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National Publication Cites UW Anthropology Program for Attracting College Majors

October 13, 2014
man carefully excavating artifact with small tool
Cole Schmitz, an undergraduate student in the UW Department of Anthropology, conducts research at an archeology field camp at Hell Gap, near Guernsey. (UW Photo)

Business Insider lists anthropology/archeology as Wyoming’s leader in an article titled “Here’s the College Major That Defines Each State.” The publication explains that anthropology/archaeology is disproportionately represented as a college major in Wyoming in comparison to other states.

The citation ( reflects UW’s long tradition of providing top-notch education in anthropology, says Professor James Ahern, who heads the UW Department of Anthropology.

“Because of the background and skills that our program provides and the demand for our graduates in both private and public sectors, students are attracted to our major and to our graduate program,” he says. “We are particularly proud of how our graduates are serving the state of Wyoming through their jobs in education, energy-related cultural resource management and tourism.”

During the past decade, the number of UW anthropology majors has grown by 40 percent (from 89 in 2004 to 125 in 2013). The number of anthropology Ph.D. students has grown by 283 percent in the same time (from six in 2004 to 17 in 2013).

There is a high demand for anthropology graduates in private and public cultural resource management, Ahern says. Cultural resource management, such as conducting archaeological surveys and excavation that document existing cultural resources, is essential to the economic development of Wyoming and the region.

“For example, as required by federal and state laws, energy development on public lands can only happen after the impact of this development on prehistoric and historic archaeological sites has been assessed by cultural resource management specialists,” he says. “Because of the growth in the energy industry in our region, UW anthropology graduates are in high demand for these jobs.”

Wyoming’s rich cultural heritage contributes to the department’s international recognition. UW conducts field research throughout the state at such famous archaeological sites as Hell Gap (Guernsey) and Vore Buffalo Jump (Sundance). These field projects provide ideal venues for student education through the department’s archaeological field schools.

UW faculty members serve on both the State Historic Preservation Office National Historic Registry Review Board and on the board of the Wyoming Archaeological Foundation. The Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office and the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist are both housed in the Anthropology Building.anthropology building

“Many students gain valuable experience working in part-time jobs and internships with these associated state agencies,” Ahern says.

The department offers world-class facilities, too. UW’s Anthropology Building, built in 2007, offers some of the nation’s best laboratory, collections storage, and teaching facilities, he says.

The reputation of individual faculty members also attracts students into the program. Ahern points out that faculty members conduct research all over the world on both past peoples and current cultures.

Professor Michael Harkin is the current president for the American Society for Ethnohistory and past editor of the journal Ethnohistory. Professor Robert Kelly is the past-president of the Society for American Archaeology and the current editor-elect of the premiere journal for American archaeology, American Antiquity. Professor Marcel Kornfeld is the current editor of Plains Anthropologist.

The only UW faculty member elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences is Anthropology Professor Emeritus George Frison. His groundbreaking research on the archaeology of hunting and the prehistory of Wyoming is recognized internationally.

About the UW Department of Anthropology

UW’s anthropology department provides education and training in all of the subfields of anthropology (archaeological, biological, cultural and linguistic) and offers B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. Following in Frison’s footsteps, the department’s faculty members are leaders in their various research areas. Faculty prehistoric research ranges from studying the fate of the Neanderthals to the peopling of the Americas to Incan-Spanish interactions. Faculty members conduct research on contemporary peoples, including the study of Icelandic language learners, indigenous peoples’ interactions with Europeans and cultural responses to climate change.

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