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Fall 2002 - Buzzing

Destination Purdue > Fall 2002 - Buzzing

Professor keeps class buzzing with excitement

By Lisa L. Wilson

At the tender age of three, he caught a bumblebee in his hand and didn't get stung. Purdue University entomology professor Tom Turpin caught that bumblebee, and now he's catching his students' attention in the classroom.

Tom Turpin

Photo by Tom Campbell

Entomology professor Tom Turpin studies a variety of insects, including these Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Turpin has been teaching entomology, the study of insects, for 31 years, yet his passion for the subject has not faded. His method of teaching has been described as unconventional, but his intentions are clear; he wants students to realize just how fascinating insects can be.

"Most students come to class with a bias against insects," Turpin said. "For me, the challenge is to overcome the bias students have and get them to see the role insects play in nature, the impact they have on society and the beauty of them. Educationa is the best way to overcome that bias."

Turpin teaches several entomology courses, most notably, ENTM 105: "Insects, Friend and Foe." The course introduces students to the study of insects. He plays clips from B movies like "The Bees," that highlight insects, uses live insects in class demonstrations and even wears costumes designed to highlight concepts and to pique the students' interests during class time.

Turpin encourages his students to keep in touch with their six-legged friends. Requirements for the course include keeping a journal of insect observations, and even, if a student elects to do so, keeping an insect "houseguest" for the semester. One example of an insect houseguest students have kept in the past is the Madagascar hissing cockroach.

Turpin's enthusiasm for insects translates into a classroom of students willing to learn. According to Dave Johnson, a freshman in the School of Agriculture from Lockport, Ill., Turpin's unorthodox approach to teaching makes learning fun. "He incorporates different learning materials and different methods of teaching in the classroom," Johnson said. "He makes learning about insects fun and has definitely changed my point of view about them for the better."

Janice Woodruff, a sophomore in general studies from Rossville, Ind. agrees. "He relates entomology to us by showing how insects impact our lives," Woodruff said. "The impact insects have on the world is immeasurable, and the impact that studying insects may have on technology is even more astounding."

According to Turpin, the study of insects has far reaching effects. "The space program has Mars rovers and even airplanes that are being modeled after insects," he said. "Their ability to adapt and their diversity is what I find most amazing about them."