Molly Darr and James Wahls, graduate students in the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, recently won the 2016 Alwood Extension Award. This award, begun in 2014, recognizes entomology graduate students who dedicate themselves to Cooperative Extension and outreach service. The award comes with a $500 scholarship, a plaque, and a commemorative print. It honors the legacy of William Bradford Alwood, Virginia Tech’s first entomologist and a world-renowned scientist.
Darr, a Ph.D. candidate, is studying biological control of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive pest that has devastated hemlocks and other trees in the Appalachian region of the East Coast. Originally from Lovettsville, Virginia, she received her bachelor of science from Virginia Tech in 2009. She has received several prestigious awards, including the President’s Prize from the Entomological Society of America in 2015 and the W.B. Alwood Travel Award the same year.
Darr became interested in entomology while working at several field jobs after graduation from college. “I have always been interested in conservation and the inner workings of ecological systems,” she explained. “Studying biological control in the field of forest entomology was perfectly aligned with these interests.”
Darr is a leader in the W.B. Alwood Society, serving as treasurer and as outreach tour coordinator for hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students. She also designed and hand printed T-shirts for the Department of Entomology recruitment booth at a national conference. Over the past three years, she has contributed greatly to the success of the annual Hokie BugFest by coordinating a forest entomology booth and providing behind-the-scenes leadership. She was also an instructor at the 4-H camp at Smith Mountain Lake and at the Hokie BugCamp, a summer program that introduces children to entomology. Additionally, she has presented insect-themed programs at regional museums and elementary schools and has served as a judge at area science festivals.
Wahls, a master of science student, is studying biological control of two invasive Drosophilid species in Virginia. Originally from Batavia, New York, he received his bachelor of science from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 2012. His earlier field research has taken him from the northern hardwood forests of New England to the tropical dry forests of western Madagascar. He currently researches invasive species ecology and pest management in Virginia fruit crops.
Wahls became fascinated by insects while taking an entomology course in college. As an undergraduate, he shared his passion for insects through outreach activities. “It has become one of my professional goals to share with people the wonders of life’s diversity and teach them how each organism, no matter how miniscule or seemingly insignificant, is actually quite important,” he remarked.
He is currently serving as secretary in the Alwood Society and has been a tour guide for local schoolchildren. As a Hokie BugFest staffer, he has not only educated visitors about tarantulas and other spiders on display during the event but also designed and painted colorful entomology-themed canvases in advance. Additionally, he has worked at Virginia Tech’s Hahn Garden as a maintenance volunteer, chaperoned children at the Hokie BugCamp, and volunteered at Blacksburg’s Nature Center through the SEEDS program (Seek Education, Explore, DiScover).
Both Darr and Wahls are wonderful examples of the best Virginia Tech students and of the meaning of Ut Prosim. They easily fit the criteria of the Alwood Extension Award, which includes selfless dedication, patience, leadership, integrity, honesty, a positive attitude, and scholarship.
Edwin Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension, presented the Alwood Extension Awards on Feb. 3 at the Virginia Cooperative Extension Professional Development Conference, held at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center.