Two flagship universities, rooted in tradition, adored by students and alumni, fanatical when it comes to football – Texas A&M University and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) share these distinctions as well as one more: the presence of Micky Eubanks, a guy who really likes bugs.
When the Aggies take on the Rebels of Ole Miss, Eubanks, professor of entomology at Texas A&M since 2007, “will be a little happy and a little sad with either outcome,” he says – a cop-out, admittedly – but when you like both schools, it’s tough just to root for one.
Eubanks graduated from Ole Miss with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, and taught for more than eight years at Auburn University before coming to Texas A&M. He had earned his Ph.D. in entomology at the University of Maryland, “my only deviation from the SEC,” he laughs, “I’m an SEC guy.”
Originally from Laurel, Mississippi, a piney-woods town with a population less than 20,000 and the first in his family to attend college, Eubanks says his acceptance into Ole Miss was a huge thrill. “I came from a high school where maybe only five percent went straight to a four-year college,” he recalls, “so it was a big deal. It was four hours away from home – that’s about as far as you can get in Mississippi. Ole Miss really tried to recruit the top high school students and they sent a recruiter to pick me up in a university van to take me there. It was really exciting.”
Eubanks has fond memories of his days at Ole Miss, including the school’s famed tailgating area, The Grove. “When I was there as an undergrad, from ’85 to ’89, the guys wore suits and ties to the games, and the girls would wear dresses,” he explains. “They did some really posh tailgating, with champagne on ice in big, silver urns. It wasn’t your typical tailgating. It was really fun when the football team would walk through The Grove before the game. Texas A&M has wonderful traditions, too and when you’re a student, those traditions are so special.”
It was while attending Ole Miss, after one class in particular, that Eubanks decided he would focus his interest in biology toward the world of insects. “The only biologists I ever met were schoolteachers, pharmacists and medical doctors, so when I got to Ole Miss, I was pre-this and pre-that – pre-med, pre-pharmacy – but I wasn’t as excited about these careers as some of the other kids,” he remembers. “Then I took a required ecology course and the subject just blew me away. This was interaction between species, predation and anti-predator behavior. This was the biology I wanted to do.”
He says that one ecology class brought him out of his shell. “I was one of those anonymous kids that was quiet and I was very shy about talking to the faculty,” he explains. “But after that class, I started interacting with faculty and asking questions. I met a young assistant professor and he had two projects going on: one was looking at the diets of tiny fish and the other was sexual selection and mate choice in wolf spiders. Sexual selection, well that was the more interesting one for me as a 20-year old male!”
After earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees, he took his fascination with bugs with him to Auburn University where he taught subjects such as insect ecology and general entomology. Texas A&M entered the picture when then President Robert Gates “garnered a lot of attention across the country and around the world with Vision 2020,” recalls Eubanks. “With the expansion of the faculty and the new facilities – people really took notice. They had a strong, established faculty and they were hiring exciting younger faculty. I was looking for an intellectually stimulating, dynamic place and A&M jumped out as the place I wanted to be.”
Eubanks says he loves sharing the biology of insects with his Aggie students. “In my general entomology class, I love to point out the behaviors of insects compared to humans. We may think we’re the most social creatures in the world, but we’re not; ants are much more social. And we’re not the only ones that give gifts during courtship. Some flies give females a nuptial gift that is basically a spitball, so whoever has the biggest spitball, he gets the girl. I joke in my class and relate that to the giving of engagement rings, which are just shiny rocks dug up from the ground. We’re not that different really.”
His love of teaching at Texas A&M is rooted in the people, says Eubanks. “I like that there is this incredible core faculty so that if you’re doing something in your research that’s far removed from your own expertise, there is someone here, someone world-class in the field no matter what it is, that will help you. The staff is great and I really enjoy the students, they are down to Earth and they are fanatics about this school.”
And it’s all in the family for Eubanks as is wife Jeannine is also a Texas A&M employee, working as a part-time research assistant in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.