Darwin’s Bridges of 2011: New Paltz’s EvoS Seminar Series Continues

Darwin’s Bridges of 2011: New Paltz’s EvoS Seminar Series Continues

February 7, 2011 will mark the kickoff to SUNY New Paltz’s fourth annual Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Seminar Series. Can.you.believe.it? Since the first talk in our 2008 series, given by renowned evolutionary anthropologist Lionel Tiger (our campus is still abuzz over this one!), we’ve hosted nearly 30 speakers in our EvoS Seminar series. We’ve hosted world-renowned geologists, such as Warren Allmon, Niles Eldredge, and Carlton Brett. World-class evolutionary biologists, such as Lee Dugatkin, Aaron Haselton, John Long, Margaret Ronsheim, and Marlene Zuk have visited our campus. Evolutionists who hail from the Humanities – such as Eugene Heath and David Livingstone Smith, have enticed our community with applications of evolutionary principles organized to help us better understand the human element. Anthropologists – scientists who study the nature of humanity itself – including Justin Garcia and Richard Wrangham – have caught the wave. And I’m thrilled to say that world-class evolutionary psychologists have visited New Paltz just to share their thoughts with our community. These scholars have included Maryanne Fisher, Susan Hughes, Scott Barry Kaufman, and David Schmitt. Gordon Gallup’s talk on the evolutionary biology of physical attractiveness packed the house in New Paltz’s largest lecture hall, LC 100. And Becky Burch’s talk that explained human seminal fluid from an evolutionary perspective is still etched in the memories of the hundreds lucky enough to be in attendance. And, of course, the inspiration for the current national trend in developing EvoS programs, David Sloan Wilson, has showed up with a smile and a laser pointer on a few occasions as well.

Each Spring, this lecture series, which includes about 6-10 speakers, dovetails with a course in the undergraduate curriculum at New Paltz – EVO 301; Evolutionary Studies Seminar. This writing-intensive course – which serves as a requirement for our 18-credit EvoS minor – is offered in four small sections (of 20 students) – each led by an instructor who (a) teaches students in that section the basics of evolutionary theory, (b) helps the students digest primary readings written by that semester’s visiting scholars, and (c) provides guidance for each student as he or she works to develop a paper that connects evolutionary principles to an area of his or her own particular interest. The course provides a balance between small class meetings with exceptional instructors and large public meetings, featuring some of the world’s leading scholars in the field of evolution.

Last spring, students in my section pushed the envelope of interdisciplinarity wildly, writing papers on such diverse topics as:

– Marriage trends in modern Japan
– The evolutionary origins of human brain lateralization
– The evolutionary origins of theatre
– The technical evolution of file-sharing processes vis a vis modern computer technology
– Evolution and “speculative biology” (i.e., how evolution can help us understand what aliens might be like)
… and more!

Students in this course eat it up. I’ve taught college since 1994 – and I can say very confidently that there is no course I’m aware of that facilitates intrinsic motivation as much as EVO 301. Multiple students from this course have gone on to have their work published in EvoS Journal – a peer-reviewed academic journal created as part of our recent grant from the National Science Foundation – designed partly as an outlet for the best undergraduate work related to evolution found across the globe.

Yes, if you’re a student in EVO 301 and you ultimately publish your work from this course in EvoS Journal, this will help you with your resume and your graduate school applications. But, seriously, that’s just a detail. If your work from this course is good enough to publish in EvoS Journal, then you’ve created a product that contributes significant new knowledge to our understanding of the world. I’d say that matters a tad more!

As the Director of EvoS New Paltz, I’m pleased to say that the 2011 EvoS Seminar Series promises to be as great and diverse as ever. In addition to a State of the EvoS Program report that we’ll give for Darwin Day on February 7, this upcoming series will see the inaugural symposium of the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society (AEPS) – featuring such stars as Alice Andrews, Nick Armenti, Nando Pelusi and Jerome Wakefield.

In addition, the full seminar series will see extraordinary diversity in topic and disciplinary background – from Chris Reiber, a medical anthropologist from Binghamton who’ll speak on evolution and women’s health, to Jeff Reinking, a biologist at New Paltz who is expert in describing evolution in terms of RNA – nature’s building blocks, to James Prosek, award-winning author whose nature writing captures the essence of the evolution of life as well as anyone.

And yes, the rumors are true: Albany’s Gordon Gallup will publicly unveil his theory of how principles from evolutionary psychology may hold the key to our understanding of the extinction of dinosaurs.

And yes, the talks, given within the confines of the EVO 301 class (late Monday afternoons) are free and open to the public (sponsored this year by College Auxiliary Services and the School of Science and Engineering). And free food tends to follow. The full schedule is found at www.newpaltz.edu/EvoS.

Student at New Paltz? Don’t graduate without taking this course – seriously.

And yes, in case you can’t tell, I’m pleased to say that Darwin’s bridges continue to be built on the campus of SUNY New Paltz.

Glenn Geher

About Glenn Geher

Glenn Geher is professor and chair of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. In addition to teaching courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and conducting research in various areas related to evolutionary psychology, Glenn directs the campus’ EvoS program, one of the most successful, noteworthy, and vibrant features of a campus that prides itself (rightfully) on academic vibrance. In Building Darwin’s Bridges, Glenn addresses the details of New Paltz’s EvoS program as well as issues tied to the future of evolutionary studies in the rocky and often unpredictable landscape of higher education.
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