HPU Students Transform Science into Art

Students in Allison Walker’s first-year seminar discover “A Missing Link” between storytelling and evolutionary history


Artwork by the Saber-toothed Bunnies.

HIGH POINT, N.C., Dec. 10, 2019 – Could you go 48 hours without speaking? In Allison Walker’s interdisciplinary first-year seminar class, students spent 48 hours without an essential human adaptation in order to better understand the significance of evolutionary history. They gave up biological and cultural adaptations like speech, teeth, clear eyesight and processed foods. Then they were asked to translate that experience into art. On Dec. 3, 2019, they presented those findings in an Evolution Revolution Gallery Show.

One student group, who chose their group name to be “Saber-toothed Bunnies,” sacrificed human speech and found themselves overwhelmed by the unspoken words trapped inside their heads. Another group, that chose to refer to themselves as “The Pterotigers,” went without contacts or wore blurry sunglasses and discovered how much they depend on stereoscopic vision to navigate their daily lives. While a third student group who went by “The Dodaloes,” chose to embark on a wholly liquid diet and learned that life without teeth is no fun at all. The Stegophins tried their hand at the “paleo diet,” a new dieting craze based on ancestral hunter and gatherer habits, and realized how difficult it is to find whole, natural foods in modern American restaurant culture. 

“Project-based learning is a tenet of HPU’s mission, and the Evolution Revolution is an example of experiential, holistic learning at its best,” said Allison S. Walker, first-year seminar instructor in the Department of English. “Every year, students find themselves embarking on a journey of self-discovery in this 48-hour experiment. While the experience may be a bit uncomfortable, it’s something they won’t ever forget. Countless times I’ve had graduating seniors come up to me to reminisce about their first-year experiences in this class. They recall this project in particular.”

Artwork by the Pterotigers.

In Walker’s first-year seminar class, students have the opportunity to explore the impact of storytelling on human history. In addition to foundational texts by Charles Darwin, they also read about more contemporary theories of the grammar gene (FOXP2), the morality gene and the storytelling instinct. 

Other texts include dystopian literature by Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and even a graphic novel from the popular X-Men series. Throughout the semester, student teams compete in a series of team challenges. As a first-year seminar, the program encourages the development of academic friendships through shared experiences like these, and many students find themselves successfully acclimating to college life alongside their first-year seminar teammates.

The winners of the team challenge series this fall were the Saber-toothed Bunnies, comprised of Elise Antimarino, Charlotte Booker, Elizabeth Joel, Seamus Maguire and Garrett Motsko. 

Walker has taught FYS 1000 “A Missing Link” since 2011.

“This is one of my favorite classes to teach,” Walker said. “The students are new to college and unaccustomed to project-based learning in the seminar setting. They come in expecting a boring lecture class full of PowerPoint slides and tedious vocabulary terms. They leave with a new way of seeing the world through the lens of our shared evolutionary history. Evolution influences us in countless ways, and once they see it, they won’t ever forget it. We are the storytelling species, and this class gives them the chance to add their own story to our evolutionary timeline as they attempt to answer how stories shape humanity.”  

To learn more about HPU’s first-year seminars, visit highpoint.edu/firstyearprograms/firstyearseminars.

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