One could call Jonathan O’Brien a people person. As an anthropologist, he is interested in human behavior and the behavior of our ancestors.
“Some thing that fascinates me is the story of us. Where have we been? Where are we going? Why do we do the things that we do?” he says.
O’Brien teaches Introduction to Physical Anthropology, an online course offered through Continuing Education’s Independent Learning Program. The course considers human biology and humans’ place in the animal kingdom. Students look at the entire order of primates and evolution through apes leading up to modern humans.
“By learning about where we come from, and how our ancestors lived and adapted, we can better understand what possibilities the future may hold,” he says.
“When we look at the science through this greater narrative, we can understand how we fit into the natural world.”
O’Brien is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology. Over the past few years, he has been living and working in Vietnam studying the feeding and sensory ecology of Old World Monkey species. He incorporates his research on the conservation of primates in Southeast Asia into his course. In addition, he highlights his colleagues’ research through weekly guest interviews.
“I want to give students an idea of what goes on within the field,” he says. “I try to make my class an educational community through video interviews with experts from many facets of physical anthropology. It gives students the opportunity to talk to people on the front lines of conservation, and it helps build the lines of communication between students and CU anthropologists if a student feels drawn to their work.”