Where do you want me to go, God?
Corraine McNeill was frustrated with her studies. She had already spent three years pursuing a doctorate at the University of Florida, and found herself no closer to finishing than when she began.
Now an assistant professor of biology at Union College, McNeill’s love of slugs and bugs drew her to her ultimate calling—teaching students to love scholarship and be passionate about what they are studying. And she recently received international attention for her doctoral research on bedbugs and their attraction to color.
But she didn’t start out that way.
After graduating from Glenmuir High School in her native country of Jamaica, McNeill thought she wanted to become a physician. “I decided to attend a liberal arts college in the United States and then decide for sure,” she said.
Halfway through her time at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in Virginia, she started studying slugs with one of the professors and fell in love with research. “I realized I was more interested in pursuing organisms related to medical research than in becoming a physician,” McNeill said.
After starting graduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, she hoped to find a place to study slugs, but without success. Her advisor suggested a switch to insects. “She told me they were similar to slugs agriculturally, but a lot more diverse,” McNeill explained.
She finished a master’s degree at the University of Florida and began doctoral studies researching chemicals to control the pepper weevil. But many of the chemicals made her sick, and after three years she couldn’t take it anymore.
Her illness and frustration brought her to question her Creator and His plan for her life.
At home with bedbugs
She didn’t have to wait long for answers. She soon found herself in the Urban Entomology program under the tutelage of Dr. Phil Koehler and Dr. Roberto Pereira studying bedbug behavior and bedbug education.
“I was still at the University of Florida, and I really wanted to finish my doctorate,” she said. “And I did not realize the broad impact that bedbugs had.” But as she dug deeper, she began to see the importance of bedbug research.
“Looking back, I really think it was God’s leading,” McNeill said. “Bedbugs are pests of medical significance. I ended up doing exactly what I felt called to do back as an undergraduate without realizing it.”
Her research involved various experiments to determine if bedbugs prefer certain colors. She and her team tested males and females at all stages of growth, and they discovered that the pests prefer red and black and tend to stay away from green and yellow.
“I always joke with people, ‘Make sure you get yellow sheets!’” said McNeill. “But to be very honest, I think that would be stretching the results a little too much.” She hopes her research can help lead to finding better ways to trap or eradicate bedbugs. “We are thinking about how you can enhance bedbug traps by using monitoring tools that act as a harborage and are a specific color that is attractive to the bug,” said McNeill. “However, the point isn’t to use the color traps in isolation, but to use color preference as something in your toolkit to be paired with other things such as pheromones or carbon dioxide to potentially increase the number of bedbugs in a trap.”
The article outlining her research appeared in an April issue of Journal of Medical Entomology, and immediately drew attention from news media around the world. She and her research partners interviewed with CNN, CBC, Newsweek, The Times (London) and many more.
“God will put you in the most unexpected places and you will find it’s where you were meant to be,” McNeill said, happy to be sharing her love of bugs with her Union College students.
“I have always loved teaching—ever since I was a little girl—and would line my teddy bears up and teach to them,” McNeill explained. “Union was the obvious choice because I knew I wanted to work at an Adventist college where I would have the opportunity to teach and inspire my students while promoting Christian scholarship.”
Megan Wehling graduated from Union College in May 2015 with a degree in English.