Erika Garcia, a senior biology-zoology major, has found her passion in a typically unpopular subject matter: spiders.
Garcia came to SDSU with the hope of becoming a veterinarian, but her plans soon took a detour: During her sophomore year, she was offered a scholarship that would allow her to go on a field expedition to study the fauna of California and Oregon. She immediately took interest in the diversity of arthropods.
Ever since, Garcia has been a force to be reckoned with in the entomological field, most recently earning the Stan Beck Fellowship from the Entomological Society of America.
The Stan Beck Fellowship is awarded to underrepresented students who are up-and-coming standouts in entomology. The fellowship adds to an extensive list of prestigious awards Garcia has received throughout her time at SDSU.
Garcia, who is from south San Diego County, won a $5,000 per year scholarship from S-STEM – Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – to provide funding for her research as well as an the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development scholarship to help her prepare for graduate school.
During summer 2013, Garcia was accepted to the California Academy of Sciences Summer Systematics Institute based in San Francisco. There, she did collections-based research which helped dramatically improve their collection of spiders from South Africa.
Back on her home turf, Garcia spends much of her time in Dr. Marshal Hedin’s Lab of Arachnid Evolution, Systematics and Conservation conducting research on harvestmen arachnids from the Appalachian Mountains.
“Harvestmen are also known as daddy long legs, but they are not the ones you find in your bathroom,” Garcia said.
These arachnids may look the same on the outside, but a closer look could point to undiscovered key differences.
“They look the same morphologically but have evidence of multiple evolutionary lineages, so maybe I’ll be able to discover a new species.” Garcia said.
Garcia especially enjoys the interactive, outdoors aspects of entomology like camping on field expeditions and flipping rocks and logs to find insects. Along with the fact that the general public fears spiders, Garcia’s curiosity in the subject is infinite.
“What interests me is that there are so many (spiders), but they are so understudied,” Garcia said. “After taking the time out to admire what they are and their role in ecosystems, they are beautiful to me.”
A support system at SDSU
With her graduation date quickly approaching, Garcia is busy preparing to apply to both masters and Ph.D. programs. She credits her success and motivation to pursue graduate programs to the outstanding evolutionary biology program at SDSU.
The support she has received from fellow students, faculty members, and scholarship programs has fueled her passion for entomology. In the future, Garcia hopes to continue this trend by working in museums and teaching at the college level.