AgriLife entomology team garners state honor

Vice Chancellor’s Award in the diversity category goes to College Station pair

COLLEGE STATION  – The two-member REU-EXCITE Team of Texas A&M University’s department of entomology at College Station were honored with the Texas A&M AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence in the Diversity Category.

Dr. Kevin Heinz and Rebecca Hapes were honored for their work in actively seeking to recruit a wide array of diverse and underrepresented students into the field of entomology. Heinz is a professor and program director in the department and Hapes is a senior academic advisor II and program coordinator.

The honor was presented Jan. 8 during the Texas A&M AgriLife Conference in College Station.

The Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence were established in 1980. This awards program recognizes the commitment and outstanding contributions of faculty and staff across Texas A&M AgriLife and provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of those honored.

The award for diversity honors an individual or team for their extraordinary efforts, achievements and innovations in recruiting, retaining or developing courses, programs and activities which enhance faculty, student and staff diversity or respond to the special needs of underrepresented populations.

Dr. David Ragsdale, head of the department of entomology, wrote in his nomination, the pair “envisioned, created and executed a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program that is exceptionally innovative, generates high impact student experiences and seeks to recruit a wide array of diverse and underrepresented students.

“The EXCITE (Expanding Scientific Investigation Through Entomology) REU program was the first of its kind in the United States and remains the only entomology REU in the country,” he wrote.

Seventy percent of all animals are insects, according to Ragsdale, and insects continue to be a major defining force in shaping human society and the global environment.

“Even with this great impact, the numbers of students attracted to the diverse science of entomology, especially minorities, is low; at least until they are exposed to the excitement of the discipline.”

Ragsdale wrote that the team comprised of Heinz and Hapes created the EXCITE program to focus on entomology with researchers working on projects in various levels of ecology, thus providing great opportunities for students to make research discoveries that will impact science and society.

The REU-EXCITE program recruits nationally for eight to 10 students to participate in a 10-week summer program in entomology, according to the nomination. Students conduct research under the mentorship of internationally recognized faculty, use outstanding laboratory and field research facilities, work within a diverse student environment that emphasizes research ethics and are able to experience the importance of translating entomological research discoveries to the general public.
“Dr. Heinz and Ms. Hapes’ insight, ingenuity, dedication and service to students in creating and delivering this innovative and high impact student experience has significantly benefited a wide array of students, mentors and the discipline,” Ragsdale wrote.

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