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A bright blue hornworm brings delight (and a little fright) to audiences of the Insect Ambassadors.

Nothing perks up a classroom like the presence of a Madagascar hissing cockroach.

Just ask Erinn Powell, who has introduced dozens of them to squealing schoolchildren as an Insect Ambassador. The CALS entomology program sends undergrads and graduate students on show-and-tell missions to area schools, clubs and organizations to teach audiences about where insects live, how they survive and the positive things they do for our environment.

The encounters are transformational, says Powell—especially when it comes to scary-looking creatures like the cockroaches. “I love the moment when at first a child is stiffly holding the cockroach with her eyes closed,” she says, “and then suddenly she loosens up and smiles when she realizes that its exoskeleton is really very smooth and interesting to look at. Her friends gather around and they take turns petting the cockroach.”

Other favorites include Goliath and Hercules beetles, walking sticks, butterflies and hornworms. All insects are reared in the lab, ensuring cleanliness, and none can sting, bite or transmit disease. Private gifts help the Ambassadors maintain the insects and pay for supplies.

The UW Foundation maintains more than 6,000 gift funds that provide critical resources for the educational activities of the college. To help support the Charles F. and Patricia R. Koval Insect Ambassadors Program and programs like it, visit www.supportuw.org/giving?seq=2410