Glenn Geher moved briskly around the room as students clicked furiously at computer stations, their brows furrowed in determination. He made his way through the crowded tables, assisting each student and offering advice until the room cleared out. The last transfer student remaining was still attempting to craft a workable schedule. She turned to Geher for help.
“I can get you into that class,” he said. “But there is a seminar that I co-teach at that time which you should really consider taking. It will change the way you think. I guarantee it.”
Geher, the chair of the Psychology Department at SUNY New Paltz and director of the college’s Evolutionary Studies Program (EvoS), co-teaches the Evolutionary Studies Seminar and urges every student to consider taking it for a different view of human social behavior.
According to Geher, establishing Evolutionary Studies as an interdisciplinary component of the college’s curriculum was one of the best moves he ever made. When he first began teaching at New Paltz in September 2000, the only courses involving the study of evolutionary principles were electives scattered across the Biology and Anthropology departments. In 2003, Geher began teaching his Evolutionary Psychology course.
Geher said he was disappointed that his Evolutionary Psychology class was just an elective, and that students couldn’t pursue further study in the field. He met with David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology at SUNY Binghamton and creator of the Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Consortium, a forum for people to hear scholars speak on a wide range of topics with an evolutionary focus. Geher was inspired to start an Evolutionary Studies program here at SUNY New Paltz, and in 2007 the college became a member of the consortium. Since then, Geher has been enthusiastic about the program’s progress.
“It’s a really cool thing to be able to bring together faculty members from various departments and see a common set of ideas applied in different areas,” he said.
Students now have the opportunity to take a number of courses, in fields such as English and biology, all applicable to the Evolutionary Studies minor.
“David [Sloan Wilson] was right,” Geher said. “Every university has the ability to develop an EvoS program. The core courses are usually already in place in the curriculum.”
Geher believes that there are so many aspects of the human condition that we can understand better if we explore them from an evolutionary context. One of his primary research interests involves human mating behavior. His work includes a unique psychological construct known as mating intelligence.
Geher said it was not until his second year of college, when he took a course in animal behavior taught by Ben Sachs at the University of Connecticut, that he first began to see how applicable evolutionary theory was to the nature of social interaction. At SUNY New Paltz, Geher said he has had success in making evolutionary studies more accessible to students and more capable of bridging disciplinary boundaries.
He aims to broaden the reach of the EvoS program and get more schools involved. Currently, Geher and his colleagues are looking to apply for larger grant in the millions of dollars to aid in the development of EvoS programs.
“I want to make the case that evolutionary studies should be a part of every college in the country,” Geher said. “It enhances every field of inquiry that I can think of, and that is the point of education.”