Anthropology Faculty Awarded NSF Funding for Research in Vietnam

Meeker_ResearchPhotoLauren Meeker, associate professor of anthropology at SUNY New Paltz, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) award of nearly $47,000 to undertake an ethnographic study of the relationship between social belonging and moral personhood in a rural village community in Vietnam.

Meeker will spend three months abroad during the spring ’16 semester, during which time she will observe and partake in annual village festivals and work alongside Vietnamese practitioners of Buddhist rituals that play an important role in establishing the moral identities of the individual villagers and the society as a whole.

Identity and performance become intertwined in these traditional ceremonies, Meeker explained, because the medium and other participants are often channeling or manifesting the personality of a religious deity or an ancestor.

“The people of this village exist in a number of different religious and moral contexts at the same time, and I want to consider how that manifests in ritual and performance,” Meeker said.

This study will involve not only more common anthropological data collection methods like participant observation and interview, but also Meeker’s own unique use of film to prompt and record interaction with her hosts.

“I see the use of film in two ways,” Meeker said. “First, it’s an ethnographic product that can be used to share the information I gather. But it also has the effect of changing the way I see, experience and tend to what’s going on. It forces a higher degree of ethical engagement and a particular type of relationship with the people I’m trying to learn about.”

Meeker used video in an earlier study of the life and activities of a Vietnamese folk singer. “Singing Sentiment,” the product of that research, was screened at venues including the New York Conference on Asian Studies and the Vietnamese Academy of Social Science.

Meeker makes regular use of these types of fieldwork experiences to illuminate and exemplify lessons in the courses she teaches at New Paltz.

“One of my favorite things about teaching is when you bring back your own material and give that to your students,” Meeker said. “When I taught my Anthropology of Vietnam course, for instance, I was able to do a whole section on religion that they didn’t have any readings on, because it was all based on data I had brought back. I find that the students like that, because it seems real in a way that readings sometimes don’t.”

More information about funding opportunities for faculty research is available through the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Evolutionary Studies Program Hosts Successful Summer Institute

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Eight secondary-education teachers completed the inaugural Evolutionary Studies Summer Institute, held July 20-24 at various locations on the New Paltz campus and Mohonk Preserve. From l-r: Aileen Toback, Maria Bradford, Michael Cooper, Alison Andolina, Elissa Dietrich, Dan Lynn, Dennis Skilla and Monica DeBiase.

The inaugural Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Summer Institute welcomed eight secondary education teachers to the State University of New York at New Paltz from July 20-24 for intensive instruction in evolutionary topics ranging from human origins to art, health and human behavior.

Designed to help teachers master the breadth of content needed to effectively teach evolution in a secondary-education curriculum, the institute featured lectures, a hands-on laboratory experiment, screenings of recorded talks from the EvoS program’s annual lecture series and a nature hike in the Mohonk Preserve.

Participating EvoS faculty members included Glenn Geher, professor of psychology and EvoS director; Aaron Isabelle, professor of childhood and early education; Kenneth Nystrom, associate professor of anthropology; Dr. Spencer Mass, lecturer of biology; Tom Nolen, associate professor of biology; Jeffrey Reinking, associate professor of biology; and Hamilton Stapell, associate professor of history.

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Hamilton Stapell, associate professor of history, talks with Evolutionary Studies Summer Institute participants Michael Cooper, Dennis Skilla and Dan Lynn prior to the awarding of completion certificates at a reception held in Old Main on Thursday, July 23.

Aileen Toback, a seventh-grade life science teacher from Heritage Middle School in Newburgh and a member of the New York State Master Teacher Program cohort administered at New Paltz, praised the interdisciplinary nature of the institute’s format. “One of the most invaluable things I got from this was getting so many different points of view on evolution,” Toback said. “I’ve never had a course that was so diverse in the approach.”

The institute also facilitated a mutually-beneficial dialogue between academics and secondary-education teachers. Toback said the instructors engaged the participants and valued their input. “The professors were passionate, but so wanting us to get out of this program what we needed as educators. That was the best part. It was a discussion and that doesn’t happen often between the college level and secondary education, and it probably should more,” she said.

“Teachers are great students,” added Geher. “It was really, really nice teaching this group.”

Completion of the 34-hour program, or the expanded 45-hour program that included the Friday field trip, qualified participants to obtain up to three 15-hour-based continuing education credits (CEUS). Graduates of the program also received certificates of completion, awarded at a ceremony attended by many of the EvoS instructors.

In the fall, the EvoS board will discuss plans for next year’s summer institute. Geher said he hopes the institute will become a dedicated source of funding for EvoS events, including the spring speaker series, field trips and other activities. Though he reached out to principals in Dutchess and Ulster Counties to promote this summer’s institute, Geher said he will expand his promotional efforts next year in hopes of reaching a broader audience.

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Glenn Geher, EvoS director and professor of psychology, awards Heritage Middle School teacher Aileen Toback a certificate of completion. Toback teaches seventh-grade life science.

Energized by her studies at the institute, Toback said she plans to share resources with her school colleagues and members of the Master Teacher cohort. The biggest takeaway, she said, was “finding a way to incorporate evolution into just about every single topic” she teaches.

“That really is going to make a big difference in terms of my students’ understanding – and not just understanding for the test – but lifelong understanding,” Toback said.

The EvoS Summer Institute was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Honors Program, School of Education and the Mohonk Preserve. Support for the program was provided by EvoS assistants Nicole Wedberg and Meredith Siegel along with Helise Winters, dean of the Office of Extended Learning.

About the EvoS Program

Funded by the National Science Foundation, New Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies Program includes more than 10 Ph.D. faculty who teach dozens of classes related to evolution across the curriculum. The cornerstone of this program is the Evolutionary Studies Seminar, which includes lectures by external speakers with expertise on various aspects of evolutionary scholarship. EvoS courses are drawn from several disciplines, including anthropology, art history, biology, black studies, communication disorders, English, geology, history, physics, and psychology. For more information, visit:

Journalism Alumnus Publishes “The Era of the Clipper Ships,” a History and Tribute to His Own Ancestry

Donald Gunn Ross III ’93 (Journalism) has had an interest in American maritime history since he first learned he was related to naval officers and ship builders dating back to the 18th century. His new book, “The Era of the Clipper Ships,” pays homage to that heritage through meticulous research and through more sentimental touches — the image used for the cover of the book, for instance, is of a painting that once hung on the wall in Ross’s childhood house.

Clipper ShipThe book is the culminating achievement of a project that began more than 20 years ago. Ross had transferred to SUNY New Paltz after two years at Ulster County Community College. “I’d been around here all my life, so it was a perfectly natural transition,” he said. He worked closely with journalism professor emeritus Robert Miraldi and other professors in the journalism department, but never lost his fascination with American history.

Ross traced his own lineage back to Donald McKay, a shipbuilder who by the mid-19th century had earned a reputation for manufacturing the swiftest clipper ships anyone had ever seen.

“There were other good builders, but his ships were famous for being the fastest,” said Ross, noting that McKay’s ships were among the first that could make the journey around Cape Horn in less than 90 days.

Upon graduation Ross began sporadic work on a book considering McKay’s life and the history of the 19th century American merchant marine, and more than two decades later that labor of love has finally made it to publication.

Communication Disorders Alumna Wins Big on “Wheel of Fortune”

When Jenny (Thayer) Riehl ’02 ’04g (Communication Disorders) was a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” last December, she had no idea that she would eventually win $54,505 in cash and prizes on the popular game show.


Jenny (Thayer) Riehl ’02 ’04g

With a combination of positivity, smarts and strategy, the Town of Ulster resident closed out the win with a phrase worth $32,000 in the bonus round. She also walked away with an all-expense-paid trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.

“My first thought was one of being grateful and blessed for the win,” said Riehl. “I hadn’t really thought about the monetary outcome of the game, just solving the puzzles correctly.”

Riehl watched the February broadcast with a private viewing party of close friends and family. The celebration included a cake adorned with a wheel on top, and Riehl surprised her guests by handing out leis after the Hawaii trip was announced.

“It was an amazing night,” she said. “I was actually more nervous that day than I had been to tape the show because that’s when the reality of it all hit me.”

Though she hasn’t decided how to enjoy her windfall, Riehl said she’s already gotten a great deal out of the experience of competing on the game show.

“I feel beyond amazing and wouldn’t have changed a thing,” she said. “I feel most people have dreams that they never fulfill. This experience has taught me to listen to that inner voice more often, try some things that are out of my comfort zone, and not to be intimidated or afraid to fail.”

Riehl, a school speech language pathologist for the Red Hook School District, lives with her husband, A.J., and their rescue dog, Whitney, in Kingston, N.Y. She worked as an adjunct faculty member at SUNY New Paltz until 2011.

Faculty Member’s Study of Social Mobility in Brazil to Receive NSF Funding

Benjamin Junge, associate professor in the departments of anthropology and Latin American and Caribbean studies, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $138,492 to fund a three-year investigation into the effects of a rapid expansion of the Brazilian middle class.

Ben Junge

Benjamin Junge

Beginning this fall, Junge and two co-investigators (Sean Mitchell of Rutgers University and Charles Klein of Portland State University) will be conducting a comparative anthropological study with residents of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife, collecting information about individual Brazilians through methods known as community ethnography and participant observation.

“We’ll be using these classic methods in anthropology, not just observing like a fly on the wall but actually getting involved,” Junge said. “We want to spend time with people and get to know them, to study class mobility from the vantage point of everyday life. This should allow us to answer questions about what the emergence of this middle class means for democracy and citizenship in Brazil.”

The researchers will focus their efforts on specific neighborhoods and take an active role in gathering data, conducting formal household surveys as well as more informal interviews and conversations with participants in an effort to better understand their lifestyles, the challenges they face and the goals that drive them.

The goal of the study is to assess and articulate the political and social identities forming among the nearly 40 million Brazilians who, thanks in large part to the world’s largest state-sponsored conditional cash transfer program, have risen out of poverty over the last 10 to 15 years.

Junge, who will work primarily in the city of Recife, will make multiple trips to Brazil over the course of the project, with the first scheduled for January 2016.

His work will get underway this fall, however, in his “Cultures of Brazil” course, where he and his students will consider how increased access to personal transportation, modern technologies and a wider range of consumer goods are impacting Brazilian ways of life. They will also analyze advertising campaigns, governmental documents, policy reports and other public discourses targeting the growing Brazilian middle class that have appeared in the nation’s media over the last few years.

Junge previously conducted research into Brazilian society in his graduate work at Emory University. This fall, he will assume the directorship of the Latin American & Caribbean Studies program.

More information about funding opportunities for faculty research is available through the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Competitive Poetry Prize Goes to Digital Media & Journalism Professor

The Americana Institute for American Studies and Creative Writing has announced that Howie Good, professor of digital media & journalism at SUNY New Paltz, has been awarded the 2015 Prize Americana for Poetry. The award is given annually to a previously-unpublished, book-length work of original poetry that treats American culture among its subjects.

Howie Good

Howie Good

Good is recognized for his new collection “Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements,” which as the 2015 Prize Americana winner will be published by The Poetry Press in early 2016. The volume finds Good working in a variety of poetic forms, including free verse and prose poetry.

“I’ve been writing poetry for 12 or so years now, and I think over that time my style has evolved,” Good said. “This new collection includes as many different modes of expressing and emotional vocabulary as I feel capable of.”

Good joined the journalism faculty at New Paltz in 1985, when the program was housed within the English department. In the years since he has been a constant and vital presence as what is now known as the digital media and journalism department developed into one of the most modern and active journalism programs in the SUNY system.

Outside the classroom, Good has been a prolific writer. Much of his work in prose deals with topics related to journalism and media ethics, though he has also published on film and the local politics of education.

Good first published a collection of poetry in 2004, and to date he has come out with more than ten. His most recent release is “Dark Specks in the Blue Sky,” out this summer from Another New Calligraphy.

He explained that the gap between his scholarship and his poetic writing is not as wide as it may seem to some of his students, colleagues and readers.

“There’s a long tradition of frequent and, in my opinion, productive interchange between literature and journalism,” Good said. “I teach one class called ‘Literature of Journalism,’ in which I can take a more literary approach to journalistic writing. In other courses, writers who are concerned with conveying information may be presented as distinct from those concerned with storytelling, but in practice these sorts of boundaries are much more porous. Moving back and forth between scholarly and journalistic writing and literary writing seems natural, and I tend to think one enriches the other.”

Good collects web links to some of his recent work on his blog, Apocalypse Mambo.

In Archaeological Field School, Students Discover Underground History of New Paltz

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The SUNY New Paltz Archaeological Field School, under the instruction of Associate Professor of Anthropology Joseph Diamond, has been a summer tradition at New Paltz’s Historic Huguenot Street district for nearly two decades.

On most clear weather days in July, students and community members donning old, dusty clothes, with shovels, brushes and magnifying glasses can be found on sites that afford opportunities to learn more about the European settlers who first came to the area in the 17th century, as well as the American Indian tribes who inhabited the region thousands of years prior to their arrival.

“The most informative way to find out about our ancestors is to investigate the places that they inhabited,” Diamond said. “The artifacts, in conjunction with house patterns, hearths, burials, and midden debris can be analyzed to determine time period, diet, social structure, technology, trade patterns and ultimately, how these elements of prehistoric and historic societies changed over time.”

Diamond, whose archaeological experience dates back more than 40 years, plans his class around lessons in excavation techniques and best practices in classification and analysis. He includes lab sessions that emphasize precision in cleaning, cataloguing and interpreting a day’s findings.

“It’s interesting going from the romantic concept of archaeology to the nitty-gritty, exacting process itself,” said Joe Bacci ’16 (Anthropology).

Many of the class’s man-made findings over the years are identifiable as household items most likely left behind by Huguenot settlers or contemporaneous Lenape tribes such as the Esopus and the Munsee. However, Diamond and his students have found a number of prehistoric pointed spearheads dating back as far as 5000 years, proof that there were people who called New Paltz home long before it bore that name.

Though the search for such a piece may take hours or days, the thrill of discovery motivates these groups of amateur archaeologists to keep working.

“It’s absolutely satisfying to make a find like this,” said Devin King ’15 (Anthropology), shortly after he extracted a shard of incised pottery measuring more than one inch across, which Diamond dated roughly to the early 16th century. “You may dig for a while without finding anything, start to feel your back and your knees hurt, but then you find something and get reinvigorated.”

Diamond has offered the class through New Paltz at Historic Huguenot Street since 1998, working primarily in a field across the street from Dubois Fort. In 2013, he secured permission to dig on the property of the Reformed Church of New Paltz, which itself is part of the history of the district, having been constructed in 1839.

The Archaeological Field School, which is open to all community members, provides a unique experience in practical research to students of anthropology. It also serves as a way for New Paltz residents to have fun learning about the Village’s history. More information is available online.

Evolutionary Studies Program Hosts Summer Institute

The Evolutionary Studies Program at the State University of New York at New Paltz will host a summer institute designed to help current and future teachers master the breadth of content needed to effectively teach evolution in a secondary-education curriculum. The institute will be held from July 20-24 on the New Paltz campus, and includes field trips to area nature sites.

Evolution and its many elements are now included in Common Core standards and are considered essential components of a science curriculum. The institute will provide students with a deep biological understanding of evolution across various disciplines, as well as content specific to the teaching of evolution. Graduates of the institute will be well prepared to teach evolution content in a way that integrates the many issues that surround evolution education.

The 45-hour version of the institute will include eight class periods. Morning and afternoon periods are 3.5 hours and high-impact and relevant films will be screened and discussed during lunch. It also includes an intensive field experience on teaching about evolution in the wilderness. The cost is $450 and includes lunch provided by the institute on four of the five days. Completion of the program leads to three 15-hour Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which are satisfactory for salary advancement in most districts.

The 34-hour institute (leading to two 15-hour CEUs) includes the same periods, but omits the 11-hour Friday field experience. The cost is $400 for four days.

Successful graduates will receive a certificate of completion and have the option to purchase SUNY New Paltz CEUs for $25 per credit.

Although the institute is primarily geared for teachers and/or graduate or undergraduate students who anticipate entering the teaching profession, anyone with a high school degree or equivalent can enroll.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, New Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies program includes more than 10 Ph.D.-level faculty who teach dozens of classes related to evolution across the curriculum. The faculty have published books and articles on evolution topics that have earned national and international acclaim.

For more information on the Evolutionary Studies Institute, click here.

Sociology Professor’s New Book Examines the Organic Farming Movement in the U.S.

Brian Obach, professor of sociology at SUNY New Paltz, has released “Organic Struggle,” a new publication from MIT Press that looks at the past, present and future of the push to develop and institutionalize the practices and principles of sustainable agriculture.

Obach bookThe book draws on Obach’s long-standing interest in environmentally-focused social movements, but in the case of organic farming he said he’s found particular inspiration in the landscape of the Hudson Valley and the passion and innovation of its residents.

“My interest in the sustainable agriculture movement was really first stimulated when I moved to New Paltz,” Obach said. “New Paltz is kind of a hub of activity around this issue, and so I was able to use local examples to illustrate different aspects of the national sustainable agriculture movement.”

In his time as a faculty member with the Department of Sociology, Obach has shared his enthusiasm for environmental issues with New Paltz students and colleagues. He teaches courses on social movements and environmental sociology, regularly takes students on excursions to local farms and helped develop and presently directs the Environmental Studies minor program of study for students pursuing environmentally-focused careers.

Brian Obach

Brian Obach

Even in researching for this book, Obach found ways to integrate the collective talents of the College community. He enlisted a small group of student interns to help with research, and also worked with KT Tobin, associate director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO), to study local community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

Many of the book’s findings, however, are culled from Obach’s direct immersion into the organic farming movement. He met with farmers and advocates, participated in conferences and attended political meetings and workshops.

“I really feel like I got to know the inside story of organic politics: how policy gets made, and the strengths and weaknesses of the approach used by the movement,” he said.

The experience ultimately led Obach to conclude that while organic farmers, food sellers and advocates have made meaningful accomplishments in recent decades, future advances will only be achieved via a coordinated effort to change agricultural rules and regulations.

“It was crucially important to develop an alternative to conventional agriculture, and the movement has succeeded in perfecting organic farming techniques and proving they can work,” Obach said. “What needs to happen now is for the people involved to focus on enacting policy changes that will affect the agricultural industry as a whole.”

More information about “Organic Struggle” by Brian Obach is available at the website of MIT Press.

For students who are interested in getting involved with sustainable agriculture in the Hudson Valley, Obach recommends learning more about the Environmental Studies minor or joining Students for Sustainable Agriculture, a student organization that works to promote food production systems that are healthy for consumers, farmworkers and the environment.

History Department Awards 2014-15 Best Seminar Paper

The History Department has awarded its second annual Best Seminar Paper award to Jonathan Mandia for his essay on the production and reception of an Egyptian travelogue written by Vivant Denon, a multitalented artist, engraver, and diplomat, during the failed Egyptian Campaign of the French Revolution.

Jonathan Mandia - History seminar

Jonathan Mandia

Mandia graduated in December 2014 with dual degrees in history and philosophy. He wrote the essay during the “Eighteenth-Century Travel” senior seminar taught by Associate Professor Heather Morrison. Faculty members who taught the history senior seminars, which also included “Republican Rome,” “Degeneration, Health and Modernity,” “Colonial Anglo-America” and “Race and Ethnicity in the United States,” selected outstanding papers, which were then considered by a prize committee.

Andy Evans, who chaired the department last year, said committee members praised the “clarity of the argument, the crispness of the writing, and the range of sources” employed in Mandia’s essay, entitled “Documenting Egypt, Reflecting Europe: Vivant Denon and the Representations of his Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt for the First French Republic.” Mandia received a small monetary award.

In the senior seminar, Mandia examined images of paintings and artifacts and analyzed the medium of travelogues as primary source materials. Mandia said discovering an 1804 edition of Denon’s travelogue in the Sojourner Truth Library allowed him the opportunity to explore two aspects of the seminar that he especially enjoyed.

Personally appointed by Napoleon Bonaparte, Denon was 51 when he embarked on the Egyptian Campaign in 1798. He catalogued Egypt’s artifacts, people, monuments and landscapes through written descriptions and elaborate sketches that were compiled into a two-volume travelogue entitled Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, published shortly after his return to France in 1802.

In his essay, Mandia argued that Denon’s descriptions and images of a “foreign and mysterious Egypt reflected deep-seated European cultural values of the enlightenment.” The essay considers the influence on Denon’s work of the pseudo-science of physiognomy, which uses outward facial traits to deduce a person’s temperament or morality.

Mandia learned of the physiognomy movement, which was popularized in the eighteenth century by Johann Kasper Lavater, in a discussion with Morrison about Denon’s use of the word physiognomy in his travelogue. Mandia researched the eighteenth century salons of the enlightenment to better understand how the spaces Denon frequented influenced his descriptions of Egyptian people and culture.

“I found that Denon’s experiences as a noble, courtier, diplomat, artist, and writer…positioned him physically and intellectually to provide an interpretation of a foreign and unfamiliar Egypt that a European reader could understand, accept, and culturally consume,” said Mandia. “As an accomplished conversationalist, which was valued in his experiences at court and salons, Denon had a knack for engaging his audience, which shows in his writing and explains the influence of his travelogue.”

Mandia recently moved to Hawaii and plans to pursue graduate work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the future, studying history or secondary education.