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A Tiny and Amazing World: Katie Zevallos at the Smithsonian

35 Million Insects

Every morning at promptly ten o’clock, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., opens its doors. As the morning’s first visitors stream in, some stop to pose with the 8-ton, 14-foot tall African elephant on display in the rotunda. Others hurry to their favorite exhibit first—perhaps the legendary Hope Diamond in the hall of geology, gems and minerals, or perhaps the free-flying tiger swallowtails in the butterfly pavilion.

It was in the butterfly pavilion that Katie Zevallos, a biology education major at BJU, first learned about volunteer opportunities with the museum’s entomology department. Until that year, she hadn’t even liked insects! But an insect project in her invertebrate zoology class “just opened up the world of insects,” Katie says, changing her view forever. She eagerly applied for a behind-the-scenes position in the entomology department’s sorting room.

That summer she spent more than 100 hours preparing and mounting insects that would later be incorporated into the Smithsonian’s collection of approximately 35 million specimens.
katie at microscope
bugs

Entomologists and other Smithsonian scientists often dropped by with interesting facts to share about the insects Katie was pinning. The facts Katie learned gave her more stories to tell her students as she completed her directed teaching in a Greenville-area high school the fall semester of her senior year. “Stories are always good for teaching!” she says.

water scorpion

Water Scorpions

For example, through Dr. David Furth, the collections manager for the entomology department, Katie learned about the water scorpion. “It has nothing to do with scorpions,” she says. “It is an insect that looks like it has a long stinger, but it’s actually a siphon. It’s an aquatic bug, and it places the siphon in the air to breathe through when it’s under water. So it’s kind of like a snorkel bug!” Katie’s excitement about the water scorpion later turned into a semester-long project for an independent study class at BJU.

Smithsonian

Class Trip

The spring semester of her senior year, she decided to take an entomology class taught by Dr. David Boyd. Katie says, “Dr. Boyd really liked to emphasize taking us on field trips when he could, so we could see more of the diversity of insects and do more collecting in the field.” Her whole class took a field trip to the Smithsonian. Dr. Furth and Dr. Floyd Shockley, another Smithsonian entomologist that Katie had worked with, even gave Katie and her classmates a behind-the-scenes tour of the entomology department.

God’s Amazing Creation

“[My volunteer work] definitely increased my appreciation for the diversity of God’s creation,“ Katie says. “Overall, it was incredible to see the awesomeness of God’s creation in a tiny world that we pass by every day but is all around us. It was really eye-opening that there is just so much God does that we don’t realize. We don’t even notice, but that doesn’t stop Him from making it beautiful, because it’s pleasing to Him to make this amazing world.”

Katie graduated in May 2013 and is now looking forward to teaching middle and high school science at a Christian school in Maryland in the fall. “I really have a burden that students understand enough science to be able to engage with the scientific community in an intelligent way,“ she says. Perhaps that will even include a field trip to the Smithsonian.

Katie with butterfly