Ivana Li: Outstanding Undergraduate Award in Entomology
June 1, 2012
|Moment of presentation: forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey announces the recipient of the Outstanding Undergraduate Award: Ivana Li.|
|Ivana Li with Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. In back is bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey. (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)|
DAVIS--It was a cricket named Chester that did it.
Ivana Li’s fascination with insects began in early childhood but she didn't know the meaning of “entomologist” until her second-grade encounter with Chester.
Chester is the main character of George Selden's Newbery-award winning book, A Cricket in Times Square.
"I was pretty thrilled that to find out that there was actually a job in which you get to study insects," Li recalled. "That was the best. It still is.”
Li, a fourth-year entomology major at the University of California, Davis, is the recipient of the Department of Entomology’s 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Award.
“I had a skin allergy to grass when I was young and tended to get sick easily so I actually spent a lot of time indoors or close to the house. Thus, I ended up both reading a lot and observing what was close by,” Li said.
Her backyard, landscaped with rose bushes, yielded “plenty of aphids, ladybugs, grasshoppers and caterpillars.”
“I would trap those in containers and kept my tiny companions underneath the bed where I could easily take them out for play and also hide them away from my mother. I knew I liked insects.”
Li, born and reared in Monterey Park, near east Los Angeles, graduated from Schurr High School in Montebello and immediately enrolled as an entomology major at UC Davis. She joined the Entomology Club as a freshman and now serves as its president. In between classes, she works at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of more than seven million insects.
“When I first met Ivana, she was shy,” Kimsey said. “Not any more.”
“Many wonderful things can be said about the intellectual development and maturation of Ivana Li during her stay here in the Entomology Department,” Kimsey said. “But the most profound change in my mind is her extraordinary conversion from one of the most shy persons I have ever met to the exceptionally outgoing and vociferous president of the Entomology Club.”
Entomology majors are rare in the Li family. "Apparently one of my second cousins studies entomology, but I've never met her,” Li said. “I'm a bit of an odd one in my family due to my love of bugs. My sister is terrified of them and always called me to come get rid of them. Actually, she still calls me sometimes despite being miles away.”
Li’s passions for insects has included examining insect life on the island of Alcatraz; Kimsey does research on flies. And as president of the Entomology Club, she’s booked or listened to a variety of speakers, including a former Alcatraz inmate.
Her passions also include drawing and cooking. A former cartoonist on her high school newspaper for two years, she likes to draw faces and comic strips. As for cooking, "I like making complex meals and cooking with new ingredients. I think most of my friends have been endowed with random treats at one time or another as a consequence of that.”
Her skills at cooking and her enthusiasm for insects proved to be a natural choice for a cook position at professor Phil Ward’s five-week “Bug Boot Camp” in 2010. The field course, “Entomology 109: Insect Taxonomy and Field Ecology,” aka “Bug Boot Camp,” takes place every other year in the Sagehen Creek Field Station in the northern Sierra Nevada of California.
Like all entomologists, Li marvels at insect diversity. “I greatly enjoy the amount of diversity in the forms that insects have and the different roles and strategies they have evolved,” she said. “For instance, some caterpillars have evolved to be ambush predators. I can't be the only one who thinks that is incredibly fascinating.”
She loves working at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. “The Bohart Museum really is a wonderful place,” she said. “I've learned a lot about outreach (she worked last summer at the Bohart’s Bio Boot Camp) and a ton about insects. I've also made a lot of good friends there. It's a really supportive environment.”
Said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology: “Ivana has worked for me for several years. She is a gifted student with many impressive talents, and a maturity well beyond that of her peers. She will go far.”
As for career choices, Ivana Li hasn't’ decided yet, but it will be either “forensics or ecology.”
“Both,” she said, “are appealing at this point in my life.”
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology