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Stern Scholarship Winner

Saturday, August 14, 2021
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Shawna Pantzke
Shawna Pantzke
      Shawna Pantzke never planned a career as an entomologist.  The Fargo, N.D., native was majoring in biology and Spanish with a minor in chemistry at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.  She had planned for a career in the medical world.  All that changed when a pre-health class was full; entomology was the only class with spots left.  “I still wasn’t 100% sure about it,” she recalls.
        Pantzke spent her senior year working in the USDA-ARS Sunflower and Plant Biology Research Unit in Fargo.  She finished her undergrad and started her master’s work there during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic.  She’s been there ever since.
        “A lot of labs weren't taking students because of the pandemic, but I was able to stay at the entomology lab where I had already been working.  It worked out really well for me to continue working on the project that I was working on.”
        It was then that she realized she was passionate about entomology.
        “I really like both the job and the balance between doing things in the lab and in the field.”
        Pantzke is working under ARS sunflower research entomologist Jarrad Prasifka at the Fargo lab.  There, she helps with Prasifka’s research on red sunflower seed weevil.  She’s studying the bugs’ cultural control and thermal biology of red sunflower seed weevil, with the ultimate goal of creating better management strategies.  In the second year of her research, Pantzke has already learned a lot about the red sunflower seed weevils survival skills.
        “We know a good chunk of them are surviving from year to year in order for them to be such a pest in sunflower,” she says.  “They really don’t freeze until it’s about -21 degrees Celsius, which is much colder than the soil in Fargo or even in Langdon.”
        Knowing their freezing point and the depths at which overwinter in the soil will help Pantzke determine how many of the pests are surviving from year to year.  She hopes that information will give growers insight into whether the upcoming year will be a bad one for the insects.
        The second part of her research is looking at when the red sunflower seed weevils are emerging from the soil in comparison to when sunflower is in bloom.  That information will help her create a degree day model for emergence. That too will give growers a better idea of when they can plant to avoid the largest amount of damage from red seed weevils.
        It is information she hopes producers will find helpful.  In the 2017 and 2019 NSA sunflower surveys, producers in North and South Dakota reported red sunflower seed weevil was the most damaging of all sunflower pests.
        Pantzke presented year one of her research virtually at the 2021 NSA Research Forum and also will present in 2022.  She will finish classes and research this school year and defend her thesis in Spring 2022.
        Pantzke says she didn’t expect to receive the Curtis Stern Memorial Scholarship. The Stern Memorial Scholarship is presented annually by the National Sunflower Association to outstanding students who study in the field of agriculture, with a special emphasis on sunflower production, promotion or research.  It was established in honor of the late Curtis Stern, a longtime industry advocate and former NSA board member.
        “It will allow me to do more with my research, and I’ll be able to have more information to present at the 2022 NSA Research Forum,” she says. “I really want my work to be useful to growers, and this scholarship will help me reach those ideal implications of what this research actually means to them.”
          Pantzke plans to further her education and study for her Ph.D once she finishes her master’s “in the field she fell into by accident.” — Jody Kerzman
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