Blog Archives

Upcoming AnthroPlus Conference

Each year our department hosts a student research conference, Anthroplus, at the University of Maryland. Only graduate and undergraduate students may participate as presenters of either papers, speed talks, or posters.  It’s kind of nice to sit back and see what the students can do – both the awesome and the cringe-worthy*.   It is good practice for students in a safe setting, and I generally encourage all the students who work with me to participate.

From PASA’s soliciting email:

The Practicing Anthropologist Student Association will be hosting its 6th Annual Student Conference, Anthro+ on Saturday, 11 April 2015. The theme of this year’s conference is A World Made Safe for Differences: Addressing Diversity in the Discipline. For those unfamiliar, this conference is an opportunity for students of anthropology and related disciplines to present a broad range of research, often in nontraditional ways.   Registration is free.  Abstracts should be submitted by 1 March 2015.  As the conference develops, we will post updates on the Anthro+ website.  If you should have any questions, concerns, or comments, please email us at anthropologyconferenceumd@gmail.com.

Be the solution*Bear in mind that the cringe-worthy can be because of bad research, bad presentation, or that the individual just chokes getting up in front of people and you feel awful for them.  And as an adviser/research supervisor, if my student is cringe-worthy, that means I need to step in with my mentoring of their learning and research.

Stay on target! We’re too close! Stay on target!*

by Rachel Ridley

     After all the weeks of coding, re-coding, exporting, and now pulling it all together in a final analysis, we are finally at the end. We went through elephants, fences, and machambas [agricultural fields] all the way to standing water, hospitals, and weather (for Health in the SES Model, at least). It seems like we covered so much ground in so little time. I find myself still thinking back to coding interviews about elephant damage and realizing just how extensive this research was and is. I’m continually amazed by it as I sit down and try to bring it all to a close.
     One of the biggest struggles was having to organize all of the exported codes together and find themes in them. The problem is, not all of us (in my group) coded the same things in the same way. At first, this seemed immensely problematic. I kept thinking, “How is this going to add up to make any sense together at all?” But in the end, I think it was important that we had experience working on a project such as this in a group. I know I gained a lot from looking at the way the same thing could be interpreted in multiple ways.
     But now that we’re working on our final analyses, I realize that that wasn’t the hard part. Somehow we’ve got to pull all of what we’ve done through the whole semester into one analysis paper. I keep going back and forth, worrying that I won’t have enough to say and then realizing I probably have too MUCH to say to be concise! How to pull together these complex, interrelated themes without minimizing them or making them larger than life?
     Not to mention it’s the end of the semester (finally!) and there’s all kinds of absurdly long papers and cruel, unusual final presentations to do, and it’s hard to keep focus. I want to make sure that the material I create to finish up this project does the full experience and research justice. I keep stalling by making more and more maps or finding some new way to tie them together (I’m using online mapping software) and waiting around, as if I expect that if I do enough maps, a beautifully crafted full-length analysis will pop into my head, fully formed.
Finals1-e1326497361395
     In all, I think it’s bittersweet. Of course, here in this moment, I want everything I have to do for the semester to just be over and done with. I want to move on to holiday celebration, sleeping until 2pm, and not having any deadlines to even consider. Yet there’s a whole other part of me that wants it to continue. I want more time and more space to write about it, because in many ways, the interviews – the issues themselves – that we studied became important to me personally. I find myself regularly thinking about the problems and subject matter that I spent so much time organizing and analyzing. In some ways, it has become larger than life for me.
     We’ve all got until Friday to pull our masterpieces together, and I’m hoping we can make them just that! It has been more than fulfilling to spend so much time with this research, so here’s hoping we can all produce some worthwhile thematic analysis from it.
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     The KRAC Lab research assistants this term have struggled mightily to work though a ton of crazy data.  They’ve ridden a rollercoaster from learning how to code all the way through to their final analysis.  Their learning process is very much the same that socio-cultural anthropologists of all levels go through – down to the part of having so much to say and so little space to say it.  Their analyses has contributed to one submitted NSF proposal and two more in the works.  Their work will also go into a report for the Mozambican government and local communities, as well as multiple anticipated articles (and depending on how much work they’ve put in may include their names as co-authors).  I’m really proud of all of them.  ~ JS
* Gold Leader to Gold Five, Star Wars: A New Hope (Ep. IV)

Training to Respond

Our work in the KRAC Lab focuses on how people, households, and communities use their environmental knowledge to respond and adapt to environmental change.  We work with rural communities primarily in southern Mozambique.  However, Ronga communities are not the only communities facing environmental change, potential natural disaster, and day-to-day emergencies.

Learn to Prepare

Back home, here in the United States, here in Maryland, we face potential threats and deal with emergencies big and small on a daily basis.  Heck, getting into the car to go anywhere in the DMV region is like a death wish with the way most people drive.

START Students Pioneer UMD CERT Program

Rebecca Alberda, a masters student in the KRAC Lab, has been working with START over the past 6 months on the social science side of Maryland and U.S. emergency issues, potential disasters, and terrorist threats.  Recently, she participated in an exercise to complete her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification.  CERT is a FEMA program that trains local citizens to respond and assist in emergency situations.  Prince George’s County has a CERT presence and soon so will the University of Maryland, College Park.    It’s all part of UMD’s emergency preparedness plan.

Welcome Back

by Bryan Gerard

As the summer ended and the fall semester began, it was time to begin our research with Dr. Shaffer. The research team began to meet to discuss the direction of the study and learn what would be expected in this lab. During the first two weeks we were provided the opportunity to practice both inductive and deductive coding. However, this past Friday, 9/26, we decided to break up the research into several projects (Wildlife Conflict, Health, Indicators of Change, and Agency — also Local Mapping of the Social-Ecological System and GIS). Dr. Shaffer differentiated these projects to enable the research assistants to gain experience in fields that interest us. More importantly, the various projects, while seemingly diverse, also exemplify the interconnectedness of the challenges in an area experiencing a plethora of social and environmental changes.

However, before we focus on the varied projects, we are all coding interviews about wildlife conflict. This has become a major issue for the local population and Mozambican government as elephants from the neighboring reserve have wreaked havoc on the local community, destroying crops, homes, and in several cases killing humans. This work will then be used to write a report for the Mozambican government – which will ideally highlight where and how to make changes.

IMG_7120Anthro Student Researchers at the 26 Sept 14 KRAC lab meeting.

Students in the field

Our lab’s masters students have begun their summer research projects.

Rebecca is close to home at START.  She is based out of College Park, but will be working in Washington, DC.  Rebecca sent me an updated proposal last week with an extensive section on risk, vulnerability and risk communication.  The work she does now on the lit review will come in handy for discussion at her internship but also during her internship write-up.

Alyssa has left the continent.  She is posting to a blog, Seahawk in the Gambia, while in the field.  I hope she enjoys herself.  Alyssa’s proposal was ambitious – always good – but Africa is Africa.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.  I look forward though to reading about a place I have not been to but have heard much about.

Jordan is still with me in College Park.  With my dad’s illness and death, our departure date was set back two weeks.  In the end it has all worked out because it gives us a little more time to prep.  We’re both going to try and post from the field to this blog over the June/July field season.

Updated Happy News

Both Katie Chen and Raquel Fleskes successfully defended their honor’s theses. Katie’s thesis explored food security and how differences in data sets at the national and local levels could affect food aid. Raquel’s thesis involved the creation and analysis of new lab activities for a new course in our department – ANTH 222: Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology.


 

Chen, K. 2014. A comparison between local and national data: how food security definitions, dimensions and interpretations can impact aid. Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 38 pp.

Organizations around the world define “food security” in a variety of ways, but usually derive their version from the World Food Summit in 1996. Food security from this meeting is defined “as existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This definition varies from organization to organization, and in this thesis I to compare the definitions from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to understand how the definitions are shaped and how this impacts the information they collect. In an extensive search through documents, survey data, reports and published works, I found that the surveys conducted may not give an adequate idea of what food security is. I also compare Dr. Shaffer’s socio-economic household survey conducted in Tanzania to the information collected by the FAO to see if the datasets are comparable and representative of food security definitions.


 

Fleskes, R. 2014. Facilitating a deep learning approach for university students in an interdisciplinary lab setting: a case study approach to the formulation of the Introducation to Ecological and Evolutionary laboratory course at the University of Maryland.  Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 171 pp.

In interdisciplinary higher education, the challenge for educators is to understand how to design a curriculum that teaches course material effectively, while still encouraging deep learning and interdisciplinary thinking in the classroom. We present a case-study illustrating how this was accomplished for the Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology (IEEA) laboratory course at the University of Maryland. Laboratory session styles varied between activity-based, discussion, station, and out-of-the-classroom formats and contained critical thinking and application-based questions. A pre- and post-test on learning objectives were distributed at the beginning, middle, and end of one academic semester to assess if students were learning course material. Additionally, student opinion surveys on the quality of the laboratory course were distributed to assess student-perceived effectiveness of the course. Over three academic semesters, laboratory activities were either modified or implemented, leading to improvement in the student opinion survey. The IEEA curriculum design provides framework for how educators in higher education can enhance course effectiveness and student opinions to facilitate deeper learning and interdisciplinary thinking for in their classrooms. [a good portion of the thesis is appendices containing the labs and related materials]


Also, Raquel was accepted into UPenn’s PhD program for molecular anthropology.  She will be studying under Dr. Theodore Schurr.  Congratulations!