Dr. Sujaya Rao, ESA Fellow (2022)

Dr. Sujaya Rao, professor and department head for entomology at the University of Minnesota (UMN), was elected ESA Fellow in 2022. Her career has spanned research, teaching, extension, and administration at universities and leadership for ESA. Rao has also led unique graduate and undergraduate education programs that have enhanced the profile of entomology.

A native of India, Rao's interest in entomology was sparked during her B.S. and M.S. degree programs in zoology at the University of Delhi, India. She traveled to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. degree in entomology at UMN. Her thesis and subsequent postdoctoral research at the University of Delaware and the University of California at Berkeley (UC) were focused on the chemical ecology of plant-pest-parasitoid interactions and on biological control. She was hired as an extension advisor for UC Cooperative Extension and then as assistant professor at Oregon State University (OSU), where she advanced to full professor. As an OSU faculty member, her research covered integrated pest management and pollination by native bees. She then moved to her alma mater, UMN, to serve as the entomology department head.

Rao was inspired to enhance education through experiential learning when she attended a workshop on interactive learning as a graduate student at UMN. In her first effort at implementation, she led an NSF GK-12 program at OSU that provided graduate and undergraduate students with a unique experience in developing and implementing inquiry-based lessons for K-12 classrooms that creatively integrated entomology with other disciplines. This year-long experience inspired participants to later pursue careers involving teaching and outreach. A subsequent NSF REU (Research Opportunities for Undergraduates) summer research program on pollination biology at OSU drew participants nationwide and empowered them with experiences for conducting independent research, nationally and internationally, for degrees at their respective institutions. In Rao's unique Partners in Nature program, sponsored by Toshiba America Foundation, rural middle-school students gained an "entomologist's experience" by engaging in pollination research in their schools—asking questions and collecting and organizing data—and presenting results at a campus conference. Impacts of these programs led to Rao's selection as director for undergraduate research at OSU, in which role she engaged under-represented (minority, freshman, first-generation, non-STEM major) students across all disciplines in research and creative activities. At UMN, Rao engaged her faculty in reimagining undergraduate entomology education, which drew students from majors typically under-represented in entomology courses, such as aerospace engineering, business management, design, kinesiology, and nursing; several students later enrolled in the rapidly growing insect science minor.

Rao has received $1.8 million for her education activities. She has shared her programs and their outcomes through peer-reviewed publications, presentations, teaching symposia, and education workshops. Her teaching achievements were recognized with seven awards, including the ESA Distinguished Achievement in Teaching Award, two OSU Team Awards, and the UMN Hodson Alumnus Award.

After many years of addressing insect issues as pests and pollinators in food crops, as a professional "hobby" Rao is now promoting insects as food sources for humans—entomophagy!