The Department of Entomology created a scholarship in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and has named microbiology major Ariana Sanchez its first Inclusivity Scholar.
Sanchez became interested in studying bacterial pathogens transmitted by insects because members of her family suffer from chronic illnesses transmitted by fleas and ticks. She will further this interest with her work beginning this fall in the laboratory of Associate Professor Allison Hansen.
The Hansen laboratory is focused on insect-microbe interactions, particularly how they co-evolved and continue to work together on a genetic level. For example, aphids have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria Buchnera aphidicola. The Buchnera synthesizes nutrients the aphid cannot get from its host plants.
“Without that bacteria, the aphid couldn’t live,” Hansen explained. “They evolved together over millions of years, and they have an organ in their body specialized for the bacteria.”
Other sap-feeding insects, such as the Asian citrus psyllid, have similar relationships with bacteria. Sanchez will be investigating Liberibacter, the bacteria associated with the psyllid, which is the cause of huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease. This disease is currently devastating citrus orchards worldwide.
Sanchez is excited to begin this new chapter in her academic and professional development. Being both Latina and a woman in STEM, she plans to use her experiences to give back to the communities she identifies with .
Frequently asked by peers for advice on gaining opportunities such as this one, she said it is important to follow your interests.
“As undergrads, we always think there’s someone more qualified or more deserving of scholarships and awards. Apply anyway,” Sanchez said.
“An enthusiastic, open mind will always be rewarded, either with a new opportunity for your future or with knowledge of how to build yourself up for the next opportunity. If you keep learning from what life has to offer you, you will become more capable and 'deserving' than you thought possible."
Hansen said she is excited to begin a new chapter with Sanchez in her lab.
“This is a very bright student, and I’m excited to help her become the scientist she is going to be,” she said. “I had an amazing mentor when I was an undergraduate who changed my life. I wouldn’t be in science without her, and I’m happy for the opportunity to pay it forward.”
Created shortly after the death of George Floyd in 2020, the Advancing Inclusivity in Entomology scholarship was formed entirely with small donations from members of the department’s faculty and staff. In this moment, the faculty recognized they could do more to support the many students who have a passion for studying insects but are excluded from research opportunities.
The department is hopeful that the endowed fund for the scholarship will grow larger over time and help marginalized students overcome social, cultural, and financial barriers to studying insects in a laboratory.
To date, the fund has grown to a little more than $37,000, but the goal is a total of at least $65,000. Sanchez will receive a $1,000 cash award without restrictions. As the endowment grows, the department will increase the award amount as well. Anyone wishing to donate can visit the scholarship page.