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:

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).

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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,

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