Featured entomology alumni Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman

Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman is the research leader and center director for the USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, and our latest featured alumni.

December 1, 2015

Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman

Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman is the research leader and center director for the USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, AZ. The Center conducts research to optimize honey bee colony health through improved nutrition to maximize production of honey bee-pollinated crops.

When did you graduate from MSU? I earned a PhD in Entomology in 1983 with Roger Hoopingarner as my lead professor.

How did MSU prepare you for your career’s success? MSU taught me how to be a mathematical modeler and look at things in a systems format. I worked with Roger to build the first interactive pollination and fruit-set model ever as part of my dissertation. Learning the tools of simulation modeling was extremely helpful. It’s a unique way of thinking, especially when studying apiculture and bees. It’s also an effective way to run research programs. Other influences were Jim Miller, who had a great impact on my thinking as a scientist and how you build a research program, Stuart Gage as a modeler himself and Frank Dennis in horticulture taught me a lot about apples.

Why did you choose entomology? I was one of those kids that played with bugs and knew I wanted to be an entomologist at a very young age. In elementary school, I caught an insect and tried unsuccessfully to look it up. I really wanted to identify it. My mom took me to Harrisburg, PA, to the state agriculture department. A very kind entomologist looked at the bug and identified it, and explained what he did in his job. I looked around the room and saw people working with bugs, and I realized ‘you could get a job doing that!’

At Penn State, my master’s project was with honey bees and pollination in birdsfoot trefoil. I also worked hourly in Zane Smilowitz’s lab. Dr. Smilowitz did research in biocontrol of plant pests and he was a modeler. His graduate student happened to be Mark Whalon. I would tell Zane that in my field plots, there would be different numbers of bees and plants each day, everything changing with time and I felt like the variation in the day-to-day was where the interesting information was. He told me to learn simulation modeling so I could capture how systems change with time. I was very excited about learning how to build simulation models, and that the best graduate program for that was at MSU. I applied to the MSU Entomology Department, and Mark Whalon, who was by then on the faculty, probably helped me a lot in getting accepted.

What are your best memories as an entomology student? Some of the best are of playing a lot of racquet ball with the guys in the Department. Jim Bath was department chair and he really knew how to build community and prepare grad students for careers. The Department is really dedicated to grad student education. Roger taught me a lot about bees and how to conduct yourself as a scientist. He still sends me papers and I continue to learn from him. Being out in the apiary and going through colonies with Roger were great times. I have so many memories; those were wonderful years.

Any advice for current students? Never stop learning, never stop taking chances and never be afraid to fail. If you have an idea, run forward with it. Never be discouraged. Let it continue to evolve and be true to it. It might be a good idea and the world just hasn’t caught up with it yet. Roger and I built the pollination model for apples and published it in the mid-80s. I always dreamed that Washington State, the country’s lead producer of apples, would be interested and adopt it. Models were on computer mainframes at that time and were not portable. We did some work with the model here in Arizona and Michigan, but the model and all the papers sat for almost 30 years. A few months ago I got a call from Washington State saying they have a Decision Aid System for apple growers and were looking for apple pollination and fruit set models. The only publications they found were the ones that were mine and Rogers’. I went to Washington State last week to work on updating the apple pollination model with their team. We talked exactly about what Roger and I talked about in grad school. Hold onto your great ideas!

My husband was in the MSU medical residency program while I was a grad student and we both had a terrific experience at MSU. We look back with great fondness and think what a wonderful University we were lucky enough to attend. I can’t say thank you enough for all that was done for us at MSU.

Read about past featured alumni in the Alumni Profiles section.

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