BugMasters program prepares volunteers to teach youth

Sheldon Brummel, Research Technician, demonstrates a top bar hive at the 2017 BugMasters program.

July 28, 2017

Lincoln, Neb. — The BugMasters volunteer program, held in mid-July, was a two-day training camp that covered topics such as basic insect biology and insect orders, pollinators, pests, and how to teach insect programs. Following the training, participants can conduct outreach programs in collaboration with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for various audiences.

Julie Thomas, a Nebraska Master Naturalist, was excited to learn more about bugs and their role on our planet. She hopes that her new natural science knowledge will make her a better teacher and discovery leader at the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center.

“This class actually helped me to appreciate bugs. Imagine that! I hope BugMasters can help children know when and why to be afraid of a bug. I hope it can help children and their families recognize the importance of some bugs, bees and butterflies in the production of flowers and food.”

To guide youth down that path, the Department of Entomology has a number of outreach kits available to educators for checkout. The kits can be used to teach a variety of entomological related topics to children of all ages. One popular kit is Insect Collecting and Pinning, which provides an insect collection for observation and examples for practice pinning. The Compost Critters kit has become popular and includes gloves and tools to dig through compost in search of arthropods. A continued favorite is the Cockroach Tractor Pull, which contains an activity that demonstrates how Madagascar hissing cockroaches can carry more than their weight.

“People attending the BugMasters program will serve as volunteers, conducting insect programs for the University’s Entomology Department and/or Nebraska Extension,” said Erin Bauer, entomology lecturer and BugMasters instructor. “Youth benefit from learning more about insects, and the people who do these programs are passionate about insects and are interested in passing their knowledge along to the next generation. Adult learners want to know more about current pest problems, such as bed bugs or the Emerald Ash borer. BugMasters now have the training to discuss those topics.”

A few of the topics covered during training include how to protect pollinators, beneficial arthropods around Nebraska, household pests, an introduction to the misunderstood world of spiders, and many more.

Bauer, along with Nebraska Extension Entomology Educator Jonathan Larson and Nebraska Extension Urban Entomologist Jody Green led the BugMasters training sessions while Judy Wu-Smart, extension and research entomologist and Doug Golick, assistant professor of entomology, led the beehive demonstration and pollinator garden tour.

While most attendees were adults, 15 year-old Maxine Parry was also part of the group this year. An aspiring entomologist, Parry said that she loved putting on the bee suits, visiting the pollinator garden and learning how to teach about insects.

“This experience was very beneficial to me, but I think even without the goal of studying insects professionally, this program helps people feel more comfortable around bugs,” said Parry.

The program was started in 2016 and Bauer says that there are around 30 to 35 participants each year. Organizers are excited about the changes that have been made to improve the program since it started.

“We added hands-on activities, pollinator garden and beehive tours, and insect observation/collecting this year because we had many people indicate that they would like a hands-on component. It was definitely a significant way that we grew and changed the program in 2017,” says Bauer.

For more information about outreach kits and other materials, visit http://entomology.unl.edu/scilit

Erin Bauer
Department of Entomology
Writer: Gina Incontro - IANR Media