Anthropology Honors Program Gains University-wide Reputation

Faustine Dufka, wearing a Soulumination T-shirt
Faustine Dufka, wearing a Soulumination T-shirt, volunteering for the day with Soulumination at Camp Agape, a weeklong camp for children with cancer and their families

The Department of Anthropology Honors Program is gaining a university-wide reputation for offering excellent training, close mentorship, and diverse research experiences. Because the program is limited to 15 students per year, it also offers students a unique, close-knit academic community. Each student participates in professional skills seminars on topics such as proposal writing, and undertakes a yearlong independent research project, either nationally or internationally, which is guided by a faculty advisor. Students graduate from the honors program with a completed senior thesis and “distinction” in anthropology on their transcripts and diplomas. The program is designed to be both a bridge between undergraduate and graduate work and also excellent preparation for fields that deal with research, project management, writing, and professional presentation skills.

Professor Rachel Chapman, the current director of the program, recently recommended (and the department approved) changes to the application process in response to her observation that students with strong relationships with faculty prior to starting the program were able to complete the program most successfully. Implementing these changes, which now include a letter from an advisor, a bibliography, and a short project proposal, gives students the opportunity to plan for the honors application in advance, thus encouraging them to build working relationships with professors.

One recent example of a project is “Looking at Coming of Age Rites through Secularized Sunglasses,” in which a biological anthropology student studied the escalation of expenses for coming of age rites in the Jewish community, both in Israel and Seattle. Another student, who worked in a UW oncology lab, conducted an ethnographic project of a hospital in Uganda where the UW oncologists worked digitally, in real time, with the Ugandan oncologists. Yet another worked with people who live in their vehicles in one of Seattle’s neighborhoods, and put together a resource guide for vehicular residents that the Seattle Police Department reproduced for its officers.

Each year several anthropology honors students receive Mary Gates Research Fellowships, a university-wide fellowship that allows the students to complete summer research. Professor Rachel Chapman says, “These students are really excited about putting anthropology into practice, and working with them has been one of my most rewarding experiences at the UW.” Professor Chapman is creatively expanding the program to include professional development, such as workshops on data analysis, and is instituting a pilot program where seniors mentor juniors. The program has also held an undergraduate research roundtable, which prepares students for professional conference presentations.

Students are drawn to the program for the opportunity to pursue independent research and to have a small, supportive community of scholars on campus. Anthropology honors senior Faustine Dufka(see below) says, “It represents a way of making this huge university feel small. The small class sizes, accessibility of professors and advisors, and opportunities to know other students on an individual basis enabled me to forge some really close relationships with peers and faculty members.” She also sees the usefulness of the independent research project as she looks beyond this year. “What we learn in this process about ourselves—about our personal interests, what we are capable of accomplishing, and our aspirations for the future—prepares us for life after college better than any other academic experience could.”

Faustine Dufka’s senior research project, “The Memory You are Left With,” looks at the role of remembrance photography in the process of mourning perinatal, neonatal, and infant death. Read article.

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