While most people avoid thinking about creepy crawly things, rooting out cockroaches brings a smile to Dini Miller’s face.

Miller, urban pest management specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the first recipient of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes Hero award. The award is presented from the office of lead hazard control and healthy homes as part of a campaign to discuss healthy homes concepts and offer free resources in the HUD community during June, which was designated as National Healthy Homes Month.

“I get to work with insects that everybody hates,” Miller said. “Because HUD has given me this award, I would hope that I might have an opportunity to talk with HUD Secretary Ben Carson and have a better chance of getting him interested in this.”

Miller works to rid public housing units of persistent pest infestations, from both cockroaches and bed bugs. She also focuses on reducing the allergens in their living environments that result from these pests. 

Much of her work has centered on the German cockroach; she is working on a monitoring method to determine how many bugs are in a location to better treat and remove the insects. Her findings? It takes more time and money on the front end to help solve this pest problem, with a greater reward – and fewer cockroaches – in the end.

“We can totally do better and I’ve got the data to support it,” Miller said.

The next step is to eradicate the problem in urban housing developments. Miller is working to develop a new set of standards and a checklist for pest control contracts at HUD apartment complexes so that pest control is more complete. She anticipates that 90 percent of the German cockroach population in urban developments could be eradicated using an assessment-based program.

“I’ve had the luxury during 18 years at Virginia Tech to put the pieces together and see the problem,” Miller said.

The Healthy Homes Hero award is a building block in this process and Miller notes that she would love to take Carson out to bait German cockroaches en route to solving this urban home health crisis. 

“The No. 1 thing I want to do is solve this problem,” Miller said, “because we can.”

Miller is also a world-renowned leader in another household crawling nuisance — bed bugs.

Miller received her undergraduate degree from UCLA in 1991 where she majored in geography/ecosystems. She completed her masters and Ph.D. degrees in urban entomology studying the German cockroach. She has won numerous awards for her work in urban entomology, including the pest control industry’s Crown Leadership Award, the Entomological Society of America’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension, the Gamma Sigma Delta Award of Merit in Extension, and the 2012 Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Excellence in Extension.