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Famed NIU researcher and professor to have classroom named in his honor

November 11, 2019

One of NIU’s most decorated professors is getting a classroom named in his honor.

The Dan Gebo Biological Anthropology Classroom, located in Room 178 of the Stevens Building, will be dedicated at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18. Professor Gebo, who held a joint appointment in anthropology and biological sciences, had an illustrious 32-year career at NIU before retiring this past May.

Gebo is a world-renowned comparative anatomist and paleontologist, specializing in the evolution of lower primates, monkeys, apes and humans. His research shed light on how limbs and bodies adapted over time, with a particular focus on the evolution of foot anatomy and locomotion.

Gebo’s work also made headlines worldwide. He was a key member of a scientific team announcing in 2013 the discovery of the oldest primate skeleton, dating back 55 million years.

He also led a research team that in March of 2000, announced the discovery of tiny foot bones, some the size of a grain of rice, belonging to the world’s smallest primate and the earliest known ancestor of monkeys, apes and humans. About the size of a human thumb, Eosimias lived in a rain forest 45 million years ago in China. The discovery was celebrated on the front pages of numerous major newspapers, including the New York Times, and even became the subject of a “Saturday Night Live” skit with Will Ferrell.

A resident of Elgin, Gebo searched for fossils worldwide, often camping with colleagues in remote areas of Asia, Africa and South America, but he was equally adept and comfortable in front of a large lecture hall full of students, who selected him as the outstanding NIU teacher in anthropology eight times.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education named Gebo as the 2014 Illinois Professor of the Year. At NIU, he won every major university award for teaching and research, including three times being named a Board of Trustees Professor.

Gebo authored a highly successful book, “Primate Comparative Anatomy,” published in 2014 by Johns Hopkins University Press. He also helped build an extensive NIU collection of extinct and extant primates, including casts of ancient human ancestors. The classroom named in his honor will allow for hands-on learning in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate anthropology classes.

NIU President Lisa Freeman, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Judy Ledgerwood and Anthropology Department Chair Leila Porter will provide brief remarks during the classroom dedication.

“Dr. Gebo was an outstanding colleague, teacher and scientist,” Porter said, adding that stipends from his awards often benefitted students, including his purchases of fossil casts and replicas of non-human bones to expand the anthropology department’s remarkable teaching osteology collection, which he oversaw.

“By dedicating the Biological Anthropology Classroom and Osteology Collection to Dr. Gebo, we are recognizing the decades he committed to teaching NIU undergraduate and graduate students and his phenomenal research career,” said Porter.