UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Hoping to increase awareness and interest in public health and medical entomology, Penn State alumna Alexis Barbarin has created an annual award for graduate students pursuing research and degrees in that field. The WEDLUIS grant is funded by annual royalties Barbarin receives from a patent for a bedbug pesticide she helped research while pursuing her doctorate.
Consideration for the BEDBUGS Award, which stands for Breeding Entomological Diversity by Unearthing Graduate Studies, will be given to full-time graduate students pursuing a degree in entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences who demonstrate excellence in the field of urban or public health entomology. The awards will be for one academic year, but recipients will be considered for the award in subsequent years if they demonstrate further achievements. Recipients can use the grant to fund a research project of their choice, attend a conference or purchase supplies, among other things.
“Alexis excelled in our program – her Ph.D. work has had a major impact on bedbug control,” said Gary Felton, professor and head of the Department of Entomology. “This grant she created will help ensure we can recruit and support students working in the important field of public health and urban pest management.”
Barbarin, who graduated in 2012 with a doctorate in entomology, is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. She and her family were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, but Barbarin was able to complete her undergraduate degree at Xavier University of Louisiana. After being accepted to Penn State, she had to do research on spongy moths. However, having grown up in an urban environment and with a desire to make a difference to those dealing with pests in urban areas, she struggled to feel connected to the work she was doing on the bush pest.
“I decided I wanted to work on bed bugs, but I didn’t have the funding,” Barbarin said. “Fortunately, I have been honored as both a Bunton-Waller Fellow and a Sloan Scholar. The Sloan Foundation has given me the opportunity to have financial freedom, which is extremely important as a graduate student! And it ended up providing the funding I needed to research bed bugs.”
Towards the end of her program, Barbarin was approached about continuing research with Dr. Nina Jenkins, an entomology research professor, about a potential bedbug pesticide. The experiment was successful, and with the support of a RAIN (Research Applications for Innovation) grant from the college, Jenkins founded ConidioTec and filed a patent to commercialize the research.
Today, Barbarin is one of two public health entomologists for the state of North Carolina, focusing on ticks and tick-borne diseases. She is also an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University, where she completed her second post-doctoral position. Through her success, she looks back on her time at Penn State with great gratitude.
“I’m just so grateful that the department took a chance on this girl from New Orleans who was essentially homeless and displaced by Katrina,” Barbarin said. “I had to learn so much, but I’m so grateful that they took a chance on me and it worked out. I knew I had to do something to give back.”
Barbarin has been receiving royalties from the patent for the bedbug pesticide since 2017. After initially saving all the checks to help her buy her first home, she knew she wanted to create an endowment to help graduate students at Penn State.
“I wanted to help graduate students pursue their own projects and fill needs they have,” she said. “I also hope it brings more awareness and interest to public health and medical entomology and will help students who want to do research in those areas. I had my chance thanks to financial support, and now I hope it can be someone else’s chance.”
While Barbarin funds the award annually for now, she hopes to endow it one day. She also hopes it inspires other graduates to give back.
“My hope is that other graduates will see the value of creating a gift and that students who receive an award now will remember it and be inspired to create gifts in the future. There are not many departmental grants in entomology, so there is a limit to how much the department can help. My award isn’t huge, but it’s a good starting point.”
The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences represents the foundation of Penn State and its land-grant mission to serve the public interest. Through teaching, research and Extension, and because of generous alumni and friends, the College of Agricultural Sciences is able to offer scholarships to one in four students, create life-changing opportunities and make a difference in the world through discovery, spur innovation. , and entrepreneurship. To learn more about supporting the college, visit http://agsci.psu.edu/giving.
With the record-breaking success of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which has raised $2.2 billion from 2016 to 2022, philanthropy helps to continue the University’s tradition of education, research and service to communities across the Commonwealth and around the world. maintain Scholarships enable our institution to open doors and welcome students from every background, support for transformative experiences enables our students and faculty to realize their great potential for leadership, and gifts for discovery and excellence help us to change the world serving and influencing our part. To learn more about the impact of giving and the ongoing need for support, please visit raise.psu.edu.