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Linh Bui, ’14: The Human Response to Neoteny in Wild Animals, South Africa

By Peter Tschirhart on June 19, 2014

What makes an adult human or animal “cute?” According to scholars working in developmental biology and psychology, the answer relates to juvenile traits, such as small jaws, short limbs, a large head, seemingly huge eyes, etc. This is called “neoteny;” and among humans, neotenous characteristics are thought to stimulate care-giving behaviors.

But Alumni Memorial Scholar Linh Bui ’14 wondered whether neoteny also plays a role in human-animal relationships. As a Colgate psychology major and general animal lover, she hoped to investigate whether caregivers treat wild animals living in captivity differently–based on their relative cuteness. Linh developed an AMS grant proposal that took her to a lion park in Johannesburg, South Africa during January of 2014. “Those two weeks were a highlight of my Colgate experience,” she wrote. In what follows, Linh reflects on her AMS grant and her experience as a volunteer at the park.

Girraffes around volunteers' dorm

Girraffes around volunteers’ dorm

The lion park is an animal lover’s dream come true with all types of wild animals walking around. I woke up to zebras grazing in front of my door; I had to guard my lunch against giraffes; and of course, at night, I was careful not to run into hippos! The lion park offered many activities, such as a game drive, a lion walk, an elephant walk, etc. It was definitely not an “easy vacation” though. My fellow volunteers and I worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., and our daily tasks included weeding the grazing hills, picking up poop and bones from the predator camps, and digging a swimming pool for the elephants.

Roxy the hyena runs to visit when her name is called.

Roxy the hyena runs to visit when her name is called.

I used my free time during lunch and after dinner to conduct informal interviews and observations for my AMS project. I discovered the volunteers’ interactions with animals were, indeed, governed by “cuteness”–just not in the way I expected. For example, most people would say hyenas are ugly and scary, but many volunteers loved Roxy, the hyena at the park, for how dog-like she was. She would run to visit whenever we called her name. Another animal, a fully-grown cheetah named Oliver, would be called “scary” instead of “cute,” but volunteers simply adored the fact that he purred when petted. Some volunteers even liked the ostriches best, because ostriches followed them around. Cuteness can be defined behaviorally, not just physically.

Oliver the purring cheetah

Oliver the purring cheetah

Aside from enabling me to carry out my research, my two weeks at the lion park also taught me to appreciate physical labor. To be honest, I had never done physical labor in my life, so it was quite a shock. Before the trip, I did expect to clean up after the animals, but nothing could have prepared me for the task of shoveling elephant poop! The hard work did pay off though, and I learned how to use agricultural tools properly. Seeing the final results of my work made me very happy. A highlight of my trip was watching the elephants playing happily in the swimming pool we made for them: they splashed water and mud on everybody, but none of us cared.

Picture with the lion siblings

Picture with the lion siblings

Despite the hard work, I learned many things about neoteny, had a lot of fun, and even got to pet lions. I definitely recommend that all AMS student take advantage of the AMS Grant experience. Why would you hesitate to travel abroad and pursue your interests?

Chloe Holt ’14: The Dance of Two Cities, a study of ballet culture in Paris and London

By Peter Tschirhart on June 10, 2014

Missouri native Chloe Holt ’14 was an English and Spanish double major at Colgate, but it was her strong passion for dance and the arts that inspired her AMS Grant proposal. Chloe traveled to Paris and London over winter break (2014) to gain a better understanding of the history and tradition of ballet. As an accomplished dancer herself, with over ten years of experience, she wondered why ballet occupied a position of prominence in the life and culture of these cities, while in others–specifically in the United States and especially the midwest–dance companies struggle to stay financially afloat. The objective of her project was to dig-in to the vibrant dance scene in these two cultural centers, to find out who participates in the culture of ballet, why, and what they gain from it. Over several weeks, she attended a wide variety of performances–from an all-male version of Swan Lake to a more traditional staging of The Nutcracker–took backstage tours whenever possible, and visited museums relevant to the history of dance. She also interacted with audience members, took photographs when possible, and kept detailed notes.

Chloe Holt '14 in Westminster.

Chloe Holt ’14 in Westminster.

Chloe explains how, prior to attending each performance, reading local reviews “allowed me both to learn about the companies and choreographers, and to gain insight into the public’s general impression of the production.” Her research lead her to conclude that, “while the ballet world does seem to be leaning towards more contemporary repertoires, classical ballet will always have a strong presence. Companies such as the Royal Ballet of England, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet have both the talent and the support to perform [traditional] ballets … while at the same time experimenting with contemporary choreography. The public may flock to see today’s hot choreographer’s latest controversial piece, but they will not give up their annual production of The Nutcracker.

Eric Taber ’13: Road Development Along the Annapurna Trekking Circuit, Annapurna Region, Nepal

By Peter Tschirhart on August 12, 2013
A biology and geography double major from Ohio, Eric traveled to Nepal to investigate the relationship between development, the trekking industry, and conservation practices within the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). Entrance fees from trekkers currently finance conservation and development projects in the ACA. However, recent construction of an unpaved road along the circuit threatens the reputation of the area as a trekking mecca and the decreasing numbers of trekkers have raised questions over the future financing of conservation projects in the area. Eric used survey questionnaires and semi-structured interviews to identify reasons for local citizens’ support for ongoing road construction. Although the ACA has been widely hailed as in integrated conservation and development project success story, his work revealed that the community development projects and social benefits financed by trekking tourism in the ACA do not outweigh the promise of road construction for locals. Current road construction has opened the door to further development in the area and will likely result in decreased revenue from trekkers and decreases in funding for conservation projects. Eric plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Geography after graduating from Colgate.
Eric Taber in Nepal.

Eric Taber in Nepal.

Coming up with the initial idea for your research project may be the hardest part of the fellowship proposal process,” Eric writes. “I recommend considering what you are truly passionate about, whether that is a topic that caught your interest during lecture, a topic that you read about on your own time, or something that you plan on pursuing post-Colgate. The options you can pursue with an AMS Research Fellowship are innumerable; few other funding opportunities provide grants with so few strings attached. Take full advantage of that and do something that you are passionate about.

Ashley Johnson ‘13: Crossing Paths Between Religion and Ecology, Yale Divinity School, Summer Symposium, New Haven, CT

By Peter Tschirhart on July 12, 2013

A political science major and religion minor, Ashley is interested in the intersection of ecology and religion. She attended the Summer Symposium on Religion and Environmental Stewardship at the Yale Divinity School June 5-7, 2012. Workshops focused on greening religious spaces, preaching environmentalism, the study of eco-theology, climate change and environmental justice. By taking notes on presentations and engaging in conversation with presenters and attendees, Ashley gained experience with qualitative research and had the opportunity to network with religious leaders and environmental scholars.

Ashley at her presentation during the 2012 AMS Symposium.

Ashley at her presentation during the 2012 AMS Symposium.

Hannah Fitton ‘14: Analyzing Bones in the Balkans, Albania, Romania, and Greece

By Peter Tschirhart on June 12, 2012
A sociology and anthropology major from Wisconsin, Hannah has always been interested in what makes human bones unique. This past summer she attended Utica College’s Forensic Anthropology Field School led by Professor Thomas Crist. The group spent three weeks in Albania excavating and analyzing human remains from the medieval period and then traveled to the Rainer Institute in Romania for independent exploration of pathological remains. Hannah’s research focused on modern-day trepanation (drilling of the skull). The strongest message she took home from the course is that “studying human remains is more than just identifying the bones and other features– it is the study of bones in the context of what they can tell us about life today.”
Fitton, studying bones in the Balkans.

Fitton, studying bones in the Balkans.

I tell all my AMS friends that the best way to come up with a topic is to write down everything and anything they are possibility interested in. When I was trying to come up with a topic, I wrote down over 20 ideas on post-it notes and organized them on a board. Over time, I added and discarded various topics and ideas about how to go about my AMS proposal. I started writing my AMS proposal draft very early (October for a February deadline). This helped because I had lots of time to go to my AMS advisor for help, talk with my contacts with the field school, and my professors. I put as much detail as possible in this proposal which helped me be more organized when I was actually doing my project.