Awardees watch film clip

Food for thought: Annual luncheon awards creativity

Nearly 60 faculty members net funding aimed at inspiring stellar research, work

October 23, 2018

After being thanked by their leaders both in words and in food, honorees of this fall’s Office of Research and Services (ORS) Awards Luncheon were transported ahead in time to a post-apocalyptic world and back in time to the days humans first walked on two feet.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and head of ORS Bob Damrauer moderated the Oct. 12 event, which acknowledged ORS-funded faculty members for their research and creative work.

Chancellor Dorothy Horrell and Provost Rod Nairn welcomed the full Terrace Room in the Lawrence Street Center, congratulating the nearly 60 award recipients and Damrauer, who celebrates 50 years with CU Denver this year.

Horrell referenced a quote Damrauer gave during a recent CU Connections interview, in which the chemistry professor said teaching was his favored role during his tenure. “I have wanted students to love the things I love and to find ways to explore their worlds of interest,” Horrell said, reciting Damrauer.

“When I think about that statement, and I think about what we are here to celebrate today, that’s right at the heart of it,” she said. “You all are engaged in work that you love and that you want your students to love. What a privilege that is for students and for this university to have people like you who care so deeply.”

This year’s presenters were David Liban and Anna Warrener. Here’s a synopsis of their talks:

David Liban, associate professor of theater, film and television in the College of Arts and Media (CAM) launches four-part feature film

David Liban speaks
David Liban admits that he ignored his own teaching tenets of film casting in his new feature, starring lots of children and a dog.

Rather than using the usual graphs and charts in illustrating his award-winning research, Liban turned his audience’s attention to a movie clip. On the screen, a young boy crept through waist-high grass, a hunter’s knife clasped by his side, as a crescendo of music filled the air.

After the trailer faded and the audience returned from its short glimpse of the fear and devastation of a boy alone in a post-apocalyptic world, Liban shared what it was like fulfilling a lifelong dream while working in academia.

“I’ve always wanted to make feature films,” he said. But as a young, tenure-track faculty member who knew creating feature films takes years, Liban focused instead on short films and documentaries.

One Emmy and many attention-grabbing documentaries later, covering everything from end of life to sex-trafficking in Colorado, Liban has no regrets. But he did have one short film that he and his crew agreed needed more storytelling.

Colorado apocalypse: Film all locally shot

Laurie Baefsky sits next to Dean Laurence Kaptain
Laurie Baefsky, CAM’s new associate dean for research, collaboration and innovation, laughs during the awards luncheon. Dean Laurence Kaptain (background) also joined the celebration that honored one of his own, David Liban, of theater, film and television.

So “Feral,” a four-part movie series, was born. Starring Liban’s then 11-year-old son, the production combined multi-disciplinary talent from within CAM and across the city. “I was working with students and colleagues,” Liban said. “I was working with alumni and people in the community.”

Filmed in Colorado, from the creepy catacombs beneath the Tivoli Student Union to the graveyard trains and blowing wheat fields of Strasburg, the film chronicles a boy’s life in a strange, new world as he matures through adolescence. By the time the final shooting takes place in 2019, his son (and his character) will be nearing 16, Liban said.

Liban said he is thankful for ORS and the university in helping him realize his dream. “As an artist, I feel really fortunate to be here, because I do feel a great support system throughout CU Denver to do this creative work. And, deep down at heart, it’s what I always wanted to do.”

Anna Warrener, assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) calls purported effects of bipedalism on women into question

Anna Warrener at podium
Anna Warrener talks about the implications of two evolutionary characteristics of humans: having big brains and walking on two feet.

Whether her predecessors named it the “scar on human evolution” or the “obstetrical dilemma,” Warrener’s research has called into question a scientific model accepted for 70-plus years.

Linking two human evolutionary changes – bipedalism and big brains – to maternal and neonatal deaths during or shortly after birth, the model says pelvic changes necessary for walking on two feet combined with brains that surpassed all other primates in size-to-body-mass ratio created a deadly evolutionary compromise.

“The pelvis is the most profoundly affected bone by this bipedal locomotion,” Warrener said, using graphics to illustrate the shape and size differences between human and chimpanzee pelvic bones. The argument has been that those changes made the birth canal too tight for many big-headed babies.

Arguing that women’s hip abductors (a group of muscles connecting the pelvis and thigh) must fire more often in keeping their already-wider pelvis balanced, the theorists suggest women expend more locomotor energy.

Nutrition suspected in birthing troubles

Chancellor Horrell
Chancellor Dorothy Horrell joined in celebrating the standout work of faculty members at this fall’s Office of Research and Services Awards Luncheon. Provost Rod Nairn (background) also congratulated the winners.

For one study, after all subjects underwent lower-body MRIs, Warrener captured motion data of 26 men and women walking and running on a force platform by using infrared reflective markers. She also monitored oxygen consumption.

Warrener’s calculations found no statistically significant relationship between pelvic width and locomotor cost. “It’s actually astonishing. At no point does it correlate well with pelvic width.”

Regarding birthing difficulties, Warrener suspects nutritional differences play a role, a theory she says has recently gained traction. Nutritional defects during girls’ development can have a profound effect on pelvis shape, she said. Conversely, an overeating tendency in Western society has resulted in larger newborns. “This may be a double nutritional whammy.”

Warrener emphasized that this new nutritional hypothesis is a work in progress but calls for more rigorous study. “We need to do this reframing because, from an evolutionary perspective, birthing has to work.”

“As an artist, I feel really fortunate to be here, because I do feel a great support system throughout CU Denver to do this creative work. And, deep down at heart, it’s what I always wanted to do.”

– David Liban