A crucial component of my courses is teaching students how to identify and understand culture. To convey this concept, I use tangible examples of culture at play in their lives through applied learning experiences. My objectives for all courses that I teach are to improve critical thinking skills, provide opportunities for hands-on learning to every student, and facilitate their understanding of how the content and skills taught in the class fit into their overall learning trajectory.

The two strategies that I employ to improve critical thinking skills are student-led discussions and the incorporation of a peer review process. For example, my class “Culture and Economy in a Globalizing World” uses international aid and development as a framework for understanding the intersection of culture and economy. I use Edleman and Haugeraud’s Anthropology of Development and Globalization (2005). I divide the class into four groups, each of which is responsible for reading one chapter and reporting on it to their peers through discussion and a team-generated handout. Their reading is engaged since they know that they are responsible for teaching someone else about it, which increases their grasp of the subject matter. I give the class 10 minutes at the beginning of the discussion to talk with their reading groups and share ideas about the topic before joining the larger group for the discussion. This lets them hear other people’s ideas and vocalize some of their own before speaking up in front of everyone in the class. The dynamic that these team discussions create facilitates a productive peer review writing process. I employ these methods in many of my upper-division undergraduate courses, such as “Ecological Anthropology” and “Visual Anthropology.”

To provide an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge, I help students to have meaningful, immersive field experiences. In my current research in Yucatan, student researchers are assisting in cataloging traditional ecological data, GPS mapping, and quantitative surveying of households. Over the course of this project, 10 US students and 2 Mexican students have supported the research. To expand opportunities for student involvement, I developed a local research project that can engage a larger number of students. This consists of ethnographic fieldwork with homeless individuals with pets in Wichita. The resulting ethnographic film (funded by the Kansas Humanities Council) explores the role that pets play in identity construction and the additional obstacles that these pet owners face. Four undergraduate and graduate students are currently participating in this research project, and it generated an MA Thesis. Student assistants are involved in transcription of footage, research on other ethnographic films, and using NVivo to organize data.

The experience of teaching students in the field influences my approach to teaching anthropology in the classroom in two ways: first, I work to contextualize methods and concepts that are new into tangible, familiar situations; and second, I include ethnographies about the U.S. to exoticize the everyday. The latter proves very successful in my “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” course. Most courses I teach have a fieldwork component, including cross-cultural observations in “Intercultural Relations” that require students to step out of their cultural comfort-zones and ethnographic case studies in my “Ethnographic Field Methods” course. In my “Theories of Culture” course, students apply anthropological theories to understand current events. I spend the first part of the week lecturing about the theories and theorists that they have read and then students bring in news stories from around the world for our discussion. We work in small groups to discuss how these can be understood using the week’s theoretical framework. Recently, we discussed the Syrian refugee crisis in the context of Mauss’ ideas about gifting and discussed whether we can understand international aid in the same terms. These kinds of discussions allow students to examine the possibility for the anthropological perspective to help them understand issues of social justice.

Professionalization is an important part of my teaching and mentoring styles. I work with students to prepare for their careers by teaching them about participation in conferences, developing their CVs, and generally creating goal-oriented plans for themselves in the short, medium, and long term. I currently hold a monthly professionalization workshop for undergrad and graduate students in the department. It my goal to help students understand and articulate how their anthropological training has prepared them to be lifelong learners.