Sparking change in unexpected avenues 

Endowed professor digs deep in the world of pest management

By Mary Hirtreiter

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“The endowment allows my students and me to pursue activities that are not always available otherwise. Interactions with the food and grain industries allow us to do applied research that answers important questions we might not touch on with other funding.” — Tom Phillips


Kansas State University is known for its research and allowing students to be a part of something bigger than just a college assignment, working on projects with real-life application. This is where Tom Phillips and the Department of Entomology combine the world's need for more research and the love that K-State students have for it.

Phillips, Donald Wilbur Endowed Professor for Stored Product Protection, focuses on creating and enhancing alternative control measures and integrated pest management. This practice has become more important following the EPA banning of methyl bromide fumigation. The basics of his research revolve around stored-product protection.

Stored-product protection can be hard to understand but encompasses many aspects of the agricultural industry, such as pest management and quality assurance for stored grains, value-added grain products, and many other non-perishable food products that become at risk after harvest and processing.

Philllips teaches a class in stored-product protection, offers outreach and training programs to the grain, food processing and pest control industries. He also manages a research program with students and young scientists investigating improved fumigation, new fumigants, alternative food-safe pesticides, and new and improved methods for integrated pest management of stored products.

But none of this would be possible without the help of the Donald A. Wilbur Endowed Professorship. “It is more than just an endowed professorship in just an academic context. The impact is tangible to the real world, as well as to academia,” Phillips said.

The Wilbur professorship provides critical financial support for teaching and research in the field of post-harvest food and feed safety and protection. Because of the support, Phillips is able to provide partial support toward a graduate student stipend, tuition, travel and research supplies based on the endowment.

“Students funded by the endowment know that it was designed to honor a professor who helped build the field of stored product protection,” Phillips said. “My students know the history, and it helps put practical relevance on the endowment for something that can directly help prevent losses of food from insects.”

Eunice and Don Wilbur created an endowed fund in 2010 to establish the Donald A. Wilbur Endowed Professorship in Stored Product Protection. Earnings provide financial support to an outstanding faculty member in the Department of Entomology working in the field of stored product protection. This fits Phillips’ goals perfectly.

“The endowment helps pay for something that cannot be supported by regular government research grants. One benefit is to travel outside of the United State to international conferences. Meeting with colleagues from other countries with the same challenges is very rewarding,” Phillips said. “Another benefit is purchasing equipment that is not funded by a grant budget. The financial impact is direct and specialized when compared to other funding sources.”

Manhattan, Kansas, is among the best places worldwide for research and development of stored product pest management tools, and in addition to Phillips’ program, there are faculty across K-State’s campus in grain science, bio-systems and agricultural engineering working toward the same goal of product protection.

“The endowment allows my students and me to pursue activities that are not always available otherwise. Interactions with the food and grain industries allow us to do applied research that answers important questions we might not touch on with other funding,” Phillips said. “Philanthropy has given us independence in research on alternatives for controlling pests that have had limited attention.”

Phillips

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