By Staffan Lindgren
Given a stimulating, or even neutral environment, I firmly believe that the natural interest that most, if not all kids have for animals will be retained for life – once a bug nerd always a bug nerd. My parents’ photos of me as a kid almost always show me on all four turning rocks or peering down into some pond for any sign of life, and I’m not much different now (See photographs). I was fortunate to grow up close to nature with parents who pretty much put up with anything that I dragged home, usually alive (my mom drew the line at snakes, but spiders were OK as long as they were contained). Many kids are not as fortunate. They may grow up in a large city, or have one or two parents who at best believe that the only good bug is a dead bug and at worst go catatonic at the sight of even the tiniest spider.
Part of the mandate of the ESC and its affiliate regional societies is to stimulate an interest in entomology through education. One of the tools by which ESC tries to do this is by making available a small grant available annually to the regional societies. The ESC committee guidelines on these “Public Encouragement Grants” state:
(a) Each Affiliate shall be eligible to apply to the Committee for an annual grant of $200 for public education.
(b) Application for the Grant shall be made annually to the Chair and should indicate how the money is to be used.
(c) Funds may be accumulated for a maximum period of three years (i.e., up to $600).
(d) Applications in excess of $200 shall be considered.
(d) The difference between the amount made available annually by the Society for public encouragement, and the amount given to Affiliates, shall be called the Public Encouragement Discretionary Fund. This Fund may be used to augment grants to Affiliates or finance direct public encouragement activities of the Committee.
In 2012, two such grants were awarded, one to Société d’entomologie du Québec (SEQ), who reported:
The $200 granted to the SEQ by the ESC for public education and outreach were given to the AEAQ (Association des entomologistes amateurs du Quebec). …They used the funds to grant free access to their annual meeting (6-7 July 2012) to participants of less than 18 yrs old that could not afford registrations. The annual meeting of the AEAQ is primarily a field meeting with some presentations, and a number of interesting faunistic records were made this year. A recap of this meeting with pictures can be found in the bulletin of the AEAQ at the following url: http://aeaq.ca/nouvl/nouvailes222automne2012.pdf
The second grant was made to the Entomological Society of Manitoba (ESM), who reported:
As part of the Youth Encouragement and Public Education Committee activities, members of the ESM travel to visit schools and various special interest groups to talk about insects, and there are many groups that visit the facilities of the Department of Entomology as well to see the live insects and to learn about insects. The Program received $200 from the ESC this year, and this money was used in part for some minor renovations to the insectary (see photograph) in the Department of Entomology. There is now space for new colonies, and the rearing room can now accommodate small groups for tours. The grant was also used to print business cards, which are provided to the different youth groups visited, or to interested parties during festivals where the Youth Encouragement Committee is present.
It may not appear that activities like these have much impact, but sometimes it takes very little to stimulate the minds of young people. Providing access for youth to meetings allows them to interact with entomologists and learn that we are people too! I was profoundly influenced by the kind, patient, and carefully typed replies (on official Uppsala University letterhead) when I as a 13-year-old confined live spiders in matchboxes and sent these in regular letters by snail-mail to the arachnologist Dr. Åke Holm! (He did tell me that the spiders generally did not arrive in very good condition, incidentally). I have never forgotten that, and I try to treat budding bugologists with equal kindness. Who knows how it will affect them?
It is clear that you can’t necessarily convert entomophobic people to entomologists, but you may be able to provide some fuel for whatever pilot flame burns in youth that possess even a modicum of interest and curiosity regarding life on earth. Every now and again, you encounter some really exceptional students, and those are the individuals that can make the smallest gesture extremely important. I have been lucky to associate with a number of such exceptional undergraduate students here at UNBC. Some have continued in entomology while others have moved to other disciplines. Three former students who carried on to pursue doctoral degrees are noteworthy. One is now a pollinator specialist with the Government of Alberta, one is a PhD student at York University, and one is a PhD student at Utah State. All have published in entomology journals, and are obviously successful. More importantly in the context of this blog, they have all kept in touch and expressed appreciation for the mentoring they received here at UNBC.
The ESC grants are relatively small, but they may make a huge difference in someone’s life and future career path. Therefore, as Chair of the Science Policy and Education Committee, I hope to be the recipient of several applications from regional affiliates this year.