Whiting Center creates indigenous knowledge endowment at Penn State

November 25, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State has received $50,000 from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center for Humanity, Arts and the Environment to support indigenous knowledge studies and activities. The gift will create the Marjorie Grant Whiting Endowment for the Advancement of Indigenous Knowledge.

According to Ladislaus Semali and Audrey Maretzki, co-directors of the University's Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge (ICIK), earnings from the endowment will be used to develop interdisciplinary courses; fund indigenous knowledge-related research, education and outreach efforts of faculty and graduate students; and support visiting scholars and lectures. The consortium is a collaborative initiative of the College of Education and the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Maretzki said the Whiting Endowment has been established at Penn State because of ICIK's efforts to illustrate the synergy between academic and indigenous knowledge systems and to enhance communication and collaboration between local communities and the academy.

Indigenous knowledge is an emerging area of study that focuses on place-specific ways of knowing, seeing and thinking that may reflect many generations of observation, experimentation and innovation in everything from agriculture, animal husbandry and child-rearing practices to education, medicine and natural resource management. Penn State is part of a global network of more than 20 indigenous knowledge resource centers and is the only center currently active in the United States.

Deanna Behring, director of the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences, where the Whiting endowment will be housed, noted that a Penn State faculty committee will advise on the use of endowment earnings.

Based in Woodland, Calif., the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center for Humanity, Arts and the Environment conducts, sponsors and supports charitable, scientific and educational activities and programs to further the work and interests of the late Marjorie Grant Whiting, an internationally known nutritional anthropologist.

The center was established after Whiting's death in 1995 to preserve her scientific and humanistic legacy as a researcher and teacher who contributed to an understanding of the cultural interface between diet and health among people around the world. Through its activities and programs, the center promotes the socio-cultural, nutritional, educational, and economic development of under-served population groups, with respect for their indigenous knowledge.

Educated at Cornell University, Columbia University and Harvard University, Marjorie Grant Whiting served in China as a nutritionist for the United Nations Refugee and Relief Association and the American Red Cross, and was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service. She later served as a nutritional anthropologist with the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and worked with the Food and Drug Administration and the Emergency Food and Medical Service of the Office of Economic Opportunity. She is best known for her research on the debilitating neuro-toxicological Guam Disease, which she associated with consumption of the cycad plant by the Chamorro residents of Micronesia. After retiring from government service, Whiting was a lecturer and adjunct professor at Penn State, the Catholic University of America and the Smithsonian Institution.

Information about Marjorie Grant Whiting and the Center for Humanity, Arts and the Environment can be found at http://www.marjoriewhitingcenter.org online.

Last Updated March 19, 2009