Full Bee Circles

Marla Spivak at the Bee LabI interviewed for the Apiculture (Bee) Research position at the University of Minnesota two days after the huge Halloween snowstorm in 1991.  I had been living in Tucson, Arizona, doing bee research and had no warm clothes to wear to an interview in a place with 28 inches of snow.  I borrowed a pair of boots and a down jacket and hoped for the best.  The job was advertised as a 3-year, temporary position, and my competition was fierce.  I was offered the job (yea!) and moved to Minnesota in March 1992. 
And 25 years later, I am still here…working out of a beautiful new lab with my own boots and winter coats.  In those 25 years, support for bees has grown and our community has widened.  We are thankful for everyone’s interest in promoting the health of bees.

I recently found a newsletter I wrote in June 1993 for the MN Honey Producers Association that is fun to share:   

Owing to the overwhelming moral and financial support of beekeepers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, and Iowa, the College of Agriculture at the University recently approved of making the Apiculture program permanent.  As most of you know, when unfortunate health problems prevented Dr. Furgala from continuing his research at the University, the College decided to retrench the Apiculture position.  However, beekeepers spoke out in favor of maintaining the program, and the College decided to hire a new Apiculturist on a three-year appointment.  Now, a little over a year later, beekeepers and the Department of Entomology within the College have successfully rallied to make the program permanent again. 

That's good news for beekeepers in the region.  The good news for me is that the College and Entomology department also decided to keep me as the Apiculturist. I can't thank you all enough for your support and encouragement.  I hope the research I conduct here will be as useful to you as your efforts have been to the Apiculture program and to me.

In other news… our first the Queen Rearing short course was a huge success.  Over 60 people enrolled (including beekeepers from Wisconsin, North Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana!) and Gary Reuter and I wrote a manual for the course…

....I received a small (but important) grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct research on honey bee hygienic behavior.  The money will allow me to hire Rebecca Melton [now Becky Masterman], my first graduate student, as a Research Assistant.  We will concentrate our efforts this summer on breeding bees for hygienic behavior and testing the relation of this behavior to resistance against chalkbrood and varroa mites.”

There are three amazing things to point out from this old newsletter article: 

  1. Beekeepers and people in Minnesota have been incredibly supportive of bee research for a long time.  Thank you to our new and long-term supporters!
  2. Gary Reuter has been working at the Bee Lab as long as I have, tirelessly keeping the lab functioning, the bee hives populated, and the graduate students on track. I end up in the spotlight, but without Gary’s help, there would be no stage to stand on.
  3. A graduate student in the Entomology department, Sujaya Rao, introduced me to Becky Melton (Masterman) in 1992.  Becky completed her PhD degree in 2000.  She moved on to other jobs, cultivating her marketing and communication skills, and returned to the lab to run the Bee Squad in 2012. I still get to work with my first graduate student and her love of bees, creativity, and endless energy inspire us all. Interestingly, Sujaya Rao, who spent part of her research career studying bees, also returned to the Entomology department this fall, as Entomology's new Department Head.

So it seems some things have come full circle…twenty-five years later, it is satisfying to know that the University of Minnesota is where people are choosing to do great work.