Col. Jamie Blow is our latest featured alumni.
January 18, 2018
When did you graduate? I earned a PhD in medical entomology in 1998 with Dr. Ned Walker as my advisor.
Why did you choose entomology? Why MSU? The Army actually selected me to be a medical entomologist when I was being commissioned out of ROTC. Most Army entomologists are direct commissions so they don’t go through ROTC or basic training. The Army has long-term education opportunities, which includes masters and PhDs in entomology. I applied and was selected for the PhD program. I had three years to complete my PhD and my payback to the Army was six additional years. I chose MSU because I was a Michigan resident and after meeting with Dr. Walker I had confidence I could complete the requirements in three years.
What is your current assignment? I have attended the rank of colonel and currently serve as the director of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board (AFPMB) and director of Defense Pest Management. In this capacity, I am responsible for pest management policy, guidance and advocacy within the Department of Defense (DOD). I am the first woman to be selected as the director of the AFPMB and one of only three women to attain the rank of colonel in the entomology field, which is over 70-years-old. We have good representation by MSU among the Army entomologists: Major Jaree Johnson (MS); Major Elizabeth Wanja (PhD); Major Karl Korpal, retired (BS); Major Scott Mueller (MS); and Major Wade DeYoung (BS).
What is it like to work as an entomologist in an active war zone? The military camps/bases are essentially small towns or cities where service members live, eat and work. It takes a coordinated effort to provide the support needed in these locations including public health personnel to ensure things are done correctly. Entomology/pest control is an aspect of the larger public health field. When I was deployed to Bosnia, I was responsible for all monitoring aspects of public health, food, sanitation and hygiene for U.S. forces. In Iraq, I was the senior entomologist in theater and worked on the Medical Brigade staff that provided guidance to our subordinate medical units. I was also designated as the theater pest management consultant and wrote the first integrated pest management plan for the U.S. military operating in Iraq.
I also provide expert input on issues related to entomology. In Iraq, I was involved in the Iraq Ministry of Agriculture lead effort for aerial spraying of date palms for the Dubas bug. In Bosnia, I was involved in determining why honey bees were dying.
Any memories about your days as a graduate student at MSU? The community of graduate students was great. I’ve kept in touch with a few over the years. The graduate students all pulled together when somebody needed help. I spent two nights helping Becki run an experiment looking at the effects of road salt on aquatic insects.
You were part of establishing the MSU Bug House. Tell me about that. Then-chairperson Dr. Mark Scriber and Dr. Dave Smitley were talking with students about an extension outreach program focused on K-6 students to get them interested in entomology. Dr. Scriber identified two conference rooms to create the space and the Department rented a display from a farmer in the Kalamazoo area and we gave it a trial run with schools in the Lansing area. It was like baseball: build it and they will come. The trial run was a success and we expanded the next semester to offer more tours. Soon we had schools coming from long distances to visit the Bug House and Butterfly House and we were turning schools away as we were booked.
The undergraduate and graduate students who worked as guides in the Bug House built display cases for different topics that were more geared toward what the students were learning. Mark Deering was in charge of the live displays making sure things were kept ready for the tours. Mark also made a large display of colorful insects. In just three short years, the Bug House was going strong and it continued to grow, later including Bug Camp. I credit the Bug House success to the support of the Department, the entomology students, but most importantly to Barb Stinnett who worked tirelessly to promote, schedule and advocate for the Bug House.
Any advice for current students? If you are waiting for someone to hand you the perfect opportunity, you will probably find yourself waiting a long time. Opportunities are out there and while they may not be exactly what you want, if you are willing to give it try you may find it is something good. Sometimes it’s doing things like creating the Bug House—you just start and keep adjusting as you go.
You have to be willing to fail. I have seen people avoid opportunities where they might fail because they are outside their comfort zone and afraid that if they don’t succeed, it will reflect against them. That can be true if the failure is due to your failure to adequately assess, plan and execute. If you approach the opportunity and constantly assess and reassess the issue as you move forward, you may find the approach you took does not work. Then, reevaluate and look for different options and maybe get other input.
How does your work impact people’s lives? My job is to support and protect the war fighter and the DOD from “pests.” A pest can be any number of things like invasive species, weeds, feral animals, vector of disease, urban pests, reptiles, etc. I can be discussing brown tree snakes in Guam one minute and talking about the next vector-borne disease threat in the next minute. How do we protect people and facilities? How do we avoid pesticide overuse? How do we deal with pesticide resistance? The DOD has personnel around the world so we have pest issues around the world.
Along with deployments to Honduras, Central America, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, I’ve worked or lived in places like Kenya, Thailand, Germany and Tanzania. I’ve been to London, Paris, Athens, Warsaw, Berlin, Bangkok, Prague, Rome, Barcelona, Tbilisi, Zanzibar and many others. If given the opportunity to go back and change things, I wouldn’t. I’d do it all over again.