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Fellowship of the wings: HSHS alum to travel world for insect study

April 7, 2016 at 4:00 a.m.
Submitted photo PRESTIGIOUS FELLOW: Jessa Thurman, Hot Springs High School alum and a graduating senior at Hendrix College, has received a 2016 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for one year of international independent study. Her work will focus on understanding how different cultures study and utilize insects.

CONWAY -- Hot Springs High School graduate Jessa Thurman has received a one-year grant to travel the world and focus on her own independently designed project.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent study outside of the United States. It is awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges.

A total of 152 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level and 40 fellows were selected. The 48th Class of Watson Fellows represents 21 states and eight countries. The graduates will traverse 67 countries in their studies.

Thurman is the 34th Hendrix student to receive a Watson Fellowship. George F. Sawaya received the college's first Watson Fellowship in 1985.

Thurman is a Biology major and English (literary studies) minor. She is the daughter of Martha Rose Thurman and David Thurman.

Her project, "From Extermination to Appreciation: Ethnoentomology and Connecting to the World through Insects," will take her to Australia, Thailand, Brazil, Peru and the United Kingdom. She will visit universities in Australia and Thailand with her focus on ethnoentomology, the study of humans' relationship to and use of insects.

Those closest to her are well aware of Thurman's love for insects.

"My college career has proven my sincere passion for studying insects through an internship at the Smithsonian and designing research projects on insects whenever an opportunity arose," Thurman said. "By the time I started to apply for the Watson, I knew I had to design a project based on something I loved because the fellowship is essentially, 'What dream would you make come true if you could travel the world?'"

She first thought about studying wasps and extended the study to insects. The project morphed into a pursuit to understand how different cultures study and utilize insects.

The travel points became focused on insect diversity and areas with researchers or specific types of museums to give her an encompassing view of Earth's biological and cultural diversity.

"The 'how' for designing the project then tested my ability to contact other entomologists and insect-enthusiasts around the world until I found myself supported by strangers from foreign lands," Thurman said. "I worked out a travel budget, found places to stay and treated it all as though it would happen. And now it is."

"I have never met anyone who can speak of parasitic wasps with the passion and eloquence of Jessa Thurman," said Hendrix College President Bill Tsutsui. "She truly embodies the ideals of the Watson Fellowship and the special qualities of a Hendrix education: academic excellence, profound curiosity and a deep inner drive to explore the world and make it a better place."

Thurman will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She was the valedictorian of her graduating class at Hot Springs High School. She also received an International Baccalaureate diploma.

She will investigate what makes people love, hate or ignore insects and how the perception inhibits study and appreciation of insects in the modern world. She will learn about new applications of insects for Australian agriculture and entomophagy in Thailand by working with entomologists on public outreach and citizen science projects, volunteering on insect farms and interviewing market owners and consumers of insect products. She will engage in ethnoentomology in South America, learning how humans have found medicinal and cultural uses for insects.

"Aside from their importance to humans, I will also explore aesthetics through a range of experiences -- from raising insects in Thailand to seeing how artists have portrayed them in galleries throughout England," Thurman wrote in her project description. "Rounding off my experiences I will volunteer with exterminators to meet those who rely economically on human fear of insects and compare it to my gained skills on insect appreciation and education."

The application for the fellowship allowed Thurman to reflect on several of her projects for the Odyssey Program at Hendrix. She delved into her personal love of insects and dreamed of what she could do if she could travel around the world and study her favorite interest.

"I spend a lot of time trying to share what I've learned about insects with others and this application was a time when I got to step back and notice the impact that those efforts for insect-education had," Thurman said. "I'm eternally grateful for this opportunity and encourage all future seniors to apply."

Thurman's travels will begin in July.

"The fellowship is about personal growth and I hope to learn new applications of entomology, explore my personal passion to study insects, meet myself in these varying habitats and learn the lessons waiting to be recorded from insects and their scientists around the world," Thurman said.

"I plan on sharing my experiences with others by creating podcasts that interview as many people as possible on their views on the usefulness and importance of insects while sharing bits of insect biology and entomological history. I also hope to engage in various research projects of entomologists from urban entomology to entomophagy."

Thurman hopes to attend graduate school for entomology and study biological control using parasitoid wasps.

Local on 04/07/2016

Print Headline: Fellowship of the wings: HSHS alum to travel world for insect study


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