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Paradise grad big on bugs

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Texas A&M doctoral student Cassie Schoenthal of Paradise is poised to make a positive impact on the whitetail deer industry with her pest management programs.

But she hasn’t forgotten her roots in 4-H and FFA.

AN EYE FOR ENTOMOLOGY - Veterinary entomologist Cassie Schoenthal of Paradise eyes a group of flies. The longtime 4-H and FFA member has combined her interest in large animal production and bugs for a career that will impact pest management in Texas and perhaps the nation. She studied flies while working on her masters and is currently studying the biting midge in her doctoral work at Texas A&M University. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

AN EYE FOR ENTOMOLOGY – Veterinary entomologist Cassie Schoenthal of Paradise eyes a group of flies. The longtime 4-H and FFA member has combined her interest in large animal production and bugs for a career that will impact pest management in Texas and perhaps the nation. She studied flies while working on her masters and is currently studying the biting midge in her doctoral work at Texas A&M University. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The veterinary entomologist has written an insect study guide to be used by FFA members to prepare for contests, and all proceeds from the sale of the guide will be put into a scholarship fund.

In 2006, Schoenthal received a Youth Fair scholarship and a $10,000 Richard Wallrath Scholarship through the Texas FFA Foundation.

It’s an investment that will pay off.

GIVING BACK - Texas A&M doctoral student Cassie Schoenthal of Paradise wrote an entomology study guide for FFA members. She plans to donate all proceeds from the sale of the books to a scholarship fund. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

GIVING BACK – Texas A&M doctoral student Cassie Schoenthal of Paradise wrote an entomology study guide for FFA members. She plans to donate all proceeds from the sale of the books to a scholarship fund. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“When I received that [FFA] scholarship, I was appreciative and knew I had to find a way to give back to FFA, not just for the scholarship but also for the experiences,” she said.

Schoenthal credits her 4-H leaders, ag teachers and parents – K.C. and Tracie Schoenthal – with encouraging her and her brother, Chance, 23, to explore various aspects of agriculture. She showed horses, hogs, heifers, goats and rabbits at the Youth Fair, and she participated in the Youth Fair Rodeo. She also participated in various other stock shows and contests.

“My parents were great about letting us do whatever our little hearts desired,” she said.

The 25-year-old was always interested in veterinary medicine, but didn’t discover a love for bugs until after starting school at Texas A&M University in 2006.

“I took a veterinary entomology class and realized it’s not such a bad thing, and I enjoyed playing with those bugs,” she said. “I realized I can merge my passion for taking care of production animals and entomology.”

Schoenthal is a graduate research assistant and has a fellowship for her doctoral work at A&M. She develops insect pest management programs for whitetail deer producers, specifically to defend against the biting midge. “(The midge) transmits two different diseases that can kill whitetail deer extremely fast – within 48 hours,” she said.

“The whitetail deer industry contributes $3 billion in economic revenue for Texas, and Texas is the nation’s leader,” she said. “But there previously has not been an IPM for these operations because it’s so new.”

Schoenthal travels Texas visiting whitetail operations and is tracking the movement of the insect across the state.

“I want to create a technology for the farmers and ranchers to use where they can look at a map on the Internet, can see their ranch and can watch the midges move across Texas like a cold front,” she said.

“I’ve always been interested in animal health and veterinary medicine … then when I realized there was another aspect, an insect vector that can move disease quickly, I realized I wanted to build that wall. I wanted to be the one that protected animals from these diseases.”

While studying in College Station, Schoenthal has assisted with the FFA entomology career development event, which introduces high school students to entomology, the identification of insects and their role in production agriculture.

She said the contest is small, but it’s obvious that the students participating care about it, and ag teachers often stay afterward to pick her brain about how to identify certain types of insects. Some even requested she put together insect collections for them.

Although it would be impossible to do that for every FFA chapter in the state, Schoenthal decided to write a study guide.

It took about a year. The manual has a picture of each insect, the order to which it belongs, the insect’s common name, pronunciation of the name, its type of metamorphosis, a description of its mouth parts, its economic significance and a personal tip from Schoenthal on identification.

“Everyone isn’t going to be an entomologist … but they can use this field guide later in whatever field they go on to,” she said.

Schoenthal has a few “preview” copies now, but she plans to eventually sell the study guides, donating the proceeds to a scholarship fund for students interested in entomology. She realizes the difference scholarships made in her educational career, and she hopes to assist other students in the same way.

Like the leaders and adults who influenced her childhood and in turn, her career choice, she wants to encourage an appreciation of agriculture in young people while also making her mark in pest management.

Her goal is to have a career that involves research, academia and outreach.

“I have a great time talking about it, and my aim is to be the world’s expert on insect pests in confined animal facilities,” she said. “I enjoy getting out and talking to farmers and ranchers about something they may not know much about, and that’s what I can provide for them.”

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