Entomologist Michael Hoffmann: Our Distinguished Alumnus

Congratulations to noted entomologist Michael Hoffmann, an emeritus professor at Cornell University, for his selection as the 2020 Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumnus Award, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Hoffmann, who is known for his advocacy of climate change literacy, leadership activities and biological control projects, received his doctorate in entomology from our department in 1990, studying with Professor Ted Wilson and later Professor Frank Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist and a past president of the Entomological Society of America.

Hoffmann will present the Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar on “Our Changing Menu--What Climate Change Means to the Foods We Love and Need,” the title of his upcoming book. The date is pending.

Prior to his retirement, Hoffmann served as executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions for several years. He continues to provides visionary leadership, communicates to a wide range of audiences the challenges and opportunities that come with a changing climate, and builds partnerships among public and private organizations.

Hoffmann co-chairs the President's Sustainable Campus Committee and helps lead a climate change literacy initiative for students, staff, and faculty. He dedicates his time toward what he calls “the grand challenge of climate change and (to) help people understand and appreciate what is happening through food.” Effectively communicating about climate change, Hoffmann presented a TEDX talk in 2014 on “Climate Change: It's Time to Raise Our Voices” that drew widespread attention.

Wrote one supporter on YouTube: "The most important thing we can do is "raise our voices"!  Thanks for an informative and inspiring talk about the consequences of climate change and why this is the time for action."

A native of Wisconsin, Hoffmann holds a bachelor of science degree (1975) from the University of Wisconsin, and his master's degree from the University of Arizona (1978). He served with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam from 1967 to 1971, attaining the rank of sergeant.

Hoffmann remembers well his experiences at UC Davis. “I was privileged to work with many dedicated faculty in entomology and several other departments.”

After receiving his doctorate at UC Davis, Hoffmann joined the faculty of Cornell in 1990 as an assistant professor, with 60 percent Extension and 40 percent research duties, and advanced to associate professor in 1996, and professor in 2003. His academic career focused on administrative endeavors (80 percent) beginning in 1999.

Hoffmann's career at Cornell included serving as associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, associate director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, and director of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. He helped initiate a leadership and professional development week-long program that benefited more than 400 faculty at Cornell and beyond.

Prior to his administrative duties, he worked to develop and implement cost-effective and environmentally sensitive tactics for management of insect pests.  He emphasized biological control, development and application of insect behavior modifying chemicals, and novel control tactics, all in an integrated pest management (IPM) context. Much of his research and Extension programming was multi-state and multidisciplinary in nature. 

Among his entomological achievements, he

  • Developed unique, cost-effective and environmentally benign biological control tactics for insect pests of sweet corn, peppers and potatoes, and presented wide scale demonstrations on conventional and organic farms in New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Canada.
  • Published the first popular guide to beneficial insects (64 pages, with more than 5,000 copies distributed)
  • Developed patented unique fiber barrier technology for pest control

Highly honored for his expertise, Hoffmann was selected the recipient of the Experiment Station Section Award for Excellence in Leadership in 2015. He won an Entomological Foundational Professional award for Excellence in Integrated Pest management, Entomological Society of America, Eastern Branch, in 2006. He created a one-of-a-kind culture of sustainability at the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station focused on reducing the carbon footprints and costs, and ensuring staff well-being. He helped initiate a leadership and professional development week-long program that has benefited more than 400 faculty at Cornell and beyond.

Hoffmann authored more than 100 refereed publications, mostly related to entomology.

The Leigh seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993), an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production. During his 37-year UC Davis career, Leigh was based at the Shafter Research and Extension Center, also known as the U.S. Cotton Research Station. He researched pest and beneficial arthropod management in cotton fields, and host plant resistance in cotton to insects, mites, nematodes and diseases. In his memory, his family and associates set up the Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar Entomology Fund at the UC Davis Department of Entomology. When his wife, Nina, passed in 2002, the alumni seminar became known as the Thomas and Nina Distinguished Alumni Seminar.

Leigh joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 1958, retiring in 1991 as an emeritus professor, but he continued to remain active in his research and collaboration until his death on Oct. 26, 1993.  The Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America awarded him the C. F. Woodworth Award for outstanding service to entomology in 1991.