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A Time to Contribute

Alumni Thrive in Nation's Leading Anthropology Programs

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“I definitely will return to Conambo in the future, and hopefully many more times.”

For an anthropology researcher like James Zerbe ’17 (M.A. anthropology), the opportunity to collect data among an isolated community deep within the Amazon rainforest was just the experience he needed to confirm his career path.

The Cal State Fullerton alumnus, now working on his doctorate at Arizona State University, recently returned from his second research trip to Conambo, Ecuador and already has plans for a third trip.

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“This recent trip was to collect pilot data for a few of my dissertation projects,” shares Zerbe, whose dissertation investigates how evolution affects how and why people form social relationships.

“More specifically, I’m interested in relationships of political alliance:

How do people form alliances over time, how does this affect dynamics of acquiring social status and how does this impact reproductive outcomes?” explains Zerbe.
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Part of this research involves working with tribal youth to examine the importance of adolescent development in becoming socially competent adults.

“I collected preliminary data concerning children and adolescents’ cognitive abilities to understand the reputations of others, as well as how people are connected by different kinds of social relationships,” he says, explaining that this research may also help identify what variables can lead to better development of these social abilities.

“I already have plans to return sometime in the next year, possibly for a more extended stay in the range of nine months to a year.”

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Zerbe’s first trip to Ecuador in 2015, with CSUF anthropology professor and tribal warfare specialist John Patton, confirmed a growing inkling of his that such research was “the most exciting mix of activities a person could do” and fueled his desire to continue this work in a doctoral program.

“Having this field experience was a major strength of my application to doctorate programs,” explains Zerbe. “I was able to say that I have access to a field site already and that I have already conducted research there.

“As a doctoral candidate, I think this demonstrated not only that I was prepared for the rigor of a Ph.D. program, but that I was serious about my contributions as a researcher.”

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In addition to the field experience, Zerbe credits the faculty in CSUF’s Evolutionary Anthropology Program for offering mentorship to students beyond the typical course of study.

“CSUF’s anthropology program provides a nurturing environment for the development of your scientific mind. The faculty are all well-known, established and first-rate researchers in the field,” he shares, adding, “And they have high expectations of you.”

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Patton notes that preparing students to thrive as doctoral researchers is a key measure of success for the evolutionary anthropology program.

“Arizona State University is the top anthropology program in the country,” says Patton. “It’s really a testament to our undergraduate and master’s programs that we are able to put forth doctoral candidates who are ready to succeed alongside some of the brightest researchers in the field.”

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Hoping to follow the example set forth by distinguished faculty members like Patton and his wife Brenda Bowser, Zerbe knows his life’s work is just beginning.

“Through my work with John, Brenda and the people of Conambo, I have come to have an immense appreciation for how special of a place it is,” he says. “John and Brenda have such an impressive longitudinal dataset that is quite rare in anthropology.

“I hope to build off their life’s work and everything they have taught me.”

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