Vernard Lewis’ message for the future

February 26, 2024

Professor emeritus of Cooperative Extension Vernard Lewis was featured in a Voices for Change episode celebrating Black History Month. He spoke about his career in urban entomology, becoming the first Black entomologist at UC Berkeley, and his efforts to inspire youth to pursue a science education during the interview, which aired February 25 on KTVU.

“I started collecting insects at four or five–it was my grandfather who enlightened me and allowed me to do it,” Lewis said. “So when I give back to kids, I’m just giving back what was given to me 65 years ago.” 

Lewis graduated from UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources in 1975 with a BS in Agricultural Sciences, proving wrong the college counselor who told him he wouldn’t go to college. He later earned an MS in 1979, worked as a pest management professional in San Quentin Prison, and completed his PhD in entomology in 1989.

Lewis joined UC Berkeley as a Professor of Cooperative Extension in 1991 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. As an internationally recognized expert on urban pests, Lewis has published about 150 papers and delivered more than 700 presentations on termites, bed bugs, and cockroaches. He is best known for his termite research, which largely occurred in a 400-square-foot structure designed to test alternative pest control methods.

Throughout his career, Lewis has served as a vocal advocate for the importance of diversity. He has dedicated a significant part of his career to making higher education more accessible to first-generation students and people of color. Lewis and his wife, Lisa Kala, support these efforts at Rausser College through the newly established Lewis and Kala Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fund.

Watch Lewis’ full interview below.