UC Davis Entomology Graduate: A Kindergarten Dream Comes True

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this image of a jumping-for-joy entomology graduate with an insect net is worth at least a thousand insects. Or maybe a million?

When Rebecca "RJ" Millena recently received her bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis, it was the culmination of her kindergarten dream. At age 5, she wrote on her "About Me" poster in her Concord (Calif.) kindergarten class: "When I grow up, I want to be an entomologist."

And now she's 22 with a prized diploma in hand and an insect-themed graduation cap on her head.

The graduation cap, featuring the metamorphosis of a butterfly, is lettered with "When I grow up I want to be an entomologist."

The cap and net images are the work of Kalee Fagan, "the older sister of my best friend from high school," RJ related.

RJ's graduation cap is now entered in a UC Davis graduation cap design contest.  Folks can vote for her design by simply liking this UC Davis Facebook page or making a comment by noon (Pacific Daylight Time) on June 23. The four winners receive gift cards: first-place, $300; second, $200; third, $100, and editor's choice, $100. 

Her contest entry: 

RJ Millena
Major: Entomology
Minors: Nematology, and Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity

In kindergarten, I once wrote, “When I grow up, I want to be an Entomologist.” As I graduate and continue studying insect evolution in a PhD program, I celebrate the fulfillment of my childhood dream with my cap. It features the original marker phrase from my kindergarten poster. Additionally, my first college field project involved the California pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor)—here it represents my metamorphosis from a hopeful child to a fully-fledged entomologist.

In her dual roles as an independent student researcher in the laboratory of Jay Rosenheim, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomologist and a scholar with the Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program,  RJ is now finishing a research paper on Strepsiptera endoparasites, which attack their hosts, the Ammophila (thread-waistedwasps. UC LEADS is a two-year program that prepares promising students for advanced education in science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM).

As part of her UC LEADS project, RJ studied specimens at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. As larvae, members of the order Strepsiptera, known as “twisted wings,” enter their hosts, including wasps and bees, through joints or sutures. In its nearly 8 million insect collection, the Bohart houses “about 30,000 specimens of Ammophila from multiple continents,” says director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. Kimsey pointed out that global wasp authority Arnold Menke (a UC Davis alumnus who studied for his 1965 doctorate with Professor Richard Bohart) identified most of them. His publication, "The Ammophila of North and Central America (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae)” is considered the bible of Ammophila research.  

What's ahead? RJ has just accepted a four-year, full-ride  fellowship offer to a PhD program at the American Museum of Natural History to join the systematics laboratory of Dr. Jessica Ware.

(Editor's note: RJ Millena is one of six UC Davis entomology majors who filed to graduate in the spring or summer of 2021. The others are: Maxwell Koning, Spring 2021; Laura Rivera, Summer 2021; Misa Terrell, Summer 2021; Stephanie Tsai, Spring 2021; and Elizabeth Uemura, Summer 2021)