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OSU students abuzz at learning from nationally award-winning entomology teacher Wyatt Hoback

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A spider wasp, scorpion and other creepy crawlies of the “extremely painful sting” variety had been elected by Wyatt Hoback’s Oklahoma State University entomology class: the stinging sensation winning the majority of the 270 student votes cast would get to puncture the teacher.

No easy task, for all the interactive nature of the lesson. Some spider wasp species have been indexed among the strongest and most painful of insect stings. Scorpion stings typically are more painful than a bee sting. The news was no better relative to the other insects and arachnids.

“The good news is my students were paying attention in class; the leading vote-getters were those with the most virulent sting,” Hoback said.

How then to explain why Hoback then proceeded to let a number of the leading vote-getters sting him, one after the other, right there in front of the entire ENTO 2003 class, more than a few of whom were cringing toward the end? Well, for one thing, the spider wasp – who won the popular vote – just would not sting him.

“It’s not well known that entomologists are invulnerable to spider wasp stings,” he announced to the class. “It’s our secret superpower.” Not so the scorpion or the other weaponized creatures.

Many courses with large class sizes run the peril of having students drift off during lectures. That is not a problem in Hoback’s classes, where interactive lessons, comedian-worthy humor and traveling feet – he roams up and down the auditorium steps – turn what could be a monologue into a running dialogue between him and a host of student-participants every class period.

Little wonder that OSU’s Stillwater campus was literally abuzz earlier this year when Hoback was named a 2017 recipient of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities’ Innovative Teaching Award.

A faculty member in OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources since 2014, Hoback received the national recognition for his efforts to engage undergraduates in citizen science with pollinators. The goal was to enhance the students’ conservation knowledge and biological systems thinking, in a way that also promoted community engagement.

“Interest in pollinators has risen in the public consciousness in recent years because of the decline in European honeybee populations in the United States,” he said. “Bees are vitally important to crop pollination. It has been estimated that they are responsible for four out of 10 bites of our food.”

Hoback’s introductory department of entomology and plant pathology course ENTO 2003, “Insects and Society,” exposes a wide and diverse group of students to the importance of insects in human affairs.

“Typically, more than half of the students taking the course are business majors, which is not what many would first think of in an entomology class,” he said. “Insects contribute about $60 billion to the U.S. economy. This fact helps make the class an interesting general science course that has strong potential applications for the students’ eventual careers.”

ENTO 2003 attracts students from every college at the university. “It’s a diverse group of students with majors from across the university,” Hoback said.

The APLU Innovative Teaching Award encourages faculty to expand their scholarship of teaching and learning by creating projects with faculty from other academic institutions. The award recognized the multi-state teaching team of Hoback, Doug Golick of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Hartmut Doebel of George Washington University.

Hoback, Golick and Doebel shared a $3,000 cash award that came with the national recognition. APLU makes the money available to fund course enhancements through improved hands-on learning opportunities.

“Our honor students are particularly involved, building bee habitat and identifying the pollinator species present in the area around Stillwater,” Hoback said. “From a citizen science standpoint, non-science-specific students learn basic principles that, when developed and enhanced through education, provide a greater breadth and depth of data than would otherwise be possible.”

In addition, this allows OSU graduates who took the course to continue to contribute to their communities and pass on key knowledge for years to come, to their own children, their friends and possibly civic organizations.

“Knowledge of science is critical for all people,” Hoback said. “Awareness and understanding is the basis for developing effective solutions to any number of concerns and issues. Science and technology have allowed us to keep pace with human population growth, from medical advances to just keeping food on the table. Basic knowledge of entomology is important because insects not only eat our crops, they make crop production itself possible.”

It is the hope of the APLU board to encourage and enhance involvement between institutions and increase innovative learning for students. To that end, APLU’s Innovate Teaching Award program increased the number of awards given this year, with the combined dollar value of the awards totaling $33,000 compared to $10,000 last year.

Additional information about the value and breadth of CASNR academic programs is available online at

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