Source: Alysha Soper, alyshaso@k-state.edu
Hometown connection: Lindstrom, Minn.
News release prepared by: Stephanie Murray, 785-532-2535, media@ksu.edu

Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011

A bug's life: Entomology graduate student hopes research will translate into real-world improvements for sorghum growers

MANHATTAN -- The Entomological Society of America is recognizing a Kansas State University graduate student for her work in the field.

Alysha Soper is the recipient of the 2011 Larry Larson Graduate Student Award for Leadership in Applied Entomology from the Entomological Society of America. Soper is completing her master's and will begin her doctoral work in the spring.

The award, sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, is given annually to a master's or doctoral student who is carrying on Larson's legacy as a leader and pioneer in insect management and applied entomology. Larson served Dow AgroSciences in a number of roles within discovery and field research and development for more than 28 years.

Soper's master's research has focused on modeling sorghum head worm damage for infested sorghum panicles and predicting patterns of head worm infestations in Kansas sorghum fields. She hopes her research will help update growing strategies and develop new technologies that will maximize yield and profit for sorghum growers.

"In some field crop systems, integrated pest management, or IPM, strategies and technologies have remained static," Soper said. "It is essential that applied IPM programs are dynamic and adaptable to changes within the cropping systems they are deployed in."

Growing up in Lindstrom, Minn., Soper always knew that she wanted to work outside and study animals, but did not narrow that interest to insects until she got to college and took a general entomology course, where she discovered her true passion almost by accident.

"When I took my first entomology class it was really to broaden my knowledge base so that I could study birds or mammals," she said. "Instead, I found out that insects were not only extremely cool and that their interactions with the environment were much more diverse and interesting to me than those for birds or mammals."

The things that Soper found most interesting about insects from the very beginning have carried through to her graduate research.

"I quickly realized that insects could help us discover patterns in nature and understand the processes that shape them," she said. "Through my master's work I understand that by describing the ecological and biological processes that influence insect populations in managed systems we can develop improved IPM practices."

One of the aspects of her work in entomology that Soper has enjoyed the most is community outreach and education. She is a former president of the department of entomology's Popenoe Entomology Club, and hopes to continue promoting insect education by working with the university's Entomology Club and insect zoo while completing her doctoral work.

"As someone passionate and dedicated to the study of insects, it is my great pleasure to share my enthusiasm for entomology with the public," Soper said. "Insects provide amazing opportunities to showcase the importance of arthropods in our daily lives -- everything from the food we eat and the clothes on our backs to the production systems that produce such items."

In the long term, Soper hopes that her continued research will translate into real-world improvements for growers.

"It's my goal to continue initiatives directed toward improving insect management recommendations for growers and stakeholders in the south central Plains during my upcoming Ph.D. research," she said. "This work is exciting to me because working directly with growers and providing them with relevant management solutions inspires me to find logical and economical balances between conservation and productivity."