New UA School of Anthropology Offers Enhanced Opportunities for Students

Ranked among the elite programs as a department, the new school has expanded in scope to become one of the largest in the country.
Dec. 9, 2009
Barbara Mills
Barbara Mills
Site in Coolidge Dam, Ariz. demonstrates how signs and symbols define our lives and our environment.
Site in Coolidge Dam, Ariz. demonstrates how signs and symbols define our lives and our environment.

This fall, the University of Arizona's prestigious anthropology department, already ranked among the top five in the country, became even stronger. Under the UA transformation plan, the department reorganized into a school, adding more depth to its world-renowned archaeology program and increasing ways faculty and students can be engaged in the community.

The new School of Anthropology, which is now one of the largest in the country, includes 34 faculty from the anthropology department, eight research anthropologists from the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, or BARA, five classical archaeologists from the classics department and four curators from the Arizona State Museum.

Faculty members are affiliated with one or more of five divisions: applied anthropology/BARA, archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology and sociocultural anthropology. In addition, four major themes cross-cut the divisions: ecological and evolutionary anthropology; global health disparities; applied development and public policy studies; and the anthropology of history and social memory.

The school has about 160 graduate students, 315 majors and 100 minors. The bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in anthropology all continue, along with a certificate in medical anthropology, a joint doctorate with linguistics and a dual doctoral degree with Near Eastern studies.

"One of the reason we formed the school was to benefit students, especially those in applied anthropology," said Barbara Mills, director of the School of Anthropology. "Now, as integrated members of the larger school, BARA faculty can help establish curriculum and vote on initiatives that affect students.

"Our medical anthropology and applied anthropology programs are widely known, and with BARA faculty as part of the school, we are now one of if not the strongest applied anthropology program in the country," said Mills.

BARA's long-standing and extensive experience in conducting applied anthropology all over the globe – from creating sustainable solutions to hunger in Africa to drought mitigation projects in Latin America – will provide more outreach opportunities for all students.

Diane Austin, last year's UA Distinguished Outreach Professor, is chairing a new outreach committee within the school.

"The outreach committee is assessing the internships available through the school," Austin said. "We will be exploring ways to continue to strengthen and expand these outstanding opportunities for both contributing to the needs of the communities in which we live and work and also providing diverse and challenging learning environments for our students."

Integrating archaeologists from the UA classics department into the school was also a logical step, said Mills. Archeologists in anthropology and classics share similar method and theory, but they each bring different strengths to the school.

"The archeologists from the anthropology department bring with them expertise in the application of scientific methods to understand the human past – we are one of the leaders in archaeological sciences in the country," said Mills. "And the archeologists in classics bring with them these wonderful field opportunities; they all have active field projects in places like Italy, Greece and Egypt."

The addition of the Arizona State Museum curators – three archaeologists and one biological anthropologist – to the School of Anthropology faculty will formalize and expand the teaching role of the curators, a change that will further benefit students. The curators especially expand the opportunities for students in Southwest archaeology.

The school also is currently planning several new programs for students: a bachelor of science in anthropology, with tracks in biological anthropology and archeological science; a master of arts track in applied archaeology; and a one-year certificate in applied anthropology. A doctoral minor in Mediterranean archaeology is also in the planning stage.

"Anthropology has always been one of the flagship units at the University of Arizona," said Beth Mitchneck, interim dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "This new school is now, without question, one of the strongest in the country. Not only have they expanded their already considerable expertise in archeology, they are a model for how applied anthropological research can positively impact communities, both local and international. Both students and the community at large will be excited by the new opportunities available at the UA School of Anthropology."

Mills emphasized that it is not just the applied anthropologists who are engaged with the community. "All of us work closely with communities. We are focused on solving problems. Some of those are well-known problems in human history, such as what is the origin of different kinds of human behavior, like agriculture and cities," Mills said. "Others can be problems that communities identify and then ask us to help solve with our anthropological expertise. Ultimately we are interested in understanding human diversity – how we came to be the way we are today and what that diversity means for contemporary societies."

According to Mills, the UA is adapting as the discipline evolves.

"Anthropology is a different discipline than it was 50 years ago," said Mills. "A new part of the field is about being engaged. And I think we are at the forefront of that."

Before its designation as a school, the department of anthropology was 5th in the last National Research Council rankings; its archeology program is ranked 2nd by the Society for American Archaeology and its Linguistic Anthropology Program is ranked 1st.

The new School of Anthropology has four Regents' Professors: John Olsen, Mark Nichter, David Soren and Richard Wilkinson. In addition, two emeritus Regents' Professors – Jane Hill and Vance Haynes – are still very active in the department.

J. Jefferson Reid is the school's University Distinguished Professor. Michael Brian Schiffer is the Fred A. Riecker Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Brackette Williams is a MacArthur Fellow.

Last year, the department received the UA Provost's Award for Meritorious Departmental Achievement in Undergraduate Instruction.

The School of Anthropology also has an impressive record of receiving external support. In 2008, the anthropology department brought in $4 million in external funding and more than $6 million in gifts, and BARA received $2 million in new contracts and grants.