Beetle-Mania: Monmouth College Biology Students Present Research at Entomology Meeting in West Virginia


In recent years, Monmouth College’s biology program has steered students toward what is known as “course-based undergraduate research experiences.”

Professors have found it to be, both acronymically and practically, a CURE for traditional lab sessions, when the result of the experiment, if performed correctly, is known in advance.

In 2018, students begin collecting samples of phage, discovering completely new varieties of the virus that infects bacteria. The latest CURE project is studying the microbiomes that bean beetles deposit on plants when they lay their eggs.

“It ruins lots of crops,” said Monmouth biology professor James Godde. “It’s an important thing to be studying.”

During the College’s spring break earlier this month, Godde led five Monmouth students on a trip to West Virginia University in Morgantown, where they presented their initial findings at the Eastern Branch Meeting of the Entomological Society of America. Godde said he opted to take his students there rather than the North Central Branch’s meeting in Colorado due to the timing, and he was happy he did.

“I wanted the students to present their work, and I was looking for a conference that would be appropriate,” he said. “Even though it wasn’t our region, the people there were so nice that I’m thinking of taking students to their next meeting this September in New Jersey.”

Students held their own

Monmouth College’s Scholars Day, which will be held this year on April 23, is a time for students to practice presenting their research. But the timing of the entomology conference put the cart before the horse, said Godde.

“None of us are entomologists by trade, and this preceded Scholars Day, but our students were able to hold their own,” he said. “We got to see what real scientific meetings are like, and I think the common response was, ‘This is not as scary as we thought it might be.'”

Cally Tate ’26 of Monmouth is one of two students on the trip taking this semester’s 300-level “Bioinformatics” course, which is studying the data last fall from both the phage and bean beetle lab courses. DNA from last fall has been sent for high-throughput sequencing at Emory University.

“I learned a lot about the research larger universities are doing in undergraduate and Ph.D. programs,” said Tate. “Many people in entomology right now are researching the health and environmental impacts on all kinds of bug species, which is interesting to me since I’m an environmental science major.”

Kimber Calvert ’27 of Paris, Illinois, the other “Bioinformatics” student on the trip, served as the main author of the poster that the group presented at the meeting.

“I want to go into botany, but this has been a very good complement, as bugs are a very important part of plant life,” she said.

Calvert also commented on the new style of lab she experienced last fall.

“In traditional labs, you have a set of instructions to follow exactly to get just one goal,” she said. “But with the beetle microbiomes, we were figuring out how to do everything. There was a lot of trial and error as we found ways to make things work. And we learned some things that no one has found before.”

Another student on the trip, Olivia Turley ’24 of Carlinville, Illinois, made a solo presentation at the conference. One of a dozen undergraduate students to do so, she spoke about her research with Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Her bugs were fed a diet of dog food of varying degrees of quality, and Turley attempted to discern if the quality made any difference over time in their “pull strength.”

Also part of the trip were Talon Hunter ’27 of Avon, Illinois, and Jaiden Rivera ’25 of Lamoni, Iowa.

Scenic West Virginia

No trip led by Godde is complete without a few hikes, and the group had the opportunity to get away a couple times on the day following their poster presentation, visiting Sky Rock and Cooper’s Rock.

“My favorite moments outside of the conference were getting to hike at Cooper’s Rock and Dorsey’s Knob,” said Tate. “It was also great to see the Bugs World exhibit, play fun games to get to know each other, and watch movies every night in our Airbnb.”

The Airbnb, said Godde, was a way to mitigate costs, as was making the 10-hour drive to Morgantown in the biology department’s van, with a very early departure time on March 9.

***Courtesy of Barry McNamara, Monmouth College***

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