Engaged Learning announces 2012-13 Unbridled student projects

SMU students pursuing 2012-13 Unbridled Projects through the Office of Engaged Learning
Thirty-seven SMU students – some of them pictured here – will pursue 2012-13 Unbridled Projects through the University's Office of Engaged Learning. Photo credit: Hillsman S. Jackson.

In the coming academic year, 37 SMU students from throughout the University will take on special projects of their own design in research, civic engagement, creative work and internships.

They are all part of the 2012-13 Unbridled Project, part of the SMU Engaged Learning initiative. Of the 37 participating students, 32 requested and received grants to complete their projects.

Visit SMU’s Engaged Learning homepage

Three students conducted Unbridled Projects during the program’s first year in 2011-12. The new group represents a more than 1,100 percent increase in participation. As the initiative begins its second year, “we are right where we hoped to be,” says Director of Engaged Learning Susan Kress.

“We’re very excited for the students,” Kress adds. “The University has invested a lot of effort in raising awareness of the opportunities available through this initiative, and those efforts have paid off.”

The students are especially gratified to know that faculty members are interested in their work and support their efforts, Kress adds. “And at the same time, faculty members are excited that this ties in to the ‘engaged teaching and learning’ happening in their classrooms.”

SMU student Kimberly MendozaJunior Kimberly Mendoza (left), a double major in biological sciences and chemistry in SMU’s Dedman College, can attest to the importance and inspiration of engaged faculty. For her Unbridled Project, she will research health-related traditions, beliefs and practices in the indigenous Mayan community in Guatemala and evaluate how these values and beliefs occasionally clash with Western medicine. Nia Parson of the Department of Anthropology will serve as her faculty mentor.

During her first year at SMU, Mendoza took Parson’s course “Health, Healing and Ethics,” which examines cross-cultural perspectives on sickness and society. “It was one of the best classes I have taken at SMU,” she says. “Dr. Parson gave me so much insight into health as viewed from different perspectives. She also was very passionate about her anthropological work and health in a global perspective.”

When Mendoza decided to pursue an Unbridled Project, “I immediately thought of Dr. Parson, and she was so helpful to me throughout the application process.”

Mendoza’s mother is of indigenous Maya origin, but fled her native Guatemala during the civil war in the 1970s. “As a result, she did not grow up learning the traditions, culture, values and language that bind this group of people together,” Mendoza says. When her maternal grandmother, also an indigenous Maya, received medical treatment in the United States for a malignant brain tumor, Mendoza experienced first-hand how strongly those traditions and values are upheld. “I also witnessed the dichotomy between my grandmother’s spiritual and traditional beliefs and the Western medical system,” she says.

Through her Unbridled Project, Mendoza seeks to understand how to better relate to those who hold such traditional values and beliefs, she says. She plans to become a physician with an emphasis in global health and hopes to work with Doctors Without Borders.

“It is an intellectual treat for me to mentor Kimberly,” Parson says. “As a medical anthropologist, specializing in Latin America, I know how important and interesting her project is – not only because it illuminates the different ways people experience and think about health in Guatemala, but also because of the implications of this knowledge for our own health care systems.”

Mendoza’s research could help in providing better care for Guatemalan and other immigrants here in Dallas, Parson adds. “It is very gratifying to see Kimberly bringing together her family’s ties to Guatemala and her educational experience here at SMU.”

The Office of Engaged Learning provides institutional support for SMU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), created as part of the University’s reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). “Engaged Learning Beyond the Classroom” allows all SMU undergraduate students to participate in at least one extensive experiential learning activity prior to graduation.

A full list of students who will pursue 2012-13 Unbridled Projects appears below the link.

Continue reading “Engaged Learning announces 2012-13 Unbridled student projects”

For the Record: April 11, 2012

Anthony Cortese, Sociology, Dedman College, has published an entry, “Advertising” (pp. 8-13) in the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization, edited by George Ritzer (New York: Blackwell, 2012). He participated in The Social Construction of Femininity and Self-Objectification at the Pacific Sociological Association in San Diego, California, and gave an invited presentation during the 2012 History of the Discipline and Association Plenary Session of the National Association for Ethnic Studies in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Megan Bond Hinrichsen, a graduate student in anthropology in Dedman College, has received a 2012 Fulbright Grant to study in Ecuador. She will conduct research there during the 2012-13 academic year.

Research Spotlight: Trial by fire, and how humans respond to it

The 2011 Wallow Fire in ArizonaAn interdisciplinary team of researchers will examine how humans in the Southwest have responded to changes in the surrounding forests over multiple centuries. The research is funded by a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is about forest fire history, fuels and forests, how human activities have changed them, and the influence of drought and dry conditions, said Thomas W. Swetnam, principal investigator on the grant and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

Christopher Roos, archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is co-principal investigator for the study, which will use tree-ring and archaeological methods to reveal the fire history of the forest and of the forest close to the human settlement sites.

In addition to Roos and Swetnam, co-principal investigators are T.J. Ferguson, a professor of practice in UA’s School of Anthropology; Sara Chavarria, director of outreach for UA’s College of Education; Robert Keane and Rachel Loehman of the USDA Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Montana; and Matthew J. Liebmann of Harvard University’s department of anthropology.

The scientists are focusing on New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, where native peoples lived within the ponderosa pine forest in significant numbers for centuries before Europeans came to North America.

While fire is a natural part of the Southwest’s forests and grasslands, the region’s massive forest fires this year were exacerbated by decade-long drought. In addition, more people are living in or near fire-adapted ecosystems, increasing the likelihood that human activities will affect and be affected by forest fires.

The team will study the interplay among human activities at the wildland-urban interface, climate change and fire-adapted pine forests.

“Humans and fire are interconnected all the way back to our beginnings,” Swetnam said. “Drought and dry conditions are going to keep going on, so there’s an urgency in understanding what’s happening. We’re seeking to know how we can live in these forests and these landscapes so they are more resilient in the face of climate change.”

Courtesy of the University of Arizona

Left, Arizona’s Wallow fire, the largest in the state’s history, burned from May 29 to July 8, 2011, scorching more than 538,000 acres in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. The fire was named for the Bear Wallow Wilderness area, in which it originated. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.)

> Get the full story from the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: Anthropologists link human uniqueness to social networking

Thomas Headland, AgtaHuman hunter-gatherer group structure is unique among primates, according to new research by anthropologists who studied data from 5,000 individuals in 32 present-day foraging societies.

One of the most complex human mysteries involves how and why we became an outlier species in terms of biological success.

Research findings published in the March 11 edition of the journal Science by an international team of noted anthropologists who study hunter-gatherer societies, are informing the issue by suggesting that human ancestral social structure may be the root of cumulative culture and cooperation and, ultimately, human uniqueness, according to SMU anthropologist Thomas N. Headland and his co-authors on the study.

“We are not saying here that present-day hunter-gatherer societies are fossilized remnants from the stone age,” said Headland, an adjunct professor in SMU’s Department of Anthropology. “We are suggesting, however, that 20th-century foraging societies may give us a keyhole glimpse into how our ancient ancestors may have lived in prehistory, and how they even thrived under a foraging lifestyle.”

Humans have lived as hunter-gatherers for 95 percent of the species’ history, so current foraging societies provide the best window for viewing human social evolution, according to the authors. Given that, the researchers focused on co-residence patterns among thousands of individuals from present-day foraging societies around the globe. Those societies include the Gunwinggu, Labrador Inuit, Mbuti, Apache, Aka, Ache, Agta and Vedda.

“We are also suggesting,” Headland said, “that the unique style of co-residence we find in so many hunter-gatherer societies today may provide clues into some aspects of early human cultural evolution – certain adaptive behaviors that helped Homo sapiens to be so biologically successful because of a unique group structure that emphasized cooperation among band groups.”

Lead authors on the study were Kim Hill, Arizona State University, and Robert Walker, University of Missouri. Other researchers included: Miran Bozicevic, James Eder and Ana Magdalena Hurtado, Arizona State; Barry Hewlett, Hawassa University, Ethiopia, and Washington State University; Frank Marlowe, Durham University, U.K.; Polly Wiessner, University of Utah; and Brian Wood, Stanford University.

Their findings showed that across all groups, adult brothers and sisters frequently live together, making it common for male in-laws to co-reside. They also found that it was equally common for males or females to move from or remain with family units. This is in contrast to other primate species, where either males or females move to another group at puberty.

Agta carrying waterA major point in the study is that foraging bands contain several individuals completely unconnected by kinship or marriage ties, yet include males with a vested interest in the offspring of daughters, sisters and wives. This organization mitigates the group hostility frequently seen in other apes and also promotes interaction among residential groups, thereby leading to the development of a large social network.

“The increase in human network size over other primates may explain why humans evolved an emphasis on social learning that results in cultural transmission,” said Hill. “Likewise, the unique composition of human ancestral groups promotes cooperation among large groups of non-kin, something extremely rare in nature.”

The group’s findings appear in the paper “Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure.” It is the first published analyses of adult co-residence patterns in hunter-gatherer societies based on census data rather than post-marital residence typologies, Hill noted. – Arizona State University

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SMU students dominate anthropology contest

Twelve SMU undergraduate students dominated the pool of winners in a writing competition sponsored by the Center for a Public Anthropology.

Nearly one-third of the winners from the approximately 2,175 entrants were SMU students, all enrolled in professor Carolyn Smith-Morris “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” class.

Smith-Morris credits the winning students with initiative and leadership in tackling the assigned topic: the request by the Yanomami, a forest-dwelling tribe in the Amazon rainforest, for the repatriation of relatives’ blood stored in research laboratories of prestigious institutions. Yanomami beliefs hold that deceased relatives can only die in peace when all their bodily parts, including blood, are ritually destroyed.

“The Center invites students to prepare short written arguments on a topic, the background reading for which is shared through the website,” Smith-Morris said. “Students are graded by anonymous peers through the website, and themselves evaluate the written pieces of three other students.”

The winning SMU students are Kathe Lee, Hillary Talbot, Kendall Moore, Emily Ciuba, Rebekah Boyer, Natalie Chao, Michael Canaris, Grace Ann Whiteside, Bethany Suba, Den Cralle, Hartley Mellick, and Charlene Dondlinger.

The winners for the fall semester were selected by peers in the center’s Community Action online community, which includes students from 28 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Read the students’ winning entries