Crickets & Couture
Thursday, June 10, 2021
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An Oklahoma State University student turns off the sewing machine to focus on her real passion. As she rises out of her seat, she looks forward to her next adventure with a rather unconventional subject: insects.
From vogue to vespids, she combines the unlikely components of crickets and couture.
Getting an associate’s degree in fashion design and following it with a bachelor’s degree in entomology is not what most people have in mind when they choose what they want to be when they grow up.
Neither did Morgan Partin-Topper, but here she is.
“I always loved bugs and fashion design,” said Partin-Topper, entomology senior. “When I was in my last year of fashion design school, I knew I didn’t want to continue in fashion. I wanted to get my bachelor’s in something else. I just didn’t know what.”
Partin-Topper said she planned to earn a bachelor’s in women’s studies but couldn’t find any jobs to secure after attaining the degree.
“I was visiting the OSU campus with my fiancé, and while we were visiting with friends, I saw a cicada,” Partin-Topper said. “I then said, ‘Oh, that would be so cool if I could some-how study bugs and just hang out with them all day.’ That’s when my friend asked, ‘Why don’t you?’”
Partin-Topper said her friend then explained how entomology was a bachelor’s degree for available at OSU.
“I had literally never heard of entomology,” Partin-Topper said. “It was in August right before the new semester started when she told me this, so it just kind of clicked.
“Then, I was accepted in October,” she said.
Partin-Topper said she loved insects at a young age and especially loved her books about ladybugs, snails and other creatures.
“Making the switch to entomology and a new university actually was not scary at all,” Partin-Topper said. “Since it took me four years to get my associate’s degree in fashion design, I was already around 23 years old when I made the move to OSU.”
Partin-Topper is originally from Oceanside, California. Her fiancé’s family was in Stillwater, so she had another family to provide support.
“It was crazy how it worked out,” Partin-Topper said. “The fact OSU had an incredible entomology program, and I had a second family was awesome.”
Since she cannot go back in time, Partin-Topper is thrilled to have both degrees, she said. She is most likely one of a few individuals who have a fashion degree and an entomology degree, she said.
“I am really appreciative to have each set of skills because it is useful in other ways,” Partin-Topper said. “If I could go back though, I wish I would have known entomology was a subject from high school age because then I would have immediately known what I wanted to do.”
Partin-Topper said she always envied those who knew exactly what they were born to do. That’s how she felt when she found entomology, she added.
“Right now, I am looking at insect rearing positions and taking care of colonies of insects on a larger scale,” Partin-Topper said.
Partin-Topper is interested in conservation of natural resources, she said. She is also interested in doing research about using insects for alternate protein sources.
“I’m interested to see how insects can play a roll in conservancy and fashion all at the same time,” Partin-Topper said. “I would like to study this sector more once I graduate.”
Andrine Shufran, coordinator of the OSU Insect Adventure, said the best thing about Partin-Topper having studied fashion before entomology is the different perspective she brings to the discipline.
Partin-Topper brings a unique viewpoint from her experiences that is really fresh, interesting and leads to novel ideas, Shufran added.
“Morgan has used her fashion abilities frequently while working in the entomology department and OSU Insect Adventure,” Shufran said. “In fact, she made me a wonderful Madagascar Hissing Cockroach costume that is so realistic. She’s also designed and made new cages for our walking sticks.”
Wyatt Hoback, OSU entomology and plant pathology associate professor, was an influential part of Partin-Topper’s academic career, Partin-Topper said.
“Fashion looks for inspiration, and insects have more than a million different kinds to use,” Hoback said.
Hoback said insects can be marked with various colors and patterns that relay warning signals, advertise danger, indicate distastefulness or poison, or offer amazing camouflage.
The patterns, colors and shapes of an insect exist to help these insects survive, Hoback said.
“With Partin-Topper’s background in the fashion industry, she can see insects in the environment in a different way than people who have been scientists all their lives,” he added.
Partin-Topper is a passionate student who enjoys learning, Hoback said, and she especially enjoys teaching others about entomology.
Partin-Topper’s previously acquired skills, her unusual academic career with its ties to fashion and her interest in insects gives her an adept talent when teaching kids, Hoback said.
“She cares about the environment and the role insects play in food webs,” he said. “She is an incredible human, a hard worker, and I believe she will make a real impact on the industry.”
Story by Tieren Gates, Cowboy Journal staff