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Entomology student receives prestigious fellowship

Diane Silcox, a doctoral student in entomology, is one of three students nationally to receive a $5,000 post-graduate grant by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) as a winner of the Watson Fellowship Program.

Silcox is a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ turfgrass entomology program, where she is studying the hunting billbug, an insect that damages turfgrass.

As the daughter of an entomologist – her farther works in the turfgrass industry as well – she grew up with a fascination of insects.

Silcox earned a master’s degree in entomology at N.C. State and a bachelor’s degree in zoology at Miami University of Ohio. She said she was drawn to N.C. State for the opportunity to work with Dr. Rick Brandenburg, her adviser. “N.C. State has one of the best turf programs in the country,” she said.

The hunting billbug was originally found in cool season lawns in mid-Atlantic states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Silcox said. In the past 10 years, it has made an appearance in warm season turf and has become a problem in lawns, on sod farms and on golf courses.

Adult hunting billbugs cause turf damage in the form of brown spots that can be mistaken for disease. Silcox wants to learn more about the life cycle of the hunting billbug – when it lays eggs, when it is active, what it feeds on and what level of soil moisture it requires. Better knowledge will help turfgrass managers know and how to apply pesticides to control this pest, she said.

Silcox isn’t sure what path she will take after she earns her degree.  There are opportunities in both the private sector and in academia. She enjoys teaching, and she is active in the entomology graduate students’ outreach efforts.

“I really enjoy working with students to develop that passion for insects like my dad did for me,” Silcox said.

The outreach program matches graduate students with school classes, especially at the elementary level, to teach lessons about insects. Many times, the graduate students bring live insects into the classroom.

“It’s always great to go into a classroom and see the students’ excitement about insects. Here is this cool creature that a lot of kids are interested in, but don’t know much about,” she said.

The Watson Fellowship is funded by a partnership between the Toro Co. and GCSAA’s philanthropic organization, the Environmental Institute for Golf (EIFG). The fellowship is named after Dr. James R. Watson, a retired vice president for Toro who pioneered turfgrass research. The winners, all students working toward postgraduate degrees, have been identified as promising future teachers and researchers in the field of golf course management. They also received an all-expense-paid trip to the 2013 GCSAA Education Conference (Feb. 4-8) and Golf Industry Show (Feb. 6-7) in San Diego.

GCSAA is a leading golf organization and has as its focus golf course management. Since 1926, GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the United States and worldwide.

-N. Hampton