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/.