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Posts Tagged: Vernard Lewis

Vernard Lewis, UC Berkeley’s first African American entomologist, retires from 35-year career terminating termites, bed bugs and cockroaches

"Villa Termiti is still unique," said Vernard Lewis, shown standing in front of the structure he built to test termite management methods. "Who does that? Build a building for infesting with bugs?"
He built a villa for termites, delighted school children with giant cockroaches, did “time” at San Quentin State Prison, traveled the world looking at insects and, in 2016, Vernard Lewis was inducted into the Pest Management Professionals' Hall of Fame. On July 1, UC Berkeley's first African American entomologist retired from a 35-year career as an urban entomologist, the last 26 years as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist.

Vernard Lewis
Lewis has published about 150 papers and delivered more than 700 presentations on termites, bed bugs and cockroaches, but considers building a house for termites a career feat. 

In the early 1990s, the UC Cooperative Extension specialist needed a place to test drywood termite detection and control methods. The College of Natural Resources wasn't keen on infesting a building with destructive pests near UC Berkeley's historic buildings, but ultimately allowed Lewis to construct the Villa Termiti in Richmond, about six miles north of campus.

“Babysitting my brothers and sisters sure helped develop my negotiating skills,” said Lewis, the oldest of 10 children.

Built at the UC Richmond Field Station in 1993, the 400-square-foot, wooden structure has been fumigated, x-rayed and featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics. It nearly burned when six test boards were scorched by a microwave device that was supposed to kill termites; Lewis observed termites living in the wood despite the microwaves and fire. Fortunately, the damage was minor.

Villa Termiti has since hosted ants, subterranean termites, wood-boring beetles and bed bugs for subsequent research projects.

Built at the UC Richmond Field Station in 1993, the 400-square-foot Villa Termiti has been fumigated, x-rayed and featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics.

The Minnesota native's interest in insects was piqued as a kindergartner, after Lewis moved from Minnesota to live with his grandparents in Fresno for six years. “California has a lot more bugs because Minnesota is frozen six months out of the year,” he said wryly. “During recess, while other kids were kicking balls, I was catching grasshoppers and feeding them to harvester ants.”

Lewis, left, and Mike Haverty stand next to a termite mound in Kakadu National Park in Northern Australia.
“Vernard has worked on termites with a complex group of stakeholders, he helps the general public and the pest control industry,” said Mike Haverty, retired USDA Forest Service entomologist, who partnered with Lewis on several research projects.

For many years, pest control operators relied on fumigation. As claims were made without scientific basis that microwave, freezing, heating, electricity, orange oil and modified fumigation were effective, Lewis tested the methods.

“If it didn't work in a lab set-up, it's not going to work where conditions are more complex in homes and buildings,” said Haverty, who published a paper with Lewis in 1996 comparing six techniques. “Nothing was as effective as fumigation.”

Lewis showed how best to do spot treatments for termites rather than tenting a whole house for fumigation, which can be expensive for homeowners.

University of Georgia entomology professor Brian Forschler said Lewis is trusted for his integrity.

“Urban entomology programs across the country are essentially funded by donations from industry so you have to walk a tightrope in that funding scenario,” Forschler explained. “You don't want to fall prey to telling your sugar daddy what they want to hear. Vernard is clearly not in that league, he has garnered respect and remained an objective scientist.”

Lewis has found mentoring young scientists at UC Berkeley and stimulating children's interest in science rewarding. In 2000, he joined the City Bugs project with Oakland Unified School District, educating K-12 school teachers and students about insects, life sciences and biodiversity.

Adult Madagascar hissing cockroach
“I like to bring live props and get people involved,” Lewis said.

In 1993, for a presentation in front of 300 students at Claremont Middle School in Oakland, Lewis brought a Madagascar cockroach, which measured two to three inches long.

“A kid in the second row asked to see what was in the box. He asked to hold it so I put the cockroach in his hand and he dropped it on the floor. As the cockroach ran around, kids are flying out the door. We're trying to catch it and calm the kids down, calling ‘Come back.' It was wild,” Lewis said, adding, “The Madagascar cockroach is big, but it won't hurt anybody.”

“It's been fun,” said Lewis about his career, but he is quick to point out his academic success wasn't served up with a silver spoon. “I had no spoon,” he said, jokingly.

“My high school counselor said I wasn't bright enough to go to college. I took offense to that,” said Lewis, recalling that he had scored well on the IQ tests that were administered liberally in schools in the 1950s and 1960s. “I asked him what was the best university in the country. He said, ‘UC Berkeley,' so I decided to go there.”

Lewis, right, describes his termite research to UC ANR colleagues Robin Meadows and Evett Kilmartin.
Lewis bought a one-way ticket to California and slept on his Aunt Ethel's couch while attending Laney College in Oakland before transferring to UC Berkeley, where he graduated with a B.S. in agricultural sciences in 1975.

In 1979, Lewis earned an M.S. in entomology at UC Berkeley and started his own pest management business, IPM Systems, Inc., in 1982. Prison trustees affectionately dubbed him “Killer” when he exterminated bed bugs and cockroaches as San Quentin State Prison's vector control coordinator from 1986 through 1988. He earned his Ph.D. in entomology at UC Berkeley in 1989 and continued his entomological research on campus as a postdoctoral fellow.

In 1991, Lewis was hired as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in entomology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM) at UC Berkeley.

An advocate for diversity, Lewis is one of 20 entomologists featured in the book “Memoirs of Black Entomologists,” published by the Entomological Society of America in 2015 to encourage black students to pursue careers in the life sciences and providing practical advice on how to become successful in science. Of ESA's 7,000 members, only about 100 are African or African American.

Lewis's research and extension has been honored by several institutions and organizations, including his induction into the Pest Management Professionals' Hall of Fame in 2016, an Urban Entomology award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America in 2002 and the Orkin Outstanding Research Award in 1998. The Florida Entomological Society recognized his efforts to promote diversity in the field of entomology by presenting him with its Pioneer Lecture Award in 2015. Lewis delivered a lecture on Margaret James Strickland Collins, the first African American woman entomology professor, whom he knew and admired.

No "Ivory Tower" for Lewis, shown crawling out from under a house after inspecting for termites.

While Lewis's work has focused on California, his career has also taken him out of the country. Lewis was a visiting professor at Kyoto University in Japan in 2011. In 2000, the United Nations selected him as the leader and founding member of its Global Termite Expert Group. He chaired the 20-member group, which worked together on projects from 2000 to 2008. Internationally, mosquitoes are the No. 1 pest and termites are No. 2.

“We couldn't stop the use of DDT on mosquitoes, but we can stop its use on termites,” Lewis said. The UN group presented lower-risk alternatives for termite management and negotiated with pest control professionals in different countries to change their practices. “That was one of the most rewarding projects,” he said, noting that China significantly reduced its use of the insecticide.

In retirement, Lewis looks forward to taking a few months to “clear my mind,” before considering offers from private companies and international contacts. While his wife, Lisa Kala, continues her work in the School of Education at UC Berkeley, Lewis intends to spend more time with their daughter, Aikane, and young grandson, Tahir. He has been granted emeritus status and will continue leading efforts to promote diversity and equity for the College of Natural Resources.

Posted on Monday, July 10, 2017 at 10:32 AM
Tags: bed bugs (1), cockroaches (1), July 2017 (10), termites (1), Vernard Lewis (2)

Names in the News

Tara Batista
Batista joins ANR as 4-H advisor

Tara Batista joined UCCE as an area 4-H youth development advisor for Kings, Fresno and Tulare counties on Oct. 3.

Prior to joining UCCE, Batista was a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Management, Entrepreneurship and International Business at Stetson University in Florida from 2013 to May 2016. Batista has 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and positive youth development. She has worked for the Southeastern Network for Youth and Family Services, Girl Scouts, the U.S. Dream Academy and the Boys and Girls Clubs. Batista has also designed, implemented and evaluated youth development programs in Chimaltenango, Guatemala; Vieques, Puerto Rico; Oxford, U.K.; Bogota and Barranquilla, Colombia; Pinellas Park and DeLand, Fla.; New York City and Providence, R.I. She is currently president of Run 4 a Cause Foundation, which helps youth in central Florida to participate in sports outside of school time.

Batista earned a Ph.D. in social enterprise administration and an M.Phil. in social work from Columbia University. She completed a M.Sc. in evidence-based social intervention at the University of Oxford. She also earned a B.B.A in international business and a B.A. in Spanish from Stetson University.

Batista is based in Hanford and can be reached at (559) 852-2739 and tabatista@ucanr.edu.

Mae Culumber
Culumber named Fresno County nut advisor

Catherine Mae Culumber joined UCCE on June 30 as a nut crops advisor for Fresno County.

Culumber has engaged in a broad range of research disciplines, investigating the impacts of land management on plants and soils in agricultural, forest and range ecosystems. Completed in 2016, her Ph.D. dissertation described the effects of novel orchard floor management approaches on soil health, water use, tree root distribution and tree growth in stone fruit orchards. Her graduate work, conducted in collaboration with the USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research Lab, characterized the phylogenetic structure of native grass populations used for grazing and range restoration in the western U.S.

She earned a Ph.D. in soil science and M.S. in ecology from Utah State University, and a B.S. in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Based in Fresno, Culumber can be reached at (559) 241-7526 and cmculumber@ucanr.edu.

Follow her on Twitter at @ucnutadvisor.

JP Martins
Martins joins ANR as dairy advisor

Joao Paulo Martins joined UCCE on Aug. 1 as a dairy advisor in Tulare and Kings counties.

Martins, who goes by the nickname JP, was a private veterinarian for a year in Brazil, then worked as a research assistant and laboratory manager in the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University. His research relates to herd health, reproductive management, cattle breeding, synchronization of ovulation, in vitro fertilization, and superovulation in commercial beef and dairy cows. He has expertise in ultrasonography for ovarian morphology, pregnancy diagnoses, fetal sexing and oocyte pick-up.

During his youth, the Rio de Janeiro native worked on his family's dairy farm in the Brazilian dairy state of Minas Gerais.

Martins earned a DVM degree from Federal Fluminense University (UFF), Niterói, RJ, Brazil, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in animal science from Michigan State University.

Based in Tulare, Martins can be reached at (559) 684-3313 and jpmartins@ucanr.edu.

Alex Putman

Putman named UCCE plant pathology specialist

Alex Putman joined UC ANR on April 1 as an assistant specialist in Cooperative Extension and assistant plant pathologist in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at UC Riverside.

Prior to joining ANR, Putman was a postdoctoral researcher based in Salinas for the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis from 2014 to 2016.

Putman focuses on diseases challenging vegetable and strawberry production, especially disease caused by soilborne fungi such as Athelia, Fusarium, Macrophomina, Sclerotinia, Stromatinia and Verticillium. To understand these diseases, his program will integrate various research approaches that could include cropping systems, epidemiology, host resistance, pathogen biology, remote sensing or soil ecology.

He earned a Ph.D. in plant pathology from North Carolina State University, an M.S. in agronomy from the University of Connecticut and a B.S. in natural resource sciences from the University of Maryland.

Putman is based in Riverside and can be reached at (951) 827-4212 and alexander.putman@ucr.edu. Follow him on Twitter @VeggiePathUCR.

Derrick Robinson
Robinson named Money Talks coordinator

Derrick Robinson joined ANR on Aug. 1 as an academic coordinator for the Money Talks project.

Prior to joining ANR, Robinson was a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Geography at University of North Florida for a year. He developed and instructed courses in economics on principles of microeconomics, macroeconomics, intermediate microeconomics, conservation of natural resources, economic geography and business statistics. From 2014 to 2015, Robinson developed and taught a course in agribusiness, entrepreneurship and ag-policy analysis at Tuskegee University. At Auburn University, he worked on community-based research with local Sea Grant offices as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collegiate fellow from 2011 to 2015. From 2009 to 2011, he was a project manager for the University of North Florida Environmental Center, where he organized programs for the campus community and surrounding regional community.

Robinson earned a B.S. in communication: electronic media and a B.A. in economics from University of North Florida, and his Ph.D. in applied economics from Auburn University.

Based in San Diego, Robinson can be reached at (858) 822-7679 and dearobinson@ucanr.edu.

Liz Sizensky
Sizensky joins NPI and communications

Liz Sizensky has joined the Strategic Communications team in Davis and the Nutrition Policy Institute in Berkeley as a communications strategist. She brings extensive experience managing digital and print projects. Prior to joining ANR, she served nine years at UC Berkeley, where she led web and print projects that increased awareness of the research and initiatives of the School of Public Health, SafeTREC, the Division of Student Affairs, the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Before UC Berkeley, she spent eight years overseeing websites and marketing communications for Silicon Valley technology companies including Netscape, HP and VeriSign. She is known for translating complex ideas into clear and engaging communications that educate, inform and inspire readers.

She earned a B.A. with honors in English from Mills College in Oakland.

Sizensky can be reached at (530) 750-1272 in Davis on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and at easizensky@ucanr.edu.

Janet Caprile
Caprile wins IPM Achievement Award

Janet Caprile, UCCE advisor for Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and the Contra Costa County Agriculture Department have been awarded a 2016 IPM Achievement Award by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation for their cherry buckskin project.

Cherry buckskin disease has wiped out cherry production in several areas of California since it was first reported in 1931. In the 1980s, the disease became established in San Joaquin County. To prevent the establishment of the disease in neighboring Contra Costa County, a collaborative effort among UC Cooperative Extension, the county agriculture department and local cherry growers began in 1987. 

Caprile trained UC Master Gardener volunteers to identify cherry buckskin disease symptoms and organized them to help perform an annual survey during harvest. Mid Valley Ag Services covers the cost of lab testing each year. The Master Gardeners and former coordinator Emma Conner first detected infected trees during the 2002 survey.

Caprile informed growers of the disease detection and worked with them to develop an aggressive IPM treatment and eradication program to prevent the establishment of this devastating disease. As a result of these efforts, the disease has been eliminated in Contra Costa County.

The 2016 Achievement Awards will be presented at a ceremony at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters on Jan. 26 in Sacramento.

Doug Parker
Parker honored for professional service

The Renewable Natural Resources Foundation honored Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources, with its Chairman's Award for Professional Service to the foundation.

In announcing the award, Robert D. Day, RNRF executive director, wrote to Parker: “You received the award because of your essential volunteer assistance in developing the program and identifying eminently qualified prospective speakers for RNRF's 2015 Congress on sustaining Wester Water. Plus, you launched the congress with an excellent opening address. We would not have had the program that we did without you.”

Parker is president of the Universities Council on Water Resources, an association of universities and organizations leading in education, research and public service in water resources. As UCOWR president, he serves on the executive council for NIDIS, the National Integrated Drought Information System, which maintains the Drought.gov website at https://www.drought.gov/drought.

The Renewable Natural Resources Foundation (RNRF) is a nonprofit, public policy research organization based in North Bethesda, Md. It is a consortium of scientific, professional, educational, design and engineering organizations whose primary purpose is to advance science, the application of science, and public education in managing and conserving renewable natural resources. 

Marianne Bird (on left)
Bird and Hill receive national extension 4-H awards

The National Association of Extension 4-H Agents honored the work of 4-H youth development advisors Marianne Bird and Russell Hill on Oct. 13.

Bird, who serves Sacramento County, received the 2016 NAE4HA Meritorious Service Award. According to the association, Bird received the award because she “loves bringing new learning opportunities to young people, especially in STEM and environmental education.” It also noted that “She works extensively with camps and afterschool programs and enjoys empowering teens-as-teachers. Marianne served on the National 4-H Science in Urban Communities team and fashioned 4-H on the Wild Side, a National 4-H Program of Distinction.”

Russ Hill (on right)
Hill, who serves Merced, Madera and Mariposa counties, received the NAE4HA Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service and dedication to the 4-H youth development profession.

Hill recently celebrated 10 years of service with UC ANR. His prior roles include county 4-H program representative and the director of the 4-H Military Partnership. He is part of the team recently honored by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Cooperative Extension system, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) with the National Extension Diversity Award for systematically enhancing the intercultural competency of 4-H personnel and others in California.

Bird and Hill received the awards on Oct. 13 at the NAE4HA Annual Conference in New Orleans.

Vernard Lewis
Lewis inducted into Pest Management Hall of Fame

Vernard Lewis, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, was inducted into Pest Management Professional Magazine's 2016 Hall of Fame on Oct. 17 in honor of his 35-year career in pest management. The entomologist focuses on urban pests, including ants, cockroaches and wood-boring beetles, but is best known for his integrated pest management research and outreach on bed bugs and termites.

Saying that he's “had a blast,” Lewis, who joined UC ANR in 1990, told Pest Management Professional that he plans to retire in 2017. He reminisced about doing pest control at San Quentin Prison and building Villa Termiti at the Richmond Field Station to test termite detection and control measures. To read the article, visit http://www.mypmp.net/2016/09/22/pmp-hall-of-fame-2016-inductee-dr-vernard-lewis-reflects-on-career.

 

 

 

Posted on Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 4:28 PM

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