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climate change

Anthropology professor awarded major research grant

Woman smiling in front of desktop displaying 3D scans
Miriam Belmaker

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a $246,665 grant to Associate Professor of Anthropology Miriam Belmaker. The NSF award will further enhance the Department of Anthropology’s Surface Metrology and Imaging Lab by funding the purchase of a 3D micro laser scanner and software for digital analysis.

This lab already contains several instruments that are found in only a few other U.S. universities. The addition of the 3D micro laser scanner will help to make The University of Tulsa a national center for material sciences research, including investigations of climate change and human evolution.

What can ancient rodents’ teeth reveal about today’s changing climate?

For Belmaker, the NSF-funded technology will allow her to fashion a new approach to studying past environments based on the shape of rodents’ teeth. Because animals eat food that changes with the environment (hay-like foods during dry periods and leafier vegetation during wet ones), those foods modify the tooth surface, meaning that different shapes are created on a micro level.

3D micro laser with hippo tooth
3D micro laser and hippo tooth

Using the 3D micro laser scanner, Belmaker will be able to look at the tooth shape of modern rodents by creating digital 3D scans. “I can then correlate the tooth shape with the current climate where they live and I can see if there is a relationship between the two,” said Belmaker. “With that information in hand, I will then be able to examine fossil rodents using the same methods and, thereby, infer past climates.”

Belmaker plans to focus on three time periods in human evolution, including when early humans dispersed from Africa into Eurasia 2 million years ago, the extinction of Neanderthals and the survival of modern humans during the last glacial period (ca. 20,000 years ago). “Knowing how climate change has affected these key events in human evolution is not only important for understanding our past but also has direct implications for the current global climate crisis,” Belmaker commented. “Current climate change is having immeasurable effects on human populations worldwide. To understand how the current climate may affect us and nature around us, looking at the past is critical. This research is a step in that direction.”

Are you interested in knowing more about TU’s Surface Metrology and Imaging Lab and the new 3D micro laser scanner and software? Contact Miriam Belmaker at for all the details.

Environment, technology and the future of food

Assistant Professor of Media Studies Zenia Kish investigates Silicon Valley entrepreneurs’ “remaking” of basic food processes and how they pitch new products as edible, desirable and a way to address climate change and future food scarcity. She also researches the farm as a “media text” sown with digital technologies and questions of where our food comes from and where it’s going.

Environment, technology and the future of food

Media studies is a field growing increasingly diverse in areas of culture, environment and technology. If the idea of studying a multifaceted subject excites you, head to the Department of Media Studies​​ to see all that awaits!

Archaeological research on past land use sheds light on future climate change

Professor of Anthropology Thomas Foster’s archaeological research is helping to refine global climate change models by mapping human land use for the entire globe over the last 10,000 years. After five years of vigorous investigations, the work of Foster and an international cadre of scientists — archaeologists, historians, geographers, paleoecologists and modelers — has been published in PLOS ONE, a prestigious peer-reviewed open access scientific journal.

Man with grey hair, smiling, wearing a purple open-collar shirt and a cream-colored blazer
Thomas Foster

“Mapping past human land use using archaeological data: A new classification for global land use synthesis and data harmonization” presents a simple, hierarchical classification of land use systems designed to be used with archaeological and historical data at a global scale. It also offers a schema of codes that identify land-use practices common to a range of systems. Both elements are implemented in a geospatial database.

This publication arose out of the work Foster and his colleagues have been conducting as part of a project called LandCover6k. The goal of this project is to produce new datasets of climate-induced natural vegetation change (NVC) and anthropogenic land-cover change (ALCC) for climate modeling using archaeological data to help improve climate change models. (Anthropogenic is a term used to characterize the impact on nature of humans or their activities, and is often found in discussions of pollution and environmental degradation.)

The publication of “Mapping past human land use using archaeological data” has caught the media’s eye. Here’s a selected list of the coverage thus far: Penn Today, AzoCleantech and Science Daily.

A major impetus for the team’s work was, Foster explained, the fact that “there are existing climate change models for the earth that are highly inaccurate about human land use.” To correct these misconstruals, “dozens of scientists from all around the world are pulling from local expertise to create maps of human land and trying to answer questions of how, when and what type of land use did humans engage in.”

map of the eastern half of North America showing areas of hunter-gatherers and first cultivated plants circa 2000 BCWhile this research will improve our understanding of past interactions between land cover and climate, perhaps even more importantly it could also help humanity see the effect of land-use change on the planet’s climate in the future. With that in mind, Foster and his team hope their research can be used to influence governments’ climate change policies.

Paleo sciences, modern problems

Foster’s involvement in this project began in 2015 when he saw a posting seeking more researchers to contribute. “I knew at once this would be a great project to get involved with,” said Foster. “It was global, interdisciplinary, and about applying paleo sciences to modern problems, which happens to be the topic of my third book, Viewing the Future in the Past.” Sensing a great professional fit, Foster quickly got involved.

Foster’s career as an anthropologist has been centered on understanding humans’ effects on the environment, with a particular on the Americas. He brought this expertise to the LandCover6K project and has taken the lead on North American land-use research for the team. Until the COVID-19 pandemic halted nearly all international travel, the team met all around the world.

A map of the eastern half of North America showing areas of subsistence land use in AD 1500According to Foster, his participation in the project would not be possible without the support of The University of Tulsa, both with research and travel grants. In return, Foster has brought a lot of knowledge back to the classroom: “My students at TU are largely why I decided to participate in the project. I teach about human effects on the environment at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and this project has helped by working allowing me to work one on one with graduate students in the lab learning methods as well as results.”

Even upon publication, the work is far from finished for Foster and his team. Instead, he says, the publication will be the latest product from a long-term project that is designed to improve global climate change models.

Foster is traveling down an exciting, research-heavy road. And someday, he believes, his findings could make a very real impact on daily lives and shape the way humans think about the environment.

Are you fascinated by diverse cultures and the lives of people past and present? If so, learn more about the remarkable explorations you can undertake while studying anthropology at TU.


Professors awarded NOVA FuTUre Fund innovation prizes

Associate Professor of English Grant Jenkins and Chapman Associate Professor of Anthropology Miriam Belmaker are the latest recipients of University of Tulsa NOVA Fellowship innovation prizes from the FuTUre Fund in support of their development of innovative new courses.

“The NOVA innovation prizes are a simple way to encourage those who want to create and implement innovative projects at TU,” said Professor of Marketing Charles Wood, the director of the NOVA Fellowship at TU. “Recognizing Jenkins and Belmaker as NOVA Faculty Fellows celebrates interdisciplinary innovation, something TU is known for and which is a key part of our new strategic plan.”

Black Women’s Poetry

Man with a silver beard and grey hair wearing an open-collar blue shirt and a grey blazerPoet, novelist and literature scholar Jenkins plans to use his NOVA funding to develop a course on Black women’s poetry. Jenkins has been publishing on African American poetry for the past decade and has a manuscript nearly completed on Black poetry since the end of the Civil Rights era. In fact, his essay “’re: Source’: African Contexts of Nathaniel Mackey’s Ethics” won the Joe Weixlmann Prize for best essay on a twentieth- or twenty-first century topic in the African American Review in 2017.

“My new course will examine the work and cultural/historical context of contemporary Anglophone writers from North America, including the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, who share common cultural history as well as innovative approaches to their poetics, both in terms of style, artistic process and content,” Jenkins explained. “To my knowledge, having taught at TU now for 18 years, no course on this topic has been taught before.”

Humans as Environmental Engineers: Agriculture to Energy

Woman posing for a selfie-photo in a forest while wearing a green topA specialist in the areas of climate change and human-environment interactions, Belmaker received funding to develop a new 4000- and 6000-level course entitled Humans as Environmental Engineers: Agriculture to Energy.” This course will empower students to explore the complex ways human culture, economy and demographics affect ecology, climate change and global sustainability challenges.

“I want to challenge students to integrate studies from a wide range of disciplines, social, historical and geographical sciences,” said Belmaker. “Doing so will enable them to gain an overview of the ecological dimension of global economic processes, with a long-term, historical perspective.” In order to promote innovation, Belmaker’s new course will present a highly interdisciplinary topic emphasizing debate, discussion and critical thinking of a controversial topic through extensive audio-visual materials and digital resources. Belmaker anticipates that her course will have a wide appeal to various university programs within TU’s strategic plan. She also foresees an associated public symposium to present the topic to a wider audience on campus and beyond.

Do you have an idea for a project within your field of study? Visit the NOVA Fellowship’s page to learn more about the NOVA Innovation Fund program and fill out your application!

TU Law student named Most Outstanding Scholar at Muscogee (Creek) Nation Scholars Forum

Early each summer, Oklahoma’s Muscogee (Creek) Nation holds a lively public gathering that features games, musical performances, arts and crafts displays, stompdancing, a parade and many other activities. For the second year in a row, the Muscogee Nation Festival included a Scholars Forum, which showcases various research projects being undertaken by tribal members pursuing advanced degrees.

One of the individuals selected to share her work at the June 2019 forum was University of Tulsa College of Law student Hannah Stidman. For the quality and impact of her work, Stidman received the Most Outstanding Scholar award.

“Hannah exemplifies commitment to building better communities,” said Lauren Donald, TU Law’s assistant dean for experiential learning. “She couples hard work in the classroom with meaningful opportunities outside of the classroom to expand her already impressive background in environmental and Native American issues. This award is a testament to Hannah’s high level of dedication and, no doubt, a preamble to a promising legal career.”

Muscogee (Creek) Nation's Most Outstanding Scholar 2019

Environmental defense

Stidman’s poster presentation focused on the need for and benefits of creating the position of “legal head” of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Office of Environmental Services. This department strives to ensure that “members may live confidently in a safe and healthy environment.”

As Stidman explained, the Office of Environmental Services manages a large volume of legal issues. Currently, however, there is no lawyer with specialized environmental law knowledge specifically assigned to the Office. Instead, such legal work is handled by the nation’s Office of the Attorney General. Creating the position of legal head would not only save time and resources, Stidman reasoned, but also help her tribe in the work of “preserving its sacred land and waters” in the context of emergent changes wrought by climate change.

Environmental law

The seeds of Stidman’s concern for environmental well-being were planted early during a childhood spent in a “really small town” within a rural part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s territory. After graduating high school, Stidman completed – in just three years – a bachelor of science in business administration at Oklahoma State University, taking as many law-related courses as possible.

About to enter her second year at TU Law, Stidman remarked that “I am dedicated to learning as much as I can about environmental law. What’s interesting about this subject, and what I’m discovering more and more, is it’s so broad. I’m really interested in all the things that fall under that umbrella – for example, animal welfare as well as the quality of the water, air and land.”

This general interest in environmental law combined with Stidman’s desire to know what her tribe was doing about environmental sustainability and protection. Her first encounter with this arose as a result of an informational interview she conducted with Kevin Dellinger, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s attorney general, as part of her first-year Foundations of Legal Studies course at TU Law. Dellinger set off a “spark” for Stidman, which then, she explained, “led me to research the legal work done within the Office of Environmental Services. This formed the basis of my proposal for the creation of a legal head.”

Proposal To create A New Position In The Muscogee (Creek) Nation's Office Of Environmental Services

Positive reception

During and since her participation at the Scholars Forum, Stidman has received a great deal of positive feedback on the merits of her proposal. Support has come from members of the Geospatial and Emergency Management departments all the way to the leader of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Principal Chief James Floyd. In fact, in recognition of her accomplishment, Chief Floyd presented Stidman with a luxurious, ceremonial Pendleton blanket emblazoned with the chief’s unique, personal iconography.


Are you interested in helping your community grow and flourish? If so, a career as a lawyer might be right for you. Discover the fascinating pathways available through the TU College of Law.