Student Spotlight: Luis Ochoa Cadena

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Luis Alberto Ochoa Cadena, a native of Villanueva, Nicaragua, is a graduate research assistant and master’s student in entomology
Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Student Spotlight: Luis Ochoa Cadena

This is a continuation of our "IANR is Global" series, which highlights the many ways internationalization is woven through the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: through research collaboration, government and private industry partnerships, extension work, student educational experiences and the IANR community from around the world.

This edition is specifically focused on the many individuals with diverse experience from around the world who we are fortunate to have as part of our university. Luis Alberto Ochoa Cadena, a native of Villanueva, Nicaragua, is a graduate research assistant studying entomology. We appreciate their wide array of contributions to the work and atmosphere of the university, and our continued mission to create a globally engaged institution. To this end, we want to help our campus community get to know each other (and the world) more, starting with these individuals. 

By Divine Mbabazi, CASNR Global Ambassador

Tell me a little about yourself. 

My name is Luis Alberto Ochoa Cadena, and I come from a small town, Villanueva, in Chinandega, Nicaragua. I have always been interested in agriculture because of my father. Since I was a child, he took me with him to the field, where I was exposed to nature, cattle, and crops, and I liked it. It made me love agriculture. That is why I studied in one of the best agricultural universities in Latin America. I got my Bachelor's of Science degree in Agricultural Sciences and Production from Zamorano University, and currently, I am a second-year master’s student in the Entomology Department at UNL. I consider myself a happy person, motivated by my passion, goals, and family. I like to talk, hang out and get to know people. Moreover, I enjoy spending my free time doing sports like soccer or basketball and playing the piano.

How did you first get interested in your field?

At Zamorano, I always was interested in animal production. But I took an entomology class that includes biodiversity, basic insect physiology, and agriculture importance. After that class, my idea of insects changed. I thought that insects were just insects, without meaning or significance. They were simple, and the only relevant information was the damage they could cause to crops and essentially monetary losses. However, that class made me realize how broad and incredible insects are and their impact on agriculture, biodiversity, medicine, soil health, and ecosystems. Therefore, I wanted to know more about them. I did my undergrad research thesis about dung beetles. It was titled “Characterization of beetle Species in Zamorano, Honduras.” This experience made me want to work with insects for the rest of my life.

Before coming to UNL, you went to Zamorano University. What was your experience there like? Any similarities between your former University and UNL?

My four years at Zamorano were great. Their teaching philosophy is learning by doing. Students take classes during the morning, and in the afternoon they need to apply what they have learned in the field. Having the experience of working in most agricultural areas (animal or crop production) is unique, and you can identify the one you like the most. My life as an undergrad in Zamorano and as a graduate student at UNL is entirely different. However, I feel that both universities have a great staff. People who care about you are always available to help with any problem or concern that we could have, and most importantly, they seem happy doing it.

Tell me about your path to Nebraska.

I always wanted to pursue a master’s degree in Entomology. However, getting the opportunity of getting into a graduate program is not easy. So, after graduating from Zamorano in 2017, I started working in a pest and disease management position in a Mango production and exportation company in Nicaragua. At the end of 2018, I got an internship through Ohio State University to learn about hog production in Smithfield Foods company in Missouri for one year. This was an excellent opportunity to improve my English, learn about hog production, and contact universities for a master’s opportunity. In 2020, I did a 9-month internship in the Nematology department of the University of Florida. I learned a lot about nematodes, and my English improved even more. I was still looking for any master’s opportunity, but I had nothing at that point yet. I went back to Nicaragua without a graduate position, and I felt like I failed. At the end of September of the same year, a friend from UF sent me a screenshot about a professor in Entomology at UNL looking for a student to work with sunflowers. I got super excited, and I immediately contacted Dr. Jeffrey Bradshaw. Thank God I am here today, working on what I like and achieving one of my goals.

What have been some challenges you’ve faced here? Opportunities? Things that surprised you?

I would say that missing my family and the food from my country will be the biggest challenges. Fortunately, I am an easy-going person that quickly adapts to places, situations, and people that I am related with at different levels. Some essential opportunities have been participating in Entomology conferences, meeting people, and learning about other entomology areas. Moreover, being part of the Bruner club has been a fantastic experience. I am surprised about how people are so kind in the Entomology Department, making you feel valued, comfortable, and that you belong there.

Tell me a little bit about your research project.

My research project is focused on sunflower pest management and its impact on insect pollinators at the commercial level in western Nebraska. Pest management in commercial sunflowers is tied to chemical control to suppress and reduce pest damage to the seeds. Growers want the higher yield possible. However, chemical control more than once during the same season also affects insect pollinators (native bees). It is known that native bees across the great plains can significantly increase yield. The trade-off between pest control and insect pollination it’s still unknown. One of the goals of this study is to understand the interaction between insecticide application, pest control, and bee pollination in sunflowers. Thus, these results could help growers and pest managers reduce insecticide input and maximize yield while conserving native bee populations in Nebraska.

What are your future plans after UNL?

I want to continue my studies in a Ph.D. program focused on improving pest management strategies in commercial crops that can control the pest effectively while conserving insect pollinators communities.

Do you or someone you know have an international element to your work, studies or experiences you'd like to see highlighted? Contact Divine at dmbabazi2@huskers.unl.edu.