Sarah Birkmire

I am co-enrolled in the M.S. in Entomology and DPM programs.

I was raised in Oviedo, FL and spent my early adulthood living in Orlando, FL. My love for nature and interests in gardening and hiking inspired my educational and career goals. I completed my undergraduate degree in Environmental Management in Agriculture and Natural Resources through UF Online. This was the perfect program for me because I was already employed full-time and required a flexible school schedule. I really appreciated being able to get the top-quality education in agricultural and life sciences offered by UF from my hometown. From this program, I gained a strong foundation in soil and water science, agricultural ecology, and even entomology through a few elective courses. These introductory entomology courses opened my eyes to a fascinating microcosm full of beauty, color, excitement, and strange behaviors. I was also beginning to realize just how important an understanding of the insect world is to someone like myself who wishes to become an agriculturalist.

I kept feeding my interest in entomology by taking up an internship at UF’s Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (MREC). I worked for a year as a research assistant to the entomologist Dr. Lance Osborne. I learned so much from this experience, especially about biological control. Biological control is such a stimulating topic, and it is a hugely important component of integrated pest management. Biological control can offer pest control solutions to organic farmers, and I have long-term goals of running a small organic farm one day myself. After getting my feet wet with research at MREC, writing an undergraduate thesis, and finding my niche, I decided to continue my education at the graduate level. Now, I am working toward my goal of being a total plant health expert!

My graduate research is focused on the biological control of stink bug pests via parasitoid wasps. One invasive stink bug that is of great concern at present is the brown marmorated stink bug, and this is one of the focal species of my research. I am conducting a survey of stink bug parasitoids in the state of Florida with hopes that the results can help further the process of approval for controlled releases of parasitoid wasps. Controlled releases such as these could be highly beneficial to agriculturalists with stink bug problems, especially organic farmers. My surveys involve the deployment of previously frozen stink bug sentinel egg masses which I leave in the field to be hopefully parasitized by wasps. I then return the egg masses to our quarantine lab where I rear them out to see if any parasitoids emerge.

I am still formulating my ultimate career goals, but wherever I end up, I want to be working outside helping to grow beautiful plants (especially edible ones) in an environmentally conscious manner!