A&S Faculty Named Presidential Engagement Fellows
Three faculty members in the College of Arts and Science have accepted invitations to become 2019-20 University of Missouri System Presidential Engagement Fellows. Associate Professor Libby Cowgill in the Department of Anthropology, Associate Professor Jerry Frank in the Department of History, and Professor Manuel Leal in the Division of Biological Sciences were nominated by a systemwide committee of their peers because of their demonstrated excellence and their ability to communicate their work to the public.
The Presidential Engagement Fellows program was established this past year to share the research and creative activities of university faculty with audiences across Missouri. The program also seeks to fulfill the university’s land grant mission to share and apply knowledge for the benefit of all Missourians.
“I’ve spent a good deal of time over the last few years thinking about the best ways to convey to the public my excitement about my research specifically and anthropology in general, so I am really happy to have an opportunity to implement those ideas,” Cowgill says. She specializes in Neandertals and modern human origins and has given many talks on human evolution. Cowgill also researches how human bone responds to exercise and uses that information to interpret what people were doing in the past based on the shape and amount of bone they had.
“As you can imagine, the relationship between bone and exercise has a lot of practical health applications,” she says.
Sharing Their Accomplishments with the Citizens of Missouri
Presidential Engagement Fellows represent the UM System at three to five speaking events during the year. They also will have an opportunity to record three “Ted-Talk type” presentations to build a library of Presidential Engagement Fellows recordings to serve as a resource for Missouri schools and others.
“The kinds of things I’m interested in presenting to the public include drought in the American West, fire in the American West, and certain aspects of Native American history in the American West,” Frank says. “Translating the kind of work we do for a public audience takes a lot of work, and it takes a wide range of presentation approaches so that you’re not just talking at people. You find ways to engage them and excite their imaginations.”
Prof. Leal’s research focuses on animal communication, behavioral drive, and axes of divergence—in which related species evolve different traits. The main focus of the Leal Lab is on behavioral and evolutionary ecology, with a particular interest in lizards.
“As a Latino and first-generation scientist, I am looking forward to the opportunity to share my passion for natural history with the people of Missouri, and to have an open conversation about the importance of having a diverse and welcoming community in science, Leal says. He also wants to talk to Missourians about some common misperceptions about the cognitive abilities of animals, particularly lizards, and about evolution and its relevance in our lives. “I’d especially like to have conversations about evolution’s role in biodiversity and adaption to environmental change—two critical challenges we face as a planet.”
The 2018–19 inaugural class of Presidential Engagement Fellows also included two faculty members in Arts and Science: Chris Pires, professor of biological sciences and associate dean of the college; and Professor Angela Speck, the director of astronomy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.