School of
Integrative Biology

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New faculty embark on bright futures at Illinois

Every solution is created to solve a problem, whether it’s a quick fix or a life-altering change. For professor of entomology Esther Ngumbi, going to school was her solution to feeding her family.

When Ngumbi grew up on the Kenyan coast, farming was an essential part of living—her parents, who both worked as teachers, subsidized their low salaries with farming. But every harvest season, Ngumbi watched all their hard work get destroyed by insects, and it’s because of this challenge that made her interested in pursuing a career that would help her family.

“We would be hungry,” she said. “I wanted to pursue a career that was going to allow me to provide solutions after seeing nearly all our hard work get destroyed by insects.”

Ngumbi went on to earn her PhD at Auburn University, becoming the first woman from her home community to earn a PhD. She sees how farmers lose almost 50 percent of their crops to insects, so her research is to help those farmers decrease that loss. Her research aims to understand how beneficial soil microbes interact with plants to repel insects or attract beneficial natural enemies.

“I'm trying to find sustainable ways to feed ourselves without using too much fertilizer or pesticides—all the things that are harmful to ourselves and our environment,” she said.

Ngumbi is currently focusing on tomato and corn plants, and although feed corn is a popular crop in central Illinois, she is only focusing on the kind we can consume.

“Every day I'm excited about work because I never know what I'm up to,” she said. “I never know what solutions I'll be providing for the research we need. It's not hard to wake up and come to work and see what I'll find and what knowledge can I add to our world.”

Dr. Ngumbi and other new additions to the LAS Faculty are featured in the full article

Read the full article

Publication Date: 10/03/2019