Black History 365: Michelle Samuel-Foo

Michelle Susan Samuel-Foo is an American biologist and Assistant Professor of Biology at Alabama State University. She serves as President of the Southeastern Entomological Society of America. In 2020 Samuel-Foo became the first African-American person to win a major award for entomology when she was awarded the Entomological Society of America Founders’ Memorial Recognition.[1]

Early life and education

Samuel-Foo is from Sangre Grande, Trinidad and Tobago.[2][3] Her parents were cash crop growers, and she helped them to sell vegetables in markets.[2] Samuel-Foo started college determined to study biology, but became fascinated by the world of entomology.[2] She earned her undergraduate degree at Brewton–Parker College, where she was awarded a scholarship.[2] She decided to stay in academic research after a conversation with the school’s head of science, David McMillin, who encouraged her to look for graduate schools.[2] She was a graduate student at the University of Georgia, where she studied the resistance of Triticum aestivatum (common wheat) to Mayetiola destructor (hessian fly).[4] At the time, she was one of only two minority students in the department.[2] Her dissertation committee was chaired by H. Roger Boerma, who was well known for the Soybean Improvement Programme. After graduating, Samuel-Foo joined the programme, which is where she first experienced DNA sequencing and molecular breeding.[2]

Research and career

In 2009 Samuel-Foo joined the faculty at the University of Florida. Here she worked to support the registration of speciality crops in the Southern States and Puerto Rico.[5][3] She was made regional field coordinator of the United States Department of Agriculture Interregional Research Project No. 4 (IR-4) Project.[2] From 2015 to 2017 Samuel-Foo served as President of the International Association of Black Entomologists and on the Board of Directors of the Caribbean Food Crops Society.[6][7]

Samuel-Foo joined the faculty of Alabama State University in 2018, where she leads the programme on industrial hemp research.[1] When she arrived at Alabama State University she established an urban teaching garden[8] that looks to introduce students to sustainable agriculture.[9][10]

In 2020 Samuel-Foo was named President-Elect of the Southeastern Entomological Society of America.[9][11] She provided expert guidance to the United States congress on the Murder Hornet Eradication Act, which looks to eliminate the Asian giant hornet (so-called murder hornet), an invasive species that is predatory to honey bees.[12][13] In her testimony, Samuel-Foo spoke about the devastating impact of the murder hornets on the United States honey bee population, as well as their potential threat to critical agriculture.[14][15] In May 2020 Samuel-Foo was awarded the Entomological Society of America Founders’ Memorial prize, and dedicated her award lecture to the research of Ernest J. Harris.[5] Harris was the first Black entomologist to the be subject of the Founders’ lecture.[5]