UO anthropologists and students lead charge at Portland meetings

When three professional organizations gathered in Portland in April, the University of Oregon's Department of Anthropology was on center stage as host of the joint annual meetings. Helping plan and carry on the show were eight UO faculty members and research associates, as well as 36 student volunteers -- some of whom also put their own research on display.

About 1,700 participants attended the concurrent annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), the Human Biology Association (HBA) and the Paleopathology Association at the Hilton Portland and Executive Tower.

"The HBA meeting was a wonderful experience for me," said Elizabeth Streeter, a senior from Portland who spent some of her undergraduate years in the lab of J. Josh Snodgrass, a bio-anthropologist and co-chair of the local planning committee for the conferences. "Being able to talk with so many different anthropologists that I have looked up to for so long and learn about their research was such an eye-opening experience compared to the standard classes I've been taking as an undergrad."

The event was four years in the making, but the year leading up to it was the most grueling, Snodgrass said. He and John Lukacs, professor emeritus, were co-chairs, working interchangeably, depending on their availability amid teaching, traveling and research commitments. They had help from Tara Cepon, a graduate student representative on the arrangements committee who had five annual meetings already behind her.

As a student studying under Snodgrass, Cepon also presented a poster at the HBA meeting. "I really enjoyed having the meetings in Portland and learned a lot about the bureaucratic side of the meetings," she said. "Having them in Portland gave me a great opportunity for career development. On top of gaining experience as a meeting planner, I also got the opportunity to talk to many people and introduce preliminary data on my dissertation research. The feedback from other anthropologists and human biologists was extremely helpful and the networking opportunity was amazing."

Her research has taken her Ecuador as part of the Shuar Health and Life History Project. She has been studying the effects of parasites, specifically intestinal worms and bacteria, on the development of autoimmune disorders among a native population along the Amazon River. Her work also crosses over into the microbiology lab run by Brendan Bohannan, a UO biologist.

Nine graduate students and 27 undergraduates from the UO served the annual meetings as volunteers. Snodgrass and Lukacs also reached out to other institutions in the Northwest, giving students the opportunity to attend free in exchange for their volunteering. In all, a total of 100 undergraduates and graduate students from 22 universities answered the call, with several coming from Portland State University, Oregon State University, Lewis & Clark College and Willamette University. The volunteers were treated with a luncheon, courtesy of Oregon Community Credit Union.

A talk by UO graduate student Klaree Boose, who studies with primate-expert Frances White, drew interest from a journal representative at the AAPA meeting, Snodgrass said. Boose presented information on her research on tool-use acquisition by bonobos at the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo.

"When you give a talk at a major meeting, it provides you with great exposure to people in your field and area of study, and the feedback you get from colleagues can be quite invaluable," said Boose, who earned a bachelor's degree at Ohio State University. "This context also provides great networking opportunities that are valuable in both the research and academic career settings. I think that preparing a talk is a great way to distill and clarify the information that you will be writing up as a manuscript for publication and eventually teaching to students."

Research on which White had collaborated also drew attention. Science News magazine reported on a talk by White's colleague Michael Wilson of the University of Minnesota on homicides carried out by wild chimpanzees. The team's pooled data, collected from 10 sites, showed that most killings occur in areas where encounters with humans are rare. Males carried out most killings, with most victims being male adults and infants in neighboring communities. White's long-running expertise has involved bonobos, which, Wilson said in his talk, "appear to be more peaceful than chimps."

Lauren Hawkins, a UO senior from Sammanish, Wash., whose mentor is professor Stephen Frost, presented a poster at the AAPA on her research on dental eruption in lemurs. "Being able to present my poster was a great opportunity for me," she said.

"It provided a fairly low-stress environment to share my research with other people in the field, especially anthropologists who are directly involved in the research I am doing. Presenting a poster and connecting with people in the field gave me a sense of really entering the academic world, rather than just participating in it as a student," Hawkins said.

Six papers based on UO undergraduate research efforts were presented at the conferences, Snodgrass said. "This was great visibility for both our undergraduate and graduate students, and for our efforts to recruit graduate students," he said.

As for hosting the conferences, Snodgrass said: "It was good publicity for our department and university. We're really pleased with the way the conferences went -- in all of its many dimensions. It went well from an organizational standpoint, and they were well attended. And we couldn't have done it without our volunteers from across Oregon and Washington."