Every year, Dr. Richard Packauskas, associate professor in the Department of Biology, assigns a project to collect insects and make a bug collection in his Entomology class. Every year, students will go out and make one as usual, without incident. But when senior Ryan Shofner took that class, he came upon a bug that Pakauskas found very interesting. When they tried to do the categorization, it was decided that the insect was a kind of jumping bristletail, but it didn’t match any known insects that existed in Kansas. Later, they found it didn’t match any other insect in the world.
“What we have is a rare combination of events,” said Dr. Elmer Finck, the department chair of biology. “First, finding a new species is rare in itself. Secondly, you have Dr. Packauskas, who is an expert in different insects, but actually understands the whole complex of insects very well — and was able to recognize that this species was new.”
Shofner’s discovery didn’t end there. When his class ended, Dr. Packauskas him to go on with the project to categorize the new insect. The research he then had to do was the sort of experience that is normally only for graduate students, but was possible for Shofner at Fort Hays.
“I think this project is an example of what makes Fort Hays University Special,” said Jeff Briggs, dean and professor of the College of Health and Life Sciences. “Institutionally, we’ve really tried to emphasize the research aspect. Undergraduate research and the biological sciences as a department have especially been a leader in exposing students to research and scholarly inquiry from start to finish.”
Perhaps it is because of this that the scientific name for the bug, Hypomachilodes forthaysi, is fitting. The real reason for its namesake, however, is really because the insect was captured on land owned by Fort Hays.
All in all, the experience Shofner had with the sort of research only graduate students do was partly due to a series of positive circumstances: finding the bug in the first place, and then having a knowledgeable enough professor to realize the insect was totally new. Both of these were a big part of it. But then again, part of the credit undeniably goes to a university that made it possible for Schofner to continue with the project, and had the equipment to do that.
“I think that that value added experience — that is what we try and strive for at Fort Hays State University,” Briggs said. “That’s what’s really on display here today. It is the opportunity for a student to identify a specific area of interest, and the ability to work side by side with a faculty member in pursuing that interest. Going through the entire research cycle within an outcome that we see in publication and presentation today is what makes Fort Hays State University really a special place to live and learn.”