by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist
Outreach and youth education are important aspects of many of the entomology departments around the United States. Certainly, this is true of our department here at U.K. Kids love to learn about insects, and we are always trying to figure out new and better ways to reach an audience and to make a positive, lasting impact. This week at the North Central Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), we conducted a half-day symposium on outreach and youth entomology. Speakers came from the entomology departments at the University of Illinois, Michigan State University, and Purdue. I heard a lot of great ideas!
Here's what some of my fellow entomologists are up to:
Michigan State University, Department of Entomology: MSU has a very nice facility on campus called the Bug House. The Bug House has been around for about ten years, and it is a museum/zoo/classroom filled with mounted insects, live insects, games, and lots of other cool stuff. Schools bring their students to the Bug House as a field trip, and pay a small fee (the fee covers operation costs for the facility). The public is also able to visit the Bug House during certain hours. The kids stay for about an hour and experience a ton of entomology. I've always wanted something like this on UK's campus, but I'm not sure about the logistics. For one thing, parking is a major problem on our campus, so there really isn't a good place to install a facility that could accommodate bus parking and public parking. Staffing the Bug House would also be a problem: finding money for workers would be tough, although MSU seems to generate funds from the small fee that they charge.
Michigan State also runs a bug camp for kids. We have an entomology camp here at U.K. also (the Entomology Leadership Program), but our program is for high-school students. MSU runs their camp for elementary and middle-school kids, and it has been very successful. We get a lot of requests here at UK for a camp for younger kids, so maybe this is something that we should look into.
Purdue Entomology: The Department of Entomology at Purdue University also runs a very successful outreach program. In fact, they may interact with more kids each year than any other entomology program in the U.S. Each year, they have an event on Purdue's campus called Bug Bowl. 30,000 people attend this event every year! One of the reasons that this event is so successful is because it is a part of a larger program called "Spring Fest Weekend," an annual Purdue tradition. Maybe that's something that we should find here in Lexington: a large, pre-existing annual event that would accept us as a featured attraction. Some things come to mind: the Woodland Art Fair, 2nd Sunday, the Midsummer Night's Run. Lexingtonians who are reading this: any other suggestions??
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The University of Illinois has come up with a very interesting and high-tech outreach program called BeeSpotter, a collaboration between the Department of Entomology at U of I and another program at the university called the Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education. This presentation was one of the highlights of the symposium because BeeSpotter is a great piece of technology and because the presentation was interactive. BeeSpotter is a web-interface that allows citizens (kids, gardeners, hikers, or anybody with a digital camera) to upload pictures of bees into a database. The database is then used to track the occurrences of rare and threatened bee species, especially bumble bees and honey bees in Illinois. The presenters from U of I brought about a dozen notebook computers and passed them out to the audience. With the laptops, we were able to quickly create an account and upload a mock image into the database. It was easy to do! Currently, the database is only being used for bees photographed in Illinois, but UK is planning to work with the BeeSpotter program to extend its applicability into Kentucky.
So we have a lot to do, including building an insect zoo and creating an annual insect event that draws 30,000 people. In the meantime, I am going to learn more about the rare and threatened bumble bees of Kentucky!