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No bones about it: Moore-Jansen is a top professor

11:24:25 PM CDT - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Peer Moore-Jansen, associate professor and
chair of anthropology, discusses human
remains identification with a orensic anthropology
class. The class is working on a mock criminal case.
Moore-Jansenwon the Kansas Professor of the
Year award, given by two national groups.  
It was nearing midnight, and Peer Moore-Jansen was

It was nearing midnight, and Peer Moore-Jansen was still helping graduate student Nathan Harper go over his research. Moore-Jansen, associate professor and chair of anthropology, and Harper were working on some follow-up data from Harper's year spent in Cyprus as a Fulbright Scholar, studying skulls. It's an experience Harper says he may not have had, if not for Moore-Jansen. "I wouldn't be where I am without his help and direction," Harper says. In less than 72 hours Moore-Jansen would accept this year's Kansas Professor of the Year award in Washington, D.C., given by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Before Moore-Jansen flew off to the nation's capital, however, he had to deliver a lecture to students about primates in a general education class and set up a mock forensic trial for future anthropologists and criminologists. It's things like late-night research sessions in his second-floor bone lab in Neff Hall and engaging students in forensic cases and research projects that helped Moore-Jansen garner his latest teaching award. He'd won WSU's Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award in 1998 and the Academy for Effective Teaching Award in 1999.

About eight hours after wrapping up his research session with Harper, Moore-Jansen was lecturing to a morning class of more than 100 students on the origins of primates. It's a class where some students get hooked on Moore-Jansen's specialty biological anthropology, which includes the fields of forensic and skeletal anthropology. Even those who don't choose to go further with anthropology studies often recall Moore-Jansen's "ape walk." When asked about his re-enactments of how earlier primates probably walked, Moore-Jansen laughs and is a little embarrassed. "I guess I sometimes get a little carried away." He does it, he says, so students don't just memorize facts about the primates' hip and lower leg bones; instead they have a visual idea of how skeletal form affected a primate's gait. The demonstration is given before Moore-Jansen sends the students to study the behavior of chimpanzees and orangutans at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

When Harper came to WSU to study archaeology, an interest of his since childhood, he enrolled in Moore-Jansen's introductory class. He became one of those students fueled by Moore-Jansen's enthusiasm for biological anthropology. He jumped at the chance to volunteer in Moore-Jansen's bone lab. "Little did I know that this opportunity and Dr. Moore-Jansen's mentorship would lead me places I never thought possible," Harper wrote in his nomination letter for Moore-Jansen's recent teaching honor. Because of Moore-Jansen's professional connections and mentorship, Harper joined excavation digs in Mexico and Cypress, before landing his Fulbright scholarship. Moore-Jansen seems to have a knack for converting students to anthropology. "Every year, we have a number of students who decide to major in anthropology because of the positive impression made on them by Dr. Moore-Jansen," says colleague Robert Lawless. Fellow faculty member Clayton Robarchek agrees. Moore-Jansen says he doesn't take lightly a student's request to study anthropology. He quizzes them on why they want to major in the field and what they plan to do with their degree. "It's exciting when a student says they want to go into that field, but it won't do any good if they don't know why they want to." For those students, he suggests classes to "try it out." For those who decide to follow through on their studies, Moore-Jansen often becomes their adviser, at their request. "He advises three to four times as many students as any other faculty member; a great many want to be his students," says Robarchek. Moore-Jansen invites a number of students to join him in his many research studies. Sometimes he invites students with other majors to join a project, if it suits their interest.

Criminal justice graduate student Nika Orebaugh was thrilled. She and Moore-Jansen had been discussing the skeletal remains being used in a mock case in Moore-Jansen's forensic anthropology class. With her undergraduate degree in biology and emphasis in chemistry, Orebaugh says it would be easier to identify the remains through DNA analysis. As he usually does when he senses he can help further a student's interest, Moore-Jansen makes a pitch. "Come and see me about a project." "He doesn't know what that means to me," says Orebaugh, about Moore-Jansen's invitation. Moore-Jansen tries to find ways to grasp students' interests. In the forensic anthropology class, he gets students involved in a "mock" trial. It's a project that attracts anthropology and criminal justice students who relish the opportunity to do some hands-on sleuthing. For this semester's class, he and some students buried "skeletal remains" at the Great Plains Nature Center in April. On a Sunday morning this past November, Moore-Jansen gathered the class at the center and told them a couple of bone fragments had been discovered in a criminal case. The class spent the next five hours scouring the terrain and digging up the remains, which were plastic bones. They bagged and logged evidence, just like real investigators. Back in the classroom, the plastic bones were replaced with a set of actual remains, donated by the family of a woman who'd died of gunshot wounds. Students studied the bones, putting to work what they'd been learning about identification. Criminal justice senior Jeff Smith was discussing with Moore-Jansen the non-human evidence found pants, a shirt, one shoe. He wanted to figure out the shoe size of the person. He was inquisitive, admitting he has lots of questions. "That's all right. That's all right," Moore-Jansen tells him. "You are ready to work in a forensics lab then."

Moore-Jansen doesn't just have students analyze mock cases. Many have had the opportunity to do real-life cases. Since coming to WSU in 1989, Moore-Jansen has helped local and regional law enforcement officials with forensic identification in well over 100 cases. In recent years, he's broadened how he shares his expertise with law enforcement. Now he teaches workshops at a semi-annual conference organized by the Sedgwick County medical examiner's office. His workshop offered through WSU's Midwest Criminal Justice Institute is also popular. He also involves both undergraduate and graduate students in a number of research projects. Currently, students are doing growth studies, aging studies, and compiling demographic profiles of Moore-Jansen's case files. Another group of students is wrapping up the inventory and writing of cultural histories of an archaeological skeletal collection.

The story announcing Peer Moore-Jansen as the Kansas Professor of the Year recipient can be found at www.wichita.edu /insidewsu.



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