Anthropology grant to further undergraduate research

Rani Gupta

Northwestern’s anthropology department received a $20,000 grant last week that will expand undergraduate research opportunities in human biology.

The grant reflects the department’s efforts in recent years to improve the quality of its biological anthropology program.

The department also has hired two professors since 1998 and opened a new human biology laboratory in February.

Professors William Leonard and Tom McDade were hired to bolster the department’s biological anthropology concentration, which is not as strong as its archaeology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology subfields, said Helen Schwartzman, department chairwoman.

“We have, over the last five years, focused on making our department a strong four-field department,” Schwartzman said.

The biological anthropology concentration also was refocused onto human biology, which studies human health and development from a cross-cultural perspective.

Leonard and McDade teach new undergraduate human biology classes, including Human Growth and Development and Human Origins.

McDade said the classes appeal to students outside of the anthropology department by providing biology students with more “people-focused classes to balance out the (science) classes they take up north.”

The grant from the provost’s office will be used to fund undergraduate research in the recently opened Laboratory for Human Biology Research.

“(Opening the lab) has been something we’ve been planning to do ever since we hired Tom McDade,” Schwartzman said.

McDade said the new laboratory, which he calls one of “two or three” in the country, was the primary reason he wanted to teach at NU. He said the laboratory is unusual because the type of research being done there usually is conducted in biological laboratories.

“It’s an opportunity to integrate biological methods into anthropology and social science research,” McDade said.

The grant will be used to pay costs associated with teaching courses in the lab, developing senior theses and conducting independent study.

McDade said he envisioned the lab as a place where faculty could collaborate with graduate and undergraduate students.

“We don’t want to be working on our research and have the students be our slaves,” he said.

McDade and Leonard currently are conducting research for a number of projects ranging from the effects of prenatal and postnatal environments on Filipino adolescents to the health consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union on indigenous Siberian populations.

The lab is used primarily to analyze blood, saliva and urine samples from people in the countries involved in these projects.

Although no students are working in the lab currently, some have expressed interest in conducting research in the future.

Weinberg sophomore Trisha Greenberg, an anthropology major, said she would like to work in the laboratory if McDade was researching topics of interest.

“Because (the laboratory) is geared toward anthropology, it has different things that other labs don’t have,” Greenberg said. “It’s open for student research and what we’re interested in researching.”