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: http://www.newpaltz.edu/evos/.

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.

The Evolution and Art Interface: New Paltz Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Darwin Day

Humans around the world create visual art, music and dance. None of these activities are particularly helpful at facilitating survival. How did these features come to so strongly embed into our species? Why are humans “artistic apes?”

The New Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program will explore these questions during its 10th Annual Celebration of Darwin Day – a day dedicated to celebrating the advances in our understanding of life that have followed from Charles Darwin’s work.

The event will be held on Thursday, February 12 (what would have been Darwin’s 206th birthday) from 5-8 p.m. in Lecture Center room 108.

Gabrielle Starr

Keynote speaker Dr. Gabrielle Starr (New York University) explores the connection between evolution and the arts.

Dr. Gabrielle Starr (New York University), author of Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience, will deliver the keynote address. Starr is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at NYU and her work focuses on a scientific/evolutionist account of the arts.

A panel composed of local scholars with interests in the evolution and art interface will follow the keynote address. Panelists include EvoS scholars Glenn Geher (Psychology), Andrew Higgins (English), Paul Kassel (Theatre Arts) and Andrea Varga (Theatre Arts).

The public is invited to attend the talk and free reception.

The event is sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs, Evolutionary Studies Program and School of Fine and Performing Arts.

For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.

Off-Broadway ‘The Rap Guide to Religion’ Comes to New Paltz

religion-web-04The New Paltz Evolutionary Studies Program (EvoS) is pleased to host a free performance by renowned performance artist and rapper Baba Brinkman on Tuesday, Nov. 4 from 5:30-7 p.m. in Lecture Center 102. Brinkman will perform his new off-broadway show, The Rap Guide to Religion, which explores the nature of religion from a largely scientific perspective.

The Rap Guide to Religion is a new species of theatre, part hip-hop concert, part stand-up comedy, and part TED Talk, exploring one of the most heated questions of our age: what’s the point of religion? Taking a scientific approach to the question, Brinkman, a Canadian hip-hop artist, performs faith-illuminating songs inspired by the best of evolutionary and cognitive science, with examples from his own family history. (Brinkman’s ultra-religious great-great-great-grandfather sired more than 8,000 descendants). Fresh from a 5-star run at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this groundbreaking new work explores the various ways and means by which religion evolves in our species, leaving audiences with a new appreciation of religion, and its critics.

Seats for the off-broadway version of this show at the SoHo Playhouse normally go for $45 each. Don’t miss this chance to watch the performance for free at New Paltz.

View the Facebook event page.

EvoS Program Announces Spring Seminar Series

The New Paltz Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program has assembled an esteemed group of speakers for its spring 2015 seminar series. The speakers represent a diversity of disciplines (anthropology, biology, sociology and psychology) and will continue the EvoS program’s tradition of providing accessible and thought-provoking academic talks that connect evolutionary principles with all areas of knowledge.

The EvoS program, together with its sister program from SUNY Binghamton, is at the center of the international EvoS Consortium, which was launched with funding from the National Science Foundation. The EvoS program celebrates the power of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution across all aspects of the academic curriculum.

Patricia Wright of Stonybrook’s anthropology department will deliver the Darwin Day keynote lecture on Feb. 9 from 6-7 p.m. in Lecture Center 102. Darwin Day commemorates Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday. Wright will speak about her years of work with Madagascar lemurs (currently featured in the IMax film, Island of Lemurs, narrated by Morgan Freeman).

Patricia Wright

Patricia Wright, shouldering a lemur, will deliver the keynote lecture in the EvoS Program’s spring seminar series. Photo by Ben Hider

The full series, which features other luminaries in the field of evolution – including notable rising stars, is free and open to the public.

The series is sponsored by Campus Auxiliary Services, the EvoS Program and the EvoS Club.

For more information about this seminar series, or how to get involved, contact EvoS Director, Glenn Geher, geherg@newpaltz.edu.

2015 Seminar Series Schedule of Events

Feb. 9:  Lemur Evolution and Ecology
Patricia Wright, Ph.D.
Stony Brook University
Department of Anthropology
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: Lecture Center 102

Feb. 23: Songs and the Suburbs: What Birds Can Teach Us About Communication and Conservation
Kara Belinsky, Ph.D.
SUNY New Paltz
Department of Biology
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: Lecture Center 102

Mar. 9: Using Evolution to Improve our Cities
Dan O’Brien, Ph.D.
Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Department of Sociology
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: Lecture Center 102

Mar. 23: Primate Evolution in the Modern Age
Todd Disotell, Ph.D.
New York University
Department of Anthropology
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: Lecture Center 102

Apr. 6: Facebook Frenemies and Selfie-Promotion: Intrasexual Competition in the Digital Age
Mandy Guitar, M.A.
Binghamton University Ph.D. student and Teaching Assistant
Department of Biology, Anthropology
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: Lecture Center 102

Apr. 13: Transcendental Medication: Defraying the Costs of Analysis Paralysis
Christopher Lynn, Ph.D.
The University of Alabama
Department of Anthropology
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: Lecture Center 102

Apr. 20: The Evolutionary Psychology of Breaking up and Making up
Joel Wade, Ph.D.
Bucknell University
Department of Psychology
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: Lecture Center 102

Evolutionary Studies Program Hosts Hike

West Trapps Trailhead

West Trapps Trailhead

In conjunction with the campus’ celebration of the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary, the Evolutionary Studies program will host a hike up the Millbrook Ridge Trail in the Shawangunk mountains on Tuesday, September 16 from 4-6:30 p.m.

This hike will be free for members of the SUNY New Paltz community. Carloads will meet at the West Trapps Trailhead at 4 p.m. This is a moderate rock scramble with amazing views. Remember to wear good shoes and bring water.

Directions to the trailhead can be found here.

To sign up, please contact EvoS Assistant Nicole Wedberg at wedbergn1@hawkmail.newpaltz.edu. Spaces are limited. Please indicate in your reservation whether you will be driving your car.

Also, please note that LAS is sponsoring a talk immediately after this hike by renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben. His talk will take place in Lecture Center 100 at 7 p.m.  Hike coordinators will make sure that participants are off the mountain in time for this major event.

Visit the Facebook site for the EvoS hike.

Psychology Professor Joins Unique Gathering for a Discussion of Love and Dating

By Despina Williams Parker

A New Paltz psychology professor, a research scientist and an online dating guru walk into a bar. What follows will likely prove to be a fun, stimulating exchange on love and relationships.

The eleventh gathering of the Empiricist League, which “brings together people from Empiricist Leaguescientific backgrounds for the purpose of communicating the power of the scientific method,” will be held Aug. 19 at Union Hall, located at 702 Union Street in Brooklyn. Union Hall is a 5,000 square foot restaurant, bar and live music venue. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and the first speaker begins at 8 p.m.

Department of Psychology Professor and Chair Glenn Geher joins Dr. Bianca Acevedo, a research scientist at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Christian Rudder, one of the founders of the online dating service OKCupid, for a contemporary look at evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and data analysis.

The Empiricist League welcomes “writers, filmmakers, and oddballs,” and Geher extends a special invitation to New Paltz students and alumni.

“A student who attends will hopefully learn a bit about the ultimate factors that underlie dating and mate selection – and given the venue, they would have an opportunity to see that the discussion of intellectual ideas can be downright fun and exciting,” said Geher.

Geher’s talk, entitled, “Mating Intelligence: Evolutionary Psychology’s Advice for the Lovelorn,” will offer an evolutionary perspective on human mating systems, with a focus on what factors led to monogamy-like systems in our species. Geher, who directs the Evolutionary Studies program at New Paltz, will discuss how we can best understand the concept of love from an evolutionary perspective.

Geher’s peers will approach love from other interesting angles. Dr. Acevedo will deliver a talk entitled, “Sex on the Brain: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us about Love, Lust and Marriage,” and Rudder will explore what data reveals about the habits and desires of online daters. He will explain how data scientists can reveal, with “unprecedented precision how we fight, how we age, how we love, and how we change.”

For more event information, click here.

From New Paltz to Japan to England: Alum Pursues Advanced Studies Abroad

William Borchert

William Borchert

William Borchert ’10 lived locally when he was an undergraduate at New Paltz, commuting from his hometown of nearby Marlboro. But for his graduate studies, Borchert decided it was time to conquer some other continents.

After graduating from New Paltz in three years with three majors (biology, history, Asian studies) and three minors (business administration, evolutionary studies, and religious studies), Borchert attended Meiji University in Tokyo to study the Japanese government’s response to pandemic influenza. From there, he went to the University of Tokyo, where he wrote a thesis comparing the effectiveness of treatments for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and earned his master’s degree in international health. The next leg of his journey will take place at England’s Cambridge University, where Borchert is pursuing a Ph.D. in public health.

“I knew I wanted to study medicine in the future, so I didn’t change my majors – I just added them,” says Borchert. “When I graduated, I was a little bit more on the social science side as opposed to the biological science side. Science should never take a backseat, but I realized that medicine is not only science alone. Medicine is also an art.”

He adds, “I’m glad I have that background. It was a good preparation.”

Borchert already had some history with Tokyo, as he studied abroad at Sophia University while he was attending New Paltz. He also worked for the Center for International Programs as an undergrad.

Aside from his Japanese language abilities, Borchert says the skills he gained from his professors and from working in the International Office have gone a long way in his post-New Paltz endeavors. He says he always makes a point to visit his biology professors whenever he’s stateside, and lists biology Professor Jeffrey Reinking and psychology Professor Glenn Geher among those who particularly influenced him.

“Behold the power of SUNY,” says Borchert, who graduated from New Paltz debt-free thanks to federal grants and staying close to home. “I’m very glad I went to a SUNY.”

New Paltz Alumna Brought Enthusiasm for Evolutionary Psychology to EvoS Program

Briana Tauber

Briana Tauber

By Despina Williams Parker

Recent graduate Briana Tauber (Psychology, ‘14g) was a very visible and active contributor to New Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program.

The interdisciplinary program introduces students from a variety of disciplines to the core ideas of evolutionary theory. EvoS offerings include courses in anthropology, art history, biology, black studies, communication disorders, English, geology, history, physics and psychology.

Tauber said she was drawn to the EvoS program after taking Psychology Professor Glenn Geher’s Evolutionary Studies course her junior year. Rooted in evolutionary psychology, the course examined the evolutionary origins of human behaviors. “I really loved the material and I wanted to get involved,” said Tauber.

As an undergraduate, Tauber worked as a research assistant in Geher’s Evolutionary Studies lab. During her graduate studies, she continued to contribute to the EvoS program, both as a teaching assistant and president of the campus EvoS Club.

This spring, Tauber took a lead role in organizing the ninth annual Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS) conference, held at New Paltz from April 10-13. Tauber organized student volunteers, tracked registrations and juggled a variety of conference tasks. The approximately 200 participants came from five continents, and participated in a variety of lectures, book signings and other events at the Terrace and Lecture Center.

EP lab at NEEPS 2014

Tauber (second row from back, second from right), joins Psychology Professor Glenn Geher (front row, left), and fellow EvoS enthusiasts at the Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society conference in April.

Tauber’s work as the EvoS Club president also garnered the attention of the campus’s Student Association. Tauber accepted the club’s Outstanding Scholarship Award during a ceremony on April 30 in the Student Union Building. The award recognized the club’s efforts in connecting students to distinguished, evolutionary studies speakers.

Tauber’s work in evolutionary psychology culminated with a master’s thesis on the subject of deception detection and trust in mating behaviors. Tauber drew from Geher’s book, Mating Intelligence Unleashed, which she helped edit, in developing her research. Tauber was intrigued by the gaps in the scholarship on how people choose mates, and particularly, their ability to spot the liars from the earnest suitors.

“It’s really relevant now because you have all of this online dating,” Tauber noted. “People fall in love online and they’ve never met this person face to face, and it’s not the person they thought it was.”

Tauber used the online survey generator Survey Monkey to poll over 300 participants on their romantic experiences. Her research revealed several interesting findings. Extroverts proved better at detecting deception than introverts, which Tauber believes speaks to extroverts’ greater experience interacting with people in general, (and presumably, with a greater number of liars.) Women who were more promiscuous were also less trusting of their mates.

Though Tauber graduated this May, she maintains close ties to her psychology mentors. She is slated to co-edit, with Geher and other scholars, a book tentatively titled The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Studies. The book will examine the interdisciplinary nature of evolutionary studies and explore its future in higher education.

Tauber said the opportunities for student/faculty collaborations were among the highlights of her time at New Paltz. She will miss the daily interaction with her psychology professors and peers.

“I’ve spent a quarter of my life here. It’s sad to leave,” she said.

Evolutionary Studies Program Hosts Talk on Primate Sexuality

chacma-baboonNew Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies program will host its last event of the year, a talk on primate sexual behavior, on April 21, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. in Lecture Center room 102.

Dr. Craig Bielert, a psychologist and anthropologist at Oneanta, will deliver a lecture entitled, “Primate Sexual Behavior – Confirmations, Continuums, and Cautions,” which will highlight his experimental work with chacma baboons (Papio ursinus). Extensions into work with humans presented with a rare intersex condition will also be described. Dr. Bielert will also discuss the ways in which societal pressures have impacted the research efforts in this topic in both historic and contemporary times.  The lecture is free and open to the public.  A reception will follow after the talk.

The event is sponsored by the EvoS Program, EvoS Club, Student Association, Campus Auxiliary Services and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  For more information, contact Briana Tauber at btauber25@hawkmail.newpaltz.edu.