From Butterfly House to Biology Lab
Spotlight on Ben Proshek, ’07
Written by Sarah Chavey
“I owe my career to my mother. When I was in high school, she encouraged me to get a job at a butterfly house. She told me to apply since I liked bugs, and I ended up working there for six summers. That was my catapult to becoming interested in butterflies,” Hillsdale alum Ben Proshek, ’07, said.
From there, Ben’s interest in butterflies flourished. At Hillsdale, his undergraduate thesis was on the genetic taxonomy of Phyciodes butterflies with Dr. Houghton. In graduate school at the University of Alberta, he completed his thesis on the taxonomy and conservation status of Lange’s Metalmark butterfly. In the years in between and since, he’s traveled, worked as a field technician, studied insect collections at the Smithsonian, and now works as a biological lab tech at USDA APHIS PPQ.
Ben didn’t decide what science he would major in until after his introductory freshman courses, however.
“I was already an outdoorsy kid. I really like insects and dirt and hiking outside. Science just seemed like a natural fit for someone who liked those things, so it just sort of happened,” Ben said.
Dr. Garnjobst helped convince him to double major in classics as well, and when he arrived at graduate school, he was able to use his Latin training to translate the names of butterflies by himself.
Two aspects of Hillsdale stood out to Ben. First, the atmosphere.
“What I enjoyed most was the collegiate atmosphere of having peers who are all in the same endeavor to learn and study and grow and worship together,” Ben said.
Second, the resources for the senior thesis.
“I think it’s fantastic that they make us all do research theses. It’s great how much support biology majors get, financially and personally. Professors invest a lot of time in their students, and I don’t even know how much of the department’s money I spent on my research. It put me into grad school,” Ben said.
He fondly recollected his thesis adviser, Dr. David Houghton’s, The Eagle’s CD—the only music available in the entomology lab. Now, every The Eagle’s song reminds him of Dr. Houghton.
After graduation, Ben traveled all over (from the U.S. to Cambridge to Madrid and more) before taking up a part-time job as a professional butterfly catcher for the College of William and Mary. His job was simply catching and keeping the area’s most interesting butterflies, which he enjoyed.
That led him to a job at the Smithsonian, which houses the largest insect collection in the United States. He spent two years inventorying—counting the amount of specimens within species and analyzing the different countries represented, among other jobs—before moving on to his current job.
Ben now works in Texas on a project deciphering an internal disease of citrus. The citrus just recently came from Asia into Texas, and Ben works in a sample orchard to process samples, extract DNA, and detect the presence of the disease in the citrus. Though it’s his first job in microbiology since he was a student, he ultimately wants to return to work with an insect collection again.
“I’m really grateful for Hillsdale,” Ben said. “Hillsdale was a tremendous foundation for getting my master’s and then my career. The foundation of hard-working study and the liberal-arts education prepared me so well.”
Sarah Chavey is a music major from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She hopes to pursue journalism when she graduates in 2017.