K-12 Outreach and Resources

ASU Open Door

Public outreach is one of our top priorities as an organization. The Institute of Human Origins (IHO) has been involved in providing educational outreach to local and national K–12 schools since its inception in 1981 in Berkeley, California, and move to ASU in 1997. Its founding members believed that scientists are the best interpreters of their research for the public. This is our human history, and we believe that sharing the story of how we "became human" with the public is as important as sharing the science.

IHO is committed to providing teachers with student resources about human origins through hands-on presentations and public outreach.

Teacher Resources

IHO research scientists are advisors to graduate students who volunteer their time to meet with school classes on field trips to ASU to make presentations on human origins. And of course, classes see the fossil cast of our most famous ancestor, “Lucy.” In addition, the graduate students host visitors for ASU’s Open Door and other on-campus outreach.

If you are a teacher in the Phoenix area and would like to bring your class to ASU, please contact Julie Russ at jruss@asu.edu or 480.727.6571 to discuss options.

Lucy in Space

An example of IHO's commitment to K-12 education outreach for understanding our human origins is the "Lucy in Space" contest, organized by IHO and supported by NASA, the Southwest Research Center, and the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration.

IHO organized this contest for middle and high school students centered on NASA's Lucy Mission. The students were challenged to think about human's drive for exploration and discovery both here on Earth for our human origins and for the origins of the planets in our solar system. Just as the fossil skeleton "Lucy" helped us understand our human origins, the Lucy Mission to the Trojan asteroids will tell us about the origin or the solar system. Winning entries can be found here—https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/lucy-in-space.


During its 30th anniversary year, IHO collaborated with the Museum Studies Program in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change to produce a semester-long exhibition on the history of IHO science—“30 Years of Research and Discovery.” The museum exhibition was in the Museum of Anthropology during fall semester 2011.

IHO also presented an exhibition in the ASU Hayden Library Rotunda and Luhrs Gallery on “Lucy’s Legacy: Preserving the Search for Human Origins,” which was open to the public and written about in the local media. The exhibition was funded by the Institute for Humanities Research and was a collaboration among the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies; ASU Libraries; and the Museum Studies Program in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

“Letters to Lucy”

During IHO’s 30th anniversary year, IHO promoted a "Letters to Lucy" essay competition for grades 3 through 12 through our BecomingHuman.org website, IHO's external outreach website. The 3rd–5th grade competition was open to all Arizona schools, but the 6th through 12th grade competition was open nationwide. We received over 800 essays, and the grand prize was for Professor Donald Johanson, discoverer of “Lucy,” to visit the three winners' schools (one winner each for 3–5 grade, 6–8 grade, and 9–12 grade) and give a presentation to students on human origins, speak to the teachers and administrators about science education, and give the winner an autographed book and recognition letter in person. The three visits were extremely successful in solidifying IHO's national presence with the K-12 science community and made a real impact on students' educations. Read the winning essays at the BecomingHuman.org website. It was such a successful effort that one of the schools—Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California—is continuing a yearly essay competition, “What makes us human, and why,” on their own!

Public Events

The institute organizes lectures during the school year that are open to the general public and are appropriate for high school students (though we do have a few younger students who regularly attend!). Check on the News + Events webpage for upcoming events of interest.

In May 2011, Professor Johanson met anthropologist Richard Leakey on stage at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to talk about the importance of human origins and science education. The day prior to that event, Professor Johanson and Louise Leakey met with over 120 high school students from all over the NY area from private to public schools from the Bronx to Manhattan high schools. The two scientists made short presentations, but primarily answered students questions about human origins and field discoveries for over two hours. It was another successful effort to bring ASU and IHO science to the K–12 audience. To see the Johanson/Leakey event on YouTube, click here (1:28 hours).