cells, flower visitors are thought to be important vectors of floral microbes. Although floral microbe community assembly is dependent, in part, on dispersal by flower visitors, floral microbe community assembly has yet to be fully considered in the context of the rich network of plant-flower visitor interactions with which they are linked."
The Zemenick dissertation involved "using an historic flower visitor dataset, field experiments and construction of a plant-flower visitor-microbe network to demonstrate the importance of flower visitor identity and interaction in mediating floral microbe community assembly and structure at both local and regional scales."
"With the help of four motivated undergraduates and many gracious entomologists, I built a tripartite plant-flower visitor-floral microbe network. Data was collected from 20 co-flowering plant species over a short phenological timespan in a high elevation wet meadow located in the Tahoe National Forest."
"Questions I (set about) answering with this dataset included: do plants occupy similar positions in both networks? Do plants with similar visitors have similar microbes? Which plants are hubs of floral microbe diversity? Can we determine whether dispersal (by visitor) or environmental filtering (by plant traits) is more important in structuring floral microbial communities?"
As a PhD candidate in the Rosenheim lab, Zemenick worked to "disentangle how the structure of plant-flower visitor interactions varies for different types of flower visitors, and the implications of varying structure for floral microbe communities."
Now, as a post doc in the Weber lab, "I will be studying how plant-mite interactions directly and indirectly influence leaf microbial communities and subsequent invasibility by pathogens. I will also be working on building a repository of introductory biology teaching material that humanizes the field of biology and biologists. It will include how biological research applies to current societal problems and highlight what it is like to be a biologist. The materials will be comprised of examples provided by biologists that self-identify as being part of underrepresented group(s) in STEM (e.g. in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, income, nationality, immigrant status, cognitive and physical ability, etc.)."
Overall, Zemenick enjoys studying ecological networks, community assembly, plants, insects, and microbes. "I also love to teach and help students get involved in research."
See more information on Zemenick's website, Inclusive Plant-Insect Microbial Ecology.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's fall quarter seminars, coordinated by Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, are held Wednesdays from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. They are open to all interested persons. See seminar schedule.