Julie Peterson ’07 lived up to her childhood nickname, “Bug.” Now an assistant professor of entomology and extension specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Peterson spends her time researching insects and sharing her findings with the agricultural community.
Peterson was a zoology major and Spanish minor at Ohio Wesleyan but didn’t discover her interest in insects until later in her coursework.
“When I came to Ohio Wesleyan, I knew I wanted to do zoology, and I knew I wanted to do something in that field with biology and working outdoors,” she says. “Then I took an entomology course when I was a sophomore with Dr. (Ramon) Carreno, and I loved it. By the time the class was over, I was like: ‘This is it. Definitely, the specific focus within zoology that I want to do is entomology.’”
Peterson’s work focuses on integrated pest management in field crops, and her research examines insect behavior, resistance management, food web dynamics, and compatibility of pest-control strategies. She defines her work as half research and half extension.
“I think the more I learned about insects, the more I realized just how fascinating they are and how much more there is we don’t know about them, which really intrigued me. It’s an area where there is still a lot of exploration, and there are a lot of frontiers and discoveries still to happen,” she says.
She received her Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Kentucky in 2012 and worked as a postdoctoral associate at the University of Minnesota before reaching her current position at the University of Nebraska’s Agroecosystems Entomology Lab. She now advises graduate students.
She credits the Summer Science Research Program (SSRP) with making a big impact on her. From attending scientific conferences to presenting her research in the living rooms of Delaware locals, she says the hands-on experience was powerful.
“Having done the summer science research experience and the independent study with Dr. (David) Johnson was hugely important for me to get that experience of learning how to ask the scientific questions,” she says. “Translating the scientific work into a more general public audience, a nonscience audience, that is a lot of what I do for my job now, taking the agricultural research and translating it to farmers.”
Along with SSRP, she took trips during her OWU studies to places such as Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and other areas. Peterson says her Ohio Wesleyan education, connecting her from the classroom to the real world, was poignant.
“OWU really helped me to realize I wanted to do something where I could be working in the field and actually seeing my study system or my study organisms out there in the field,” she says.
Her research has been published dozens of times. Peterson is a member of several entomological and scientific communities and has received recognition including the J.H. Comstock Award in 2012 from the North Central Branch of the Entomological Society of America. During Reunion Weekend in May, she received the Young Alumni Award from the Ohio Wesleyan Alumni Association Board of Directors.
“I was really very humbled and very grateful of the fact that I got the award because I look around at my fellow graduates and there’s so many people doing amazing and successful things,” Peterson says. “I’m just happy to be a part of that group of people who are out there in the sciences and in other fields having an impact.”
By Reilly Wright ’20