Dr. Gwen Robbins Schug is a bioarchaeologist with research focused on South Asian prehistory. She came to Appalachian in 2006 and in 2010 received the College of Arts and Sciences’ William C. Strickland Outstanding Young Faculty Award.
What excites you about the study of biological anthropology?
What excites me the most about biological anthropology is our focus on addressing research questions that are relevant and timely, and using a perspective that is uniquely positioned to provide new perspectives on these topics. For example, paleoanthropologists are interested in understanding how climate change has shaped our evolution, bioarchaeologists are looking at how climate and culture change are in dialogue with one another, paleopathologists are modeling the biocultural consequences of human strategies for coping with climate change over the past 10,000 years or so, and primatologists are focused on its impact on conservation and working with indigenous communities on ways to mitigate the destruction of primate habitats. This kind of work serves to demonstrate how biological and cultural variation matter. It reveals deep connections between environment, biology and culture for human and non-human primates. It provides an entirely different kind of lens on both biological and anthropological questions, or even contemporary problems. To me, that is really exciting.
What do you love most about teaching Appalachian students?
I have been amazed over the years at the truly strong sense of community among the students in my lab. I have students from diverse backgrounds, with diverse abilities, and it never ceases to amaze me how they grow independently and together, from their first semester in the program to the time that they graduate as mature, confident young people with real skills and a new way of seeing the world. I love watching students from diverse backgrounds work together to solve complex problems and to master a challenging and complex curriculum. As far as teaching non-majors or anthropology majors from the other sub-disciplines, I really enjoy having the opportunity to introduce students to evolutionary theory and particularly to the evidence for human evolution.
Why should a student interested in anthropology study at Appalachian?
Our faculty are internationally recognized as experts in our respective research areas. Our department offers a large variety of classes in different topical areas of anthropology and these courses are well known for being stimulating and rigorous. We regularly work with students on undergraduate research projects and some of our students have published with us. If students work hard, seek out opportunities to do research and other extracurricular activities, they will be abundantly prepared for graduate school or whatever career they decide to pursue.