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CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Nancy Irlbeck

We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.

Nancy Irlbeck sits on a rock with forest covered mountains in the background.
Nancy Irlbeck

Today we’re showcasing Nancy Irlbeck, clinical associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences. Here are her answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

I am a pig farmer’s daughter from Iowa.

Where did you go to school?

I earned my BS in Animal Science from Iowa State University and my MS in Animal Nutrition from Iowa State University. I earned my Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Ruminant Nutrition. By life choice and years of self-training as a Life Long Learner,  I have become a Comparative Animal Nutritionist and work with ALL types of animals.

How did you become interested in your field?

I planned to become a veterinarian but found nutrition and was enthralled – I jumped into the Ocean of Nutrition in our Amazing World of Animals and have never looked back!

Why did you want to become a professor?

Not sure I did…just followed the road so that I could teach and be in the classroom. My path has blessed me with MANY life experiences that have helped me become the teacher I am today.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

The raw potential of what they can become! It gives me hope that we may indeed save the world with their inquisitive minds and enthusiasm.

What advice would you pass along to students?

FIRST AND FOREMOST GO TO CLASS!!!!!! And take time to stop,  talk, and get to know your teacher.

Grants help CAHNRS researchers use fungi to save bees, protect pollinators, water

WSU entomologist's photo of a colorful red beetle crawling on a pink leaf.
WSU entomologists work to increase our understanding of how insects adapt and evolve, affect crops, environment and people.

Researchers in CAHNRS’ Department of Entomology recently won more than $640,000 in grants funding their work developing fungi that protect bees from deadly mites, connecting with peers to protect our watersheds, fight invasive stinkbugs, and more.

  • Professor Walter Sheppard, postdoctoral researchers Nicholas Naeger and Jennifer Han and Plant Pathology Chair Lori Carris received $259,998 from the Whittier Trust and WWS Foundation to develop novel strains of the fungus Metarhizium for Varroa mite control.
  • John Stark, director of the Washington Stormwater Center, and Tanyalee Erwin, WSU Puyallup research associate faculty member, received $141,252 from the City of SeaTac and Washington Department of Ecology for the 2019 Washington Statewide Municipal Stormwater Conference.
  • Professor Elizabeth Beers received $93,000 from the Washington Tree Fruit Commission for controls of brown marmorated stinkbugs in Washington.
  • Professor Vince Jones received a $75,032 grant from the Washington Tree Fruit Commission to work on development and validation of a precision pollinator model, helping farmers more efficiently pollinate their crops.
  • Assistant Professor Dave Crowder, postdoctoral researcher Robert Schaeffer, and Extension and Outreach Specialist Karen Sowers received $73,356 from USDA-NIFA’s Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program for work exploring interactions between pollinators and canola on the Palouse.

Knowledge winners: Entomology students earn top awards at Society competition

WSU students in a knowledge competition at a table with nametags and microphone.
WSU students compete in knowledge games at the PBESA meeting.
Graduate students in the Department of Entomology excelled at the annual meeting of the Pacific Branch Entomological Society of America, June 10-13 in Reno, Nev., winning in all of the student competition categories.

In the Linnean Games competition, which challenges mastery of entomological facts, the WSU team of Jimmy Hepler, Dane Elmquist, Abbey Hayes, Megan Asche, and Adrian Marshall beat University of California-Riverside in the first match, then came in second during a sudden-death tie-breaker to a combination UC Davis/UC Berkeley team. They now go on to compete at the national ESA meeting this November.Group photo of WSU participants in the June competition, holding pieces of paper.

Elmquist took first place in the master’s paper competition, followed by Liesl Oeller in third.

Asche took first in the master’s poster competition, with Josh Milnes earning second place.

Marshall took first place in the doctoral poster competition.

Hepler took first, Marshall second in the texting competition. Hepler took first, Elmquist third in the “Elevator Talk” competition.

Doctoral student Kunle Adesanya won the Society’s John Henry Costock Award, which promotes interest in entomology at the graduate level and builds interest in attending the ESA Annual Meeting.

Faculty member Doug Walsh gave Adesanya’s acceptance speech, as he was unable to attending, being accepted into the Borlaug Institute on Food Security at Purdue University for the summer.

CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Patricia Kuzyk

We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.

Headshot of Patricia Kuzyk
Patricia Kuzyk

Today we’re showcasing Patricia Kuzyk, assistant professor in the School of Economic Sciences. Here are her answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

I was born in Pasadena, CA, but moved to Philadelphia when I was two months old. I lived in suburbs of Philadelphia until moving to Pullman in 1990.

Where did you go to school? 

I attended Drexel University then transferred to Temple University for my B.S. in Economics and Accounting. I stayed at Temple and finished my Ph.D. in Economics in 1990.

How did you become interested in your field?

My father read a lot of philosophy and shared his books with me. I became interested in understanding why some nations thrive and others are mired in poverty. The two ends of the political spectrum provided vastly different perspectives on that question, and I wanted to know which was closer to the truth.

Why did you want to become a professor?

I love learning and I love to share that experience with others.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

The students! Every semester I encounter some absolutely delightful people – curious, hard-working, intelligent people. It’s a real privilege to have them in my class.

What advice would you pass along to students?

I’d tell them to enjoy this time of their lives and really try to learn as much as they can while they’re here. No other time of life provides an environment that’s more conducive to personal and intellectual growth.

Studying insects to help people: Adaptation expert Laura Lavine leads WSU Entomology as new chair

Prof. Laura Lavine is the new chair of the WSU Department of Entomology.

Leading research and teaching that helps people thrive in a world of insects, Professor Laura Lavine is the new chair of the Department of Entomology at Washington State University.

Assuming her new role July 1, she succeeds prior chair Walter “Steve” Sheppard, who is stepping down in mid-August.

At WSU, Lavine researches how insects adapt and evolve, increasing our understanding of how these amazing creatures develop, respond to their environment, resist pesticides, affect our crops and co-exist with humans, ultimately helping protect global food security.

“At WSU, we’re finding better ways to understand arthropod biology from discovery to applied research and extension while training the next generation of scientists,” said Lavine. “I am excited to lead the Department as we solve challenges that affect everyone—from stopping insect pests to protecting our vital pollinators from collapse.

“In partnership with Northwest’s vital agricultural commissions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and residents and farmers across Washington, our researchers, staff and graduate students are doing revolutionary work in integrated pest management—in other words, beneficial bugs,” Lavine added. “We’re reducing pesticide use to the smartest, safest approaches, and providing quality education in life sciences to students from all walks of life. It’s a great moment to be a WSU entomologist.”

Over her 17-year career at WSU, Lavine has won awards for innovative teaching strategies, led an internationally recognized research program, and shown a commitment to all areas of the land-grant mission. In 2016, she was recognized with the WSU Samuel H Smith Leadership Award for demonstrated leadership in higher education and advancing the role of women.

“Laura is inclusive, collaborative, and strategic,” commented former CAHNRS Dean Ron Mittelhammer following Lavine’s selection. “Her substantial leadership skills and notable, sustained commitment to diversity and serving the university, the college, and the Entomology profession make her a clear choice to lead the department.”

Lavine earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Lander University in 1992, master’s in Zoology from Clemson University in 1995, and a doctorate in Entomology from the University of Kentucky in 1999.

She currently serves as the Associate Director of the WSU CAHNRS Office of Research, in addition to her role as full professor in the Department of Entomology.

Learn more about the WSU Entomology at the Department’s website.

CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Kris Johnson

We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.

Kris Johnson walking in a field with cattle around.
Kris Johnson

Today we’re showcasing Kris Johnson, professor and interim chair in the Department of Animal Sciences. Here are her answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

Connecticut

Where did you go to school?

University of Connecticut (Bachelor’s), & Michigan State University (Master’s & Ph.D.)

How did you become interested in your field?

I enjoy the science of nutrition and working directly with animals.

Why did you want to become a professor?

It allowed me the freedom to pursue the research area I wanted to work in and to make a difference to people in agriculture by solving problems. It also allowed me to interact with students in a teaching capacity.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

My favorite things about college students have to be their interest in learning and applying new knowledge. Also their skepticism, which results in enthusiasm and fresh ideas about things. It is not possible to get stagnant with that kind of probing energy around.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Keep yourself open to all sorts of new experiences and meeting new people. You never know how a random conversation can help you years later solve a problem or open a door. One of my biggest research successes to help livestock producers was a result of a meeting with atmospheric chemists and an astrophysicist. Who knew astrophysics could solve animal science problem!

CAHNRS Coug making a difference

By Maya Wahl, CAHNRS Academic Programs

CAHNRS is a diverse college that is home to students with various backgrounds, interests and motivations. The common denominator between all CAHNRS students is that they hope to contribute to a system larger than themselves. There is always a pathway that leads past the classroom, campus, and even the United States.

Esther Rugoli sits on a chair in a greenhouse surrounded by plants on tables and on the floor in individual planters.
WSU sophomore Esther Rugoli works in the greenhouse on a research project.

Students from near and far join the CAHNRS community to be a part of something big and what they do after they leave is entirely up to them. Some students decide to continue working in the Coug community, some find jobs across the nation and some develop their skills to make the global community a richer place.

Esther Rugoli, a rising junior studying Agricultural Biotechnology, has big ideas and plans to affect change here on campus and in her home in Rwanda. She grew up on a subsistence farm in rural Rwanda with 11 brothers and sisters and seeks to make farming in Rwanda better for families like her own.

“It’s been my dream since I was young, to study agriculture in college and help Africa be more food secure,” Rugoli said. “My family wanted me to become a doctor because they knew I was doing well in my classes. But I wanted to be a farmer, and help farmers become business oriented.”

Since coming to WSU, Esther has worked with Dr. Kim Campbell, a WSU adjunct faculty member and USDA-ARS scientist. Their work focuses on plant breeding projects. Ester has shown interest in plant breeding and hopes to find ways to improve crops so that they can thrive in Rwanda. She is invested in her work and understands the value in her experiences as they supplement her future research.

Not only has Esther proven to be an extremely intelligent and hardworking young woman, but she also has a service heart and plans to give back to her community in Rwanda. She received the Alexander A. Smick Scholarship in Rural Community Service and Development this year and was awarded $2,000. The purpose of this scholarship is to promote student engagement with an applied course of study in the field of rural community service and development.

With these funds, Esther will buy better seed potatoes (Red Pontiac) for a farmers’ cooperative in Rwanda. Currently, the farmers cannot afford Red Pontiac potatoes which grow well in the region. Her goal is to make an impact on the traditional farming practices in Rwanda by jump starting their success with valuable resources.

Esther is following her dream of helping Africa becoming more food secure by dedicating this scholarship to Rwandan farmers. CAHNRS is proud to have students like Esther pursuing their dreams while giving back. CAHNRS seeks to support all its students in following their passions and awards like the Alexander A. Smick Scholarship make that possible.

CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Alex Fremier

We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.

Alex Fremier posing with a special camera in a desert, surrounded by African children.
Alex Fremier

Today we’re showcasing Alex Fremier, associate professor in WSU’s School of the Environment. Here are his answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

Carmel, CA

Where did you go to school? 

Principia College, Elsah IL (Bachelor’s), University of California, Davis, CA (Master’s & Ph.D.)

How did you become interested in your field?

My father was a professional black and white photographer, so I grew up outside admiring the environment. My mom was a librarian and liked learning. I guess I am a product of them. I just started asking why did the environment look the way it did.

Why did you want to become a professor? 

Few jobs allow you to follow your curiosity and share it with others.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

The energy. They see they can impact the world in positive ways but don’t know how yet. Neither do I, but I like the process of learning how to help others succeed.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Triangulate understanding. No one person, or one group of people, has a complete understanding of the world. Some of have a better understanding of specific components. When you openly consider multiple views, honest learning happens. That’s what keeps me learning and engaged.

CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Alejandro (Alex) Prera

We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.

Formal portrait photo of Alex Prera
Alex Prera

Today we’re showcasing Alex Prera, associate clinical professor in the School of Economic Sciences. Here are his answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Where did you go to school?

University of Nebraska, Lincoln (Bachelor’s), University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (Master’s and Ph.D.)

How did you become interested in your field?

My mother is a Ph.D. in Economics. Her hard work has always been an inspiration to me.

Why did you want to become a professor?

I started teaching as a graduate student and found that I liked it. It’s always great to bump into students outside the classroom.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

Every year they change. That means I have to change to keep up with their ever evolving preferences.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Take more math and stats. Regardless of your major, those are very important in the “real world.” If you want to figure things out, take economics. It is amazing how useful it is, especially in the business world. I worked at a private bank for about a year, and I wish I had taken more math, stats, and economics.

Unseasonal wake-up brought about by food

If bears are fed during hibernation, they wake up. But not completely.

A bear stands on his hind legs to grab an apple off a pole.
One of the WSU bears putting on weight in preparation for hibernation last year.

That’s the preliminary finding from a research study conducted this winter at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center, where scientists fed seven bears glucose every day for 10 days. Four WSU bears were not fed during hibernation, serving as the control group in the research.

One of the amazing abilities bears possess is that they are resistant to insulin during hibernation. That’s similar to Type 2 diabetes in humans. But bears can reverse that insulin resistance when they wake up in the spring.

“We found that blood glucose decreased when we fed them, suggesting that insulin sensitivity was restored,” said Heiko Jansen, associate professor in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “It wasn’t restored fully, it was about 50 percent of active season levels, but it did increase.”

Once the study ended, the bears returned to a normal hibernation state, suggesting bears can and would wake up if they have access to a food source.

“If a wild bear had access to high levels of carbohydrates, they may not need to hibernate,” Jansen said. “The feeding itself leads to physiological changes in bears.”

The study is ongoing, as Jansen and his team are still doing research on blood work and fat biopsies obtained during the study, as well as analyzing data from the samples they’ve already looked at.

“This is a big project, and it’s replicable each winter,” Jansen said. “So, we can potentially look at another nutrient, like protein for example, in the future.”