NOTUS, Idaho — A couple hundred elementary school students from the small town of Notus sat transfixed March 15 as one of Idaho’s top agricultural experts used two unusual insects to speak about farming and science.
Michael Parrella, dean of University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, spoke to the students during a school assembly about how farming and science interact.
Parrella used insects to make that point and talked about how they pollinate crops and help farmers control bad bugs.
The dean, an entomologist and incoming president of the Entomological Society of America, was in his element as he showed the students a “walking stick,” a bizarre looking insect that is a master of camouflage, and a “hissing cockroach,” one of the world’s largest cockroaches.
“That’s what I do for my career,” he explained. “I study insects. I collect insects.”
While letting the bugs crawl around his hand, he spoke about good and bad bugs, science and farming.
Parrella’s visit to Notus, population 531, was prompted by a letter sent to the university two weeks ago from Will Hansen, a Notus second-grader who explained that he wanted to be a scientist and a farmer.
Parrella told the assembly that when UI officials received Hansen’s letter about wanting to be a scientist and farmer, “that resonated with us big time. Will touched a nerve.”
In order to be a farmer, “You have to be a scientist as well,” he said.
Parrella told Capital Press that one of the main messages he wanted to leave the students with was “that working in agriculture can be very exciting. There are great careers in agriculture and entomology is part of that.”
Cory James, Hansen’s teacher, asked his students what they wanted to do when they grow up and then had them write a letter to a college they wanted to attend.
Shortly after Hansen’s letter was sent, James got a phone call from UI officials and Parrella’s visit evolved from there.
“Will was the only kid to say, ‘I want to get involved in farming and science’ and that combination is what really got the University of Idaho’s attention,” James said.
Parrella said he jumped at the chance to speak to Notus students about farming, insects and science, which didn’t surprise Food Producers of Idaho Executive Director Rick Waitley, chairman of CALS’ dean’s advisory board.
Waitley said Idaho farm industry leaders have noticed Parrella, who took over as CALS dean last February, is most excited when speaking about insects, the future of CALS and recruiting students.
“For as long as the search took for a new dean, I believe Idaho really found a great fit for the Gem State,” Waitley told Capital Press in an email. “Dean Parrella has quickly developed a fondness for Idaho and specifically Idaho agriculture and the people engaged in the industry.”