Great Ape Partnership puts Simpson College and Iowa on the map

by Amy HaugeStaff Writer

Students and professors working with the Great Ape Trust of Iowa hope to make Simpson a leading institution in primate studies.

“We should make Iowa the center of Primatology,” Carl Halgren, professor of psychology, said. “This is just the beginning of more great things to come in the future in Iowa and at Simpson.”

Simpson is currently in its second year of a three-year partnership with the Great Ape Trust, located in Des Moines.

The goal of the partnership is to provide students opportunities to gain hands-on experience.

The mission at the Great Ape Trust is to understand the origins and future of culture, language, tool use and intelligence of the great apes. They want to promote more understanding of this species.

Simpson has two instructors taking part in this project. Halgren and Tamara Weinstein, assistant professor of psychology, are both passionate about the Great Ape Trust and present a great deal of expertise at Simpson.

Students are just as excited about the program as the faculty.

“Dr. Weinstein is a wonderful asset to Simpson, and I hope that she will continue to be a part of this program,” junior Amber Vrbsky said. “She’s very passionate about her teaching, which makes it fun to learn.”

Courses through the partnership are available this semester, as well as in the spring and May Term.

The fall course is the Introduction of Primatology. As an introductory level course, students learn a general knowledge of species. Students also distinguish the similarities and differences between the four types of primates.

“This course is very interesting and fun,” Vrbsky said. “It can be very overwhelming, yet exciting at the same time.”

An Advanced Primatology course is available in the spring term.

“The advanced class is more in depth, and we also bring in a guest speaker,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein hopes the May Term class will give students an opportunity to see research institutions firsthand.

“We are trying to be able to visit four different institutions for this May Term course,” Weinstein said. This would give the students a perspective of how the different institutions function. There are a few ways to become involved, but they are very limited since the research is very tightly protected.”

This coming year Simpson is offering two scholarships in conjunction with the project. Students awarded these scholarships will work alongside Dr. Weinstein in her research.

“What a great opportunity Simpson is involved in and to have this amazing research being performed right here in Des Moines, Iowa,” Weinstein said. “We should be concerned because they are endangered and they are such fascinating animals because we can learn so much from them. The best thing is that the facility is in our backyard.”