The following is the official introduction in the program booklet for the EvoS Summit – coming soon!
On behalf of the Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Consortium and the EvoS program at SUNY New Paltz, welcome to the EvoS Summit! Since first being implemented at Binghamton University nearly a decade ago – per the inspiration and guidance of David Sloan Wilson – the idea of evolution as an integrating theme in a university curriculum has caught on, paying extraordinary educational dividends.
As David points out in his now-classic Evolution for Everyone (2007), the core principles of evolutionary theory, focusing on issues of variation and differential selection, provide an extraordinary lens through which we can understand phenomena across all areas of an academic curriculum. From anthropology to computer engineering to geology to political science to psychology – and, of course, to biology – and more – Darwin’s big idea has the capacity to provide a transformative educational experience for both students and faculty.
In 2007, the nation’s second undergraduate EvoS program started here at New Paltz. A strong and diverse group of faculty on campus shaped the nature of our program and, working closely with the administration, the program has steadily grown in enrollments and scope. Over the years, our program has become a central part of New Paltz’s intellectual community. The cornerstone of this program is the EvoS Seminar Series (modeled after a similar series at Binghamton) which has hosted some of the most important minds on the topic of evolution across a wide range of topics. Speakers in our series have included Niles Eldredge, Robb Wolf, Richard Wrangham, Marlene Zuk, and many more.
In 2008, the National Science Foundation agreed that EvoS is a landmark educational event. The NSF awarded a $500,000 grant to Binghamton and New Paltz to expand EvoS across the landscape of higher education. With key figures including David Sloan Wilson along with Jennifer Waldo, Rosemarie Sokol Chang, and myself, this grant led to (a) the creation of evostudies.org – a comprehensive website dedicated to facilitating evolution’s role in higher education, (b) the addition of eight courses to the SUNY New Paltz undergraduate curriculum, (c) the support of several seed grants to benefit the creation of EvoS programs at many other institutions (such as Albright College and the University of Alabama), (d) the launching of the peer-reviewed EvoS Journal, dedicated to issues that are relevant to evolution in higher education and to publishing high-quality undergraduate work related to evolution, (e) the development of an online database of EvoS-related talks, (f) the support of several undergraduate research projects related to evolution, and (g) lots more!
Since then, EvoS has expanded to a full international consortium, including membership by more than 40 colleges and universities that represent multiple educational levels and multiple nations. And we have joined forces with the formidable program at Stony Brook which, under the leadership of Paul Bingham and Joanne Souza, offers the Biology of Being Human to hundreds of undergraduate students each year – at Stony Brook and beyond.
Current EvoS initiatives include work on multiple new grant proposals to bolster our programs and expand the reach of EvoS to help make an EvoS education accessible to more students across the globe. We also are in discussions of proposing a SUNY-Wide EvoS curriculum, which has potential to serve as the deepest, broadest, and most diverse undergraduate education in evolution that the world has ever seen. And more.
To this point, Darwin’s big idea has only been partially realized across the academic archipelago. The Summit is dedicated to helping scholars and students in this area (a) take stock of the current state of affairs regarding evolutionary studies in higher education and (b) connect with others who share different aspects of the vision of EvoS as we move forward in shaping the future of evolution’s place in higher education. The presentations at the Summit are designed to provide a sense of what an interdisciplinary evolution education has to offer (thanks Gordon Gallup of Albany!), where EvoS is heading in the future, and more.
With strong and constant resistance from various political fronts, the future of EvoS is unclear. The burden of fostering Darwin’s big idea across the islands of the ivory archipelago is on the shoulders of you and me. Working together, with shared vision and purpose, we can help shape this future to the benefit of students for decades to come. And that means shaping the future of education to help our descendants have a more complete understanding of the world and everything in it.
Welcome to New Paltz.
Glenn Geher, Director of EvoS, SUNY New Paltz