Blaire Van Valkenburgh to deliver lecture as part of Phi Beta Kappa’s Visiting Scholars program
Centre College remains committed to cultivating campus discussions in all academic divisions that broaden the minds of its students. To that end, Blaire Van Valkenburgh will give a convocation address on “The National History of Sabertooth Cats” as part of the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Visiting Scholars program.
As a vertebrate paleobiologist, Van Valkenburgh centers her research on the evolution of form, function and ecology in organisms, both living and extinct. She is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles and is the associate dean of academic programs in the life sciences as well as a research associate with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. She has been awarded research grants by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society, and she has been featured in numerous documentaries produced by the National Geographic and Discovery channels.
Van Valkenburgh will be one of thirteen visiting scholars participating in the program during this academic year, and she will visit 100 colleges and universities with chapters of Phi Beta Kappa to deliver a lecture on sabertooth cats.
“Sabertooths represent an evolutionary success story with new species evolving repeatedly up until the extinction of the last representative, Smilodon fatalis, in North America 11,000 years ago,” Van Valkenburgh says. “As such, they exemplify the process of convergent evolution in which species evolve similar features in response to evolutionary pressures.”
Since 1956, the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Visiting Scholars program has been offering undergraduates the opportunity to spend time with some of America’s most distinguished scholars. The purpose of the program is to contribute to the intellectual life of the institution by making possible an exchange of ideas between the visiting scholars and the resident faculty and students.
Founded in 1776, the Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation’s oldest and most respected academic honor society. Centre is the only private liberal arts college in the Commonwealth with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. At the time the Beta chapter was established, Centre was among five of the smallest schools in the nation with a PBK chapter and remains among the smallest today out of 280 schools.
Van Valkenburgh’s convocation will be held on Thursday, Sept. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in Young 113. This event is free and open to the public.
by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
September 23, 2015