Science for Citizens

Entomology professors Walter Goodman and David Hogg

Entomology professors Walter Goodman and David Hogg

CALS is acclaimed as one of the best schools in the nation for training top-notch researchers and practitioners. Less known is the fact that CALS offers challenging, creative courses to undergraduates from outside of the natural sciences as well—in keeping with the college’s mission to cultivate science literacy as a vital component of good citizenship. For many students, these classes may be their only exposure to college-level science.

Two classes exemplifying that mission are Entomology 201—“Insects and Human Culture” —and Plant Pathology 123, “Plants, Parasites and People.” Both are highly popular classes that use insects and plants as ways to connect students with essential information about the natural world.

“It offers a window to science as it relates to their everyday lives,” says plant pathology professor Mehdi Kabbage.

“This is really biology with insects on top of it,” says entomology professor Walter Goodman, who’s been teaching Ent 201 for more than 20 years. “We use insects as a vehicle for describing biology and looking at the practical aspects of biology, like agricultural entomology as well as medical entomology.”

Both classes engage students in a range of hands-on activities. In Entmology 201, students take home the tiny eggs of a tobacco hornworm, or Manduca sexta, and over a period of two months raise it to maturation, keeping a daily logbook in which they describe its metamorphosis from fat turquoise caterpillar to large brown moth. In Plant Pathology 123, each student is given a “mystery microbe” in a petri dish—a Pseudomonas aureofaciens bacterium, for example, or a Fusarium oxysporum fungus—and devise various experiments to determine which microbe they have.

The students are having fun—but they’re also sharpening their observational skills and learning about the scientific process as well as how to make and critique a scientific argument. Their engagement with science often has deep and far-reaching consequences.

Education major Tess Bashaw signed up for Entomology 201 simply to fulfill her science requirement— and instead, “It opened up so many roads to me,” she says. In addition to gaining new skills and information—“learning how to catch and pin insects, how to collect leeches in floods, how camouflage really works”—the course made her grow as a writer, she says.

The lessons stuck. And as a teacher of lowincome children, she’s been sharing those lessons in her classroom for the past decade. “I love teaching writing, and science is a favorite of mine,” Bashaw says.

Given the important mission and high student demand for this signature style of science education, CALS would like to expand offerings to more departments and more students.

To learn more about supporting those efforts, please contact Sarah Pfatteicher, CALS’ associate dean for academic affairs, at sarah.pfatteicher@wisc.edu, tel. (608) 262-3003. To make a gift, please visit supportuw.org/giveto/calssignature.