OSU professor, Andrine Shufran, named the Entomological Foundation Medal of Honor


Rachel Brown

Though 25 percent of Americans report being afraid of insects, for Andrine Shufran insects are the norm. She was honored with the Entomological Foundation Medal of Honor at the Entomological Society of America’s annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, Sunday, Nov. 5 for her outstanding work at Oklahoma State University’s Insect Adventure.

  After finding out she was the awardee one late night in August, Shufran described her shock at receiving the award.

  “I was very honored, very humbled, and very excited,” Shufran said. “I was extremely surprised, because I think of myself as just graduated, I feel like I just got my PhD yesterday, and I’m still learning everything even though it’s been 14 years.”

   Shufran later went on to mention that she is not the normal awardee for this type of honor.

  “Usually they give this award to someone in research, and here they are giving this award to a fairly young woman who has not made a career in research,” she said. “It was great I thought: ‘maybe they’re finally getting it.’ After all these years of the student affairs and the education and outreach committee and the Board of Directors at the Entomological Foundation, maybe I’ve made enough noise that they’re starting to see that education is really an important aspect to entomology. That’s how we get new entomologists.”

  Some Bartlesville students may remember the Insect Adventure presentation that Diane Heron, former Central Middle School science teacher, brought to Bartlesville in 2015, but since then the program has grown.

  Insect Adventure is a program which shares the love of entomology around the state. Shufran brings out an abundance of insects, and as she presents, the audience can get hands on experience holding the bugs. They also have a building on the OSU campus that is open on the weekends.

  “These are the most important animals to life on earth, and most people have it completely backwards,” she said. “It’s our mission to change that because they are the most fascinating and important, and cool animals. We could learn a new bug every day of our lives and still not know them all and what they do.”

  If the thought of insects seems repulsive, Shufran accounts that to a learned fear or hatred. She described a natural curiosity children have for insects.

  “Kids get it,” Shufran said. “Kids and bugs go hand in hand. They’re fascinated by bugs. Adults—teachers or parents or principals—they’re the ones who are super negative. A group of kids come in and they don’t even hear their parents and their teachers they come right to the bugs and they’re asking questions. Parents and teachers can be a real hindrance to that learning process and adults are much harder to change their opinion, no matter how wrong it is, because they’ve had it a long time.”

  Entomology, and the love of insects, is not new to Shufran. Her father was a research entomologist.

  “As a child, no one ever told me that bugs are gross or that they’re bad or that you should be afraid,” she said. “My dad would say ‘hey let’s go outside and watch a cicada emerge all night long’ or ‘we’re gonna store a bunch of maggots in the refrigerator, they’re just baby flies.’ I’m trying hard to share that don’t scare kids about something there’s no need to be afraid of.”

  Last year Shufran took the insects to 599 presentations; she also rears around 80 species. What others may see as a weird job is Shufran’s bread and butter.

  “My job is wonderful because it’s different every single day,” she said. “You might not think that it’s different because I’m using the same bugs, but I’m talking to different people. What’s cool about my job is I never give the same presentation twice. The group I am working with will go off on a tangent, and I don’t bring them back, we go in that direction. For me that’s the best possible kind of job. It’s different every day but it’s always about learning about entomology. The variety is really exciting to me.”

  She explained that though sometimes her job requires her to get up at 4 a.m. to take her presentations somewhere, she wouldn’t change a thing about her job.

“I still love it,” Shufran said. “After 15 years I’m still proud of it. We’re always looking forward.”

  Of course, Shufran is not able to do this without the help of others. She has four employees that help at the Insect Adventure building, along with numerous volunteers.

  “There’s no way I could handle all of it on my own, so having these people is invaluable,” Shufran said.

The idea for insect adventure came from former OSU entomology department head Russell Wright. Shufran shared that the current department head, Phil Mulde,r is supportive of the initiative as well. Mulder actually nominated Shufran for the award.

  “The vision came from the department head, but they trusted me enough and inspired me enough that I bought into the vision,” Shufran said. “Phil Mulder was the one who put me up for the award; he did all of the paperwork and all that work. If your boss is willing to nominate you for an award, that’s great. It’s an amazing feeling.”

  Insect Adventure is different than other insect zoos in the country which charge large fees and do not provide the hands on aspect.  Shufran has seen the impact this can make on people across the state.

  “We’re not an institution, we’re an activity,” Shufran said. “That really sets us apart from other insect zoos. I think we have a really good impact on the state and on OSU because in 2005 there were two undergraduate students in the entomology department and now this year we have over 50.”

  Though there is currently a fee to have Insect Adventure presentations, Shufran described her end goal of becoming a free service for the state.

  “We have a presentation fee and it’s almost enough to where we are able to balance our income and expenditures but we still expend a little more than we bring in, but we have the department–they give us a little bit of help every year,” Shufran said. “The end goal is to have some foundation or endowment, because what I’d like to do is get to a point where we didn’t have to charge at all. The low income schools can’t afford to pay a fee, but they still would love to learn about entomology so I would like to get to a point where we are supported enough to move past our fees so we could focus on underprivileged and minorities.”

  While this is Shufran’s dream, she admitted that it would be difficult to get the money.

  “To raise that money takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s finding the right person at the right time to help us be independent and free of charge, so we can be a service to the state,” Shufran said.

  It would take only $40,000 a year to enable Shufran to reach this goal. Those interested can donate to Insect Adventures or schedule a tour or presentation by visiting the website http://insectadventure.okstate.edu/.