Congratulations, UC Davis Professor Louie Yang: Outstanding Mentor

Congratulations to community ecologist Louie Yang, an innovative professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and the 2023 recipient of the Distinction in Student Mentoring Award, sponsored by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). 

"Louie is known for being a strong advocate for his students and fostering creative and critical thinking," wrote nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "Whether they be undergraduates, graduates, high school students or members of the community, he engages and challenges students in his lectures, in the lab, and in the field. He attends to the unique needs and interests of each student, respecting their perspectives and ideas. He epitomizes what makes a great professor and advisor: his command of the subject matter, his ability to stimulate discussions and involvement, and his kindly concern for their education, welfare, and success."

The award will be presented at PBESA's annual meeting, set April 2-5, in Seattle. PBESA encompasses 11 Western states, plus parts of Mexico and Canada and U.S. territories.

Louie, who received his bachelor's degree in ecology and evolution from Cornell University in 1999, and his doctorate in population biology from UC Davis in 2006, joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009. Since then, he has mentored an estimated 300 persons, including three PhD students who have graduated from his lab; his current five students; 20 undergraduates associated with his lab; students in three UC Davis graduate groups, Entomology, Graduate Group in Ecology, and Population Biology (40), and 140 community members (nearly all high school students), in the Monitoring Milkweed-Monarch Interactions for Learning and Conservation (MMMILC) project.

In providing her support, Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES), wrote:  "Professor Yang is an enthusiastic advisor/mentor, he has a strong commitment to student diversity, and he is dedicated to helping students achieve their academic and career goals. He has developed (or co-developed) innovative programs that provide guided mentoring experiences that encourage students to explore their individual skills and interests.  These programs and Professor Yang's guidance provide critical pathways for recruiting and retaining undergraduate students in STEM fields. Professor Yang has made valuable contributions to student success in our college and campus-wide and we are proud to strongly support his nomination for the PBESA Distinction in Student Mentoring Award."

Professor Yang has welcomed and mentored students from UC Davis and from around the country with the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program and the UC Davis-Howard University Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Ecology and Evolution Graduate Admissions Pathways (EEGAP) program.

He co-directs and mentors students in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), a campuswide program that he and Professors Jay Rosenheim and Joanna Chiu co-founded in 2011 to help students learn cutting-edge research through close mentoring relationships with faculty. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal: to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research.

Professor Yang primarily teaches Insect Ecology and Field Ecology. Since joining the UC Davis faculty, he has taught some 665 students.  Unsolicited comments on Rate My Professors all show him as “awesome.” Wrote one student: “Professor Yang is enthusiastic, engaging, and overall, one of the best professors I have had. I got the feeling that he wanted to connect with us as ecologists and future scientists, not just as students. He was great at 'show, not tell' and used videos, demonstrations, and discussions to great effect.”

The group letters from his current students and alumni echoed the praise.

Yang believes that  “science progresses by confronting our assumptions, ideas, and hypotheses with data. This dynamic process of confrontation requires a powerful combination of logic and objectivity that is widely recognized as the domain of science. However, the raw material of scientific creativity—the fundamental wellspring for the scientific process—depends on variability in the way people think about how the world works. This diversity of human perspectives allows the scientific community to ask new questions, imagine new solutions to problems, and reconsider entrenched assumptions—all of which accelerate scientific progress. New ideas are the engine of science and that is why I encourage diversity in science.” 

In his research, Yang is involved in monarch conservation science and planning in collaboration with the Western Monarch Conservation Science Group, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, Monarch Joint Venture, Environment Defense Fund, and the Monarch Summit in DC.   Science Friday, National Public Radio, interviewed Yang about his monarch-milkweed research in February 2022. (Listen to the archived interview.)

The UC Davis professor launched the Monitoring Milkweed-Monarch Interactions for Learning and Conservation (MMMILC) project in 2013 for high school students in the environmental science program at Davis Senior High School or those associated with the Center for Land-Based Learning's Green Corps program. Their tasks: monitoring milkweed-monarch interactions in a project funded by the National Science Foundation.  Yang organized and led a 135-member team, all co-authors of the paper, “Different Factors Limit Early- and Late-Season Windows of Opportunity for Monarch Development,” published in July 2022 in the journal  Ecology and Evolution.  The 107 co-authors included high school students, undergraduate and graduate students, and community members. (See News Story)

In mentoring, Yang follows several goals:

  1. To be honest to the unique needs and interests of each student. 
  2. To facilitate intellectual independence. 
  3. To learn from his students. 

Highly honored by his peers and students, Yang received the 2017 Eleanor and Harry Walker Academic Advising Award from CA&ES. In 2018, he received the regional (Pacific Region 9, California, Nevada and Hawaii) Outstanding Faculty Academic Advisor from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising, and then went on to win NACADA's international award for the Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award.  

Yang writes on his website: "As a lab, we work to maintain an open, supportive and encouraging environment to do good science. We are open to multiple research areas and approaches, and encourage students and postdocs to develop their own innovative ideas and creative questions along the way. Our lab values straightforward communication, intellectual independence, determined problem-solving, constructive persistence, helpfulness, integrity, humility and humor. Although we aim to maintain a small lab group, we always welcome inquiries from prospective graduate students, postdocs and undergraduates. If you are interested in joining the lab, please send an email to Louie H. Yang at"

The complete list of 2023 PBESA winners is posted here. The archived list of mentoring award recipients dates back to 2012 and includes UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, who won in 2020 and UC Davis distinguished professor Jay Rosenheim, the 2018 recipient.