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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

UC ANR recruits for final round of UCCE positions approved in 2014

UC ANR is in its sixth and final round of hiring for Cooperative Extension advisor and specialist positions released in December 2014. The 43 positions were released for recruitment in phases over time to enable Human Resources to accomplish the search and hiring process in an orderly fashion and to allow leadership to evaluate ANR's resources on a real-time basis, deal with unexpected changes in staffing and address unanticipated issues as they arise. 

Round 6 (Fall 2016)

  • Area Desert Livestock Advisor (Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino)
  • Area Forestry & Natural Resources Advisor (Sutter-Yuba, Butte, Nevada)
  • Area Livestock & Range Advisor (Ventura, Santa Barbara)
  • Area Dairy Systems Advisor (Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino)
  • Biometeorology Specialist (College of Agricultural and Environmental Science, UC Davis)

For the 2016 call for UCCE positions, Program Council has reviewed the 138 positions proposed and forwarded its recommendations to VP Glenda Humiston, who will announce in December the future rounds of hiring. The approved positions will be announced in ANR Update.

To see the 2016 Call for Positions and the review process, visit

Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 11:56 AM

UCANR raises funds and visibility on #GivingTuesday

On Nov. 29, ANR is participating in #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving fueled by the power of our social network. Celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season. 

“We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to raise some funds for our ANR programs while raising the visibility of the ways Californians benefit from your work,” said VP Glenda Humiston. 

VP Humiston's #GivingTuesday sign says she's donating because "I care about California."
It's as simple as a tweeting a photo with “What are you thankful for? Take part in #GivingTuesday today to give back to your community! #UCANReach @ucanr”

You don't use social media? No problem, email your friends. They probably wonder what you do for work. Tell them what your role is in this magnificent organization that's making life better for Californians and invite them to support our efforts by donating, sharing our message or volunteering.

A website has been created with links to all of ANR's programs, Research and Extension Centers and extension offices: It invites donors to designate the program or location to which they wish to donate.

The website also contains a toolkit for county offices and programs to participate. It includes:

  • A customizable letter to send to stakeholders
  • Templates for “unselfies.” Donors may take photos of themselves holding an unselfie sign and share on social media how they are giving.
  • Sample tweets and social media posts
  • Sample thank you note

Mike Janes wrote that he's giving because "I'd like all Californians to have access to fresh produce."
Last year, the 4-H Youth Development Program and UC Master Gardener Program successfully participated in #GivingTuesday campaigns.

“#GivingTuesday is a wonderful opportunity to gain support, donations, increase awareness and generate a buzz about UC ANR and all of our programs,” said Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener Program director.

“We are excited to be participating in the movement this year and hopeful that the results will be even better than the success we saw in 2015,” she said. “UC Master Gardener volunteers are passionate about how we serve our communities and the incredible impacts we are making. #GivingTuesday is a great opportunity to highlight the impacts we are making, build relationships and thank those who have supported us along the way.”

The UC Master Gardener #GivingTuesday website is at  

4-H also has its own website Last year, 4-H programs in 17 counties participated.

“Our goal for 4-H was to raise $10,000 and we exceeded our goal with donations totaling over $13,000,” said Andrea Ambrose, acting director of Development Services. “UCCE  Placer County collected the largest amount for the 4-H Youth Development Program. We'll see which county collects the most this year.”

Although not as widely recognized as the shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday appeals to people swept up in the spirit of giving at the end of the year.

“By joining the #GivingTuesday campaign, people involved in all ANR programs will have an opportunity to supplement their funding with private donations and have some fun,” said Ambrose.


Posted on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 6:07 PM

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

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

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

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 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

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

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 website at

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




In memoriam: Oscar Bacon

Oscar Bacon. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.
Oscar Gray Bacon, UC Davis professor emeritus in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, died Nov. 16 at his home in Davis. He was 97.

Bacon, who served UC for 41 years and chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology from 1967 to 1974, specialized in the biology, ecology and population dynamics of insects associated with field crops. In 1946, Bacon took his first job with UC in entomology as an associate in the Agriculture Experiment Station at UC Berkeley.

In 1953, he moved to UC Davis to develop his own entomology programs. He taught the first UC Davis biological control course and was instrumental in forming the Plant Protection and Pest Management Graduate Group. He is credited with co-authoring the term, “integrated pest control.”

Robbin Thorp, UC Davis professor emeritus, collaborated with Bacon on research of alfalfa leafcutter bees in the mid-1960s.

“Oscar and his crew also tested pesticide effects on these bees and discovered a number of biological traits important to their management as commercial pollinators," Thorp said. "Oscar co-authored the first Cooperative Extension publication on the alfalfa leafcutting bees with several of us.”

He earned his bachelor's degree at Fresno State College in zoology, then went on to earn his master's degree in entomology in 1944 and his doctorate in entomology in 1948, both from UC Berkeley.

For more about Bacon's career, read the full story by Kathy Keatley Garvey at //


Posted on Saturday, November 26, 2016 at 8:20 AM
  • Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey

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