New entomology scholarship honors WSU adjunct professor, alumna Laurel Hansen

Laurel Hansen
Laurel Hansen has often been witnessed wearing coveralls and boots, implementing her research in the field (Photo courtesy Laurel Hansen).

A passion for insects and a willingness to implement her research in the field set Laurel Hansen apart in entomology.

Now, the Washington State University adjunct professor and alumna’s contributions are being recognized through a new scholarship.

The WSU Foundation established “The Laurel Hansen Entomology Fund” this month after receiving a $5,000 gift from Kurt Treftz, founder and owner of Snohomish, Wash., based Cascade Pest Control. Funds will support students and researchers in WSU’s Department of Entomology who are studying urban pest management and insect biology—especially ants.

Hansen and Treftz have worked together for over 40 years.

“Laurel is one of the most influential people in our industry,” Treftz said. “She became quite the fixture and the go-to person, and we’ve relied upon her heavily.”

Surprised and flattered by the honor, Hansen has spent more than five decades teaching and working in entomology. She taught biology for 51 years at Spokane Falls Community College before retiring in 2020. She was an adjunct entomology professor at WSU for most of that time, a position she still holds today.

The new fund helps keep the pest control industry up to date on ideal practices for sustainability and managing pests, said Laura Lavine, professor and chair of WSU’s Department of Entomology. The department has received only a handful of endowments for urban entomology over the last three decades, making this an especially rare gift.

“There’s not a lot of money available for research in urban integrated pest management, so this is a really tremendous investment in the research side,” Lavine said.  “These kinds of gifts and scholarships ensure that this sort of work continues to be done and isn’t left behind.”

Laurel Hansen
A passion for insects and a willingness to implement her research in the field set Laurel Hansen apart in entomology (Courtesy Laurel Hansen).

Hansen echoed that sentiment: “I hope it will help someone pursue more urban interests in entomology. The emphasis in entomology is in horticulture and agriculture, so urban areas often feel slighted.”

Raised a farmer’s daughter on a homestead near Davenport, Wash., Hansen has long seen agriculture as a part of her life. She began her academic career at Eastern Washington University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in natural science and went on to receive master’s and doctorate degrees in entomology from WSU in 1967 and 1985, respectively.

Interested in social insects, Hansen originally planned to study termite behavior for her doctorate degree. However, she was encouraged by her adviser, Dr. Roger Akre, to pivot to carpenter ants after he received samples of the insects from Treftz.

Over the years, Hansen’s teaching skills and her talent for making her research relevant drew the attention of the pest control industry. She has often been witnessed wearing coveralls and boots, examining pests in the field.

“I’ve been very successful with the industry in that it’s been a two-way dialogue,” Hansen said. “I will go out in the field with the professionals, crawl under houses and in attics, go on inspections. I’ve learned as much from them as they’ve probably learned from me. I like the interaction.”

The industry appreciates her down-to-earth nature and has been impressed by her willingness to do the dirty parts of the job, all while having a sense of humor, Treftz said.

Working with pest control professionals comes naturally, Hansen added, because of her teaching background and how much she enjoys education.

She has written several journal and trade magazine papers and co-authored three books on ants. Hansen was also inducted into the Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame in 2015, and conducts seminars and ant identification workshops around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

“She’s curious, open-minded, and really cares about the needs of Washington state citizens when it comes to pest management in the urban environment,” Lavine said. “She takes her information and knowledge and puts it into practice to educate others. We all feel her impact. If you don’t have ants in your house, you can thank Laurel Hansen!”

Further donations are welcome. To support this scholarship, please visit the Department of Entomology scholarship page.