2010 Most Influential & Interesting: Willye Bryan

 Willye Bryan
Research Technician with the Department of Entomology, Pesticide Alternatives Laboratory, Michigan State University and President of
The Lansing Area African American Genealogy Society (LAAAGS)

Willye Bryan currently resides in Lansing and works as an entomologist at Michigan State University.  However, she began her working life as a public school history teacher in Mississippi.  Teaching is an area that is especially dear to her and something she has revisited over the years.  In an effort to make learning real for students, she developed theme based subject material for her early classes.  One such unit was centered around the election year – 1968.  Election year activities were used in all classes, i. e. election results were used in math classes, students had to register to vote in government and social studies classes, and campaign speeches were written in English classes.  The activities culminated in political conventions and a mock election.  Students learned as never before and remembered and used the experience through their high school years.
Willye is currently a Research Technician with the Department of Entomology, Pesticide Alternatives Laboratory, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.  In this position she conducts research with tree fruit insect pests.  She has worked as an Entomologist for more than 30 years.  She began her entomological career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Stoneville, Mississippi.  She worked for 23 years conducting research on the biological control of cotton insect pests in the Mississippi Delta.  She operated and managed an Insect Quarantine Facility which operated as a national quarantine facility in support of classical biological control.  This included importation from other countries, evaluation, and clearing, of biological organisms for research, release, and establishment by herself and other scientists throughout the U.S. 

While at Stoneville Willye also initiated the first Black History Program held in the USDA-ARS, Mid South Area in 1977 and became a consultant for other programs held government wide.  The programs were extremely successful and have continued as a much-anticipated annual event.  Retiring early from USDA, Willye moved to Michigan because she met and married Michael Bryan a fellow entomologist who lived in the state.
After moving to Michigan in 1997, she worked at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana for a year as an Adjunct Professor of Multicultural Education and Race & Ethnicity.  Following this year in academia, Willye returned to entomology and worked for private industry.  She went to work for a diagnostics company who made test kits for identifying plant diseases.  While there she coordinated the development, testing, and marketing of insect diagnostic products for the company. She established the insect diagnostics department and marketed the first insect test kit the company had produced in its 20-year history.  The test kit identified two cotton insect pests, the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa zea and the tobacco budworm, Heliothis virescens in the egg stage.
In 2005, Willye began her work at Michigan State University where she is currently employed.  Biological Control of insects is still the focus of her life’s work.  Her current laboratory researches alternatives to chemical pesticides.  The research is based on using fungi and other biopesticides to control insect pests in apple and cherry trees.  To see some of the current research of the Pesticide Alternatives Laboratory, go to the lab’s website at: whalonlab.msu.edu (tip: do not use www with this address).  Over the period of her career Willye has over 35 publications in scientific journals and has made presentations at national entomological meetings across the U.S.
To prepare for this/these careers Willye’s educational path started at Alcorn State University, Lorman, Mississippi, where she received a Bachelor of Science in History and Social Studies.  She completed a Masters in Education and a second Masters in Entomology at Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi.  She also did post-graduate studies in entomology at Virginia Tech.  She considers herself a life-long learner.
Willye’s many hobbies have become her passions.  She had started her family research in 1977, as did many African Americans who were inspired by the launch of the television miniseries “Roots” by Alex Haley.  In 2002 she learned of a new genealogy group in Lansing, the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society (LAAAGS), which she promptly joined.  She has found a great deal of satisfaction and rewarding achievements researching her family history.  Willye has researched her family to 1870 where she has located three of her great-grandparents who had all been slaves and possibly a great-great grandfather prior to 1870!  This is very exciting work and takes a lot of time and meticulous researching through oral family histories, census records, court house documents, vital records, newspapers, military records, and the list goes on.  Willye currently serves as president of the organization and is having a wonderful time in that role with lots of support from her membership.  LAAAGS has as its mission to promote the preservation of African American family history and assist members in their genealogical research by providing a forum for the sharing of information and assisting with problem solving.  The group also conducts educational programs to acquaint members and the general public with various methods and resources of genealogical and family history research.  LAAAGS will conduct a daylong seminar on Researching African American History in October 2010.  Details for these events will be on the group’s website: www.laaags.org and in the newsletter as the programs are finalized.  Willye’s fellow LAAAGS officers are: Jesse LaSorda, vice-president, Brenda Henderson, secretary, Arthur Glasscoe, treasurer, and Melvin Holley, past-president.
Another fun and relaxing hobby that came with Willye’s move to Lansing is golf!  Many great hours are spent on the golf course with a fairly young league called Improvisers.  She also volunteers with her church, First Presbyterian Church of Lansing.  Some of the projects, such as the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, Adopt-a-Family with EVE, Ballentine Thanksgiving and Christmas Celebrations, Red Cross Food Sorting, Annual Book Sale, Nsem Water Project, Justice Ministry, and Katrina Relief Efforts have been very satisfying undertakings.
A lot of her time, many happy hours, are spent enjoying family.  Willye’s son Marcus Harrison and his family – wife Angela, daughters Brittany and Madisyn – live just around the corner.  Family activities, school functions, basketball games, piano recitals, and many more fun things keep her busy.  Willye also has two stepsons, Damon and Colin who live in Colorado and she and Michael love going to visit and spending time with their other two sons.  She also has a sister and family still living in Mississippi that she and her family often visit.  Willye considers her family her most important asset!