Hands-on experience and international travel prepare CU Denver’s Anthropology master’s student for ivy league PhD programGraduate School Jan 20, 2020
Hannah Keller is working to expand our knowledge of early humans - both from the archeological and biological perspectives. A recent graduate of the Anthropology master’s program at the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver), she defended her master’s thesis in May 2019 and spent the following summer expanding on this research in hopes of collecting more data. She is currently a doctoral student in the Biological Anthropology PhD program at Yale University with a full-ride scholarship.
After completing her bachelors, Hannah was planning to travel to Uganda for six months to work on regional development when her undergraduate advisor invited her to South Africa to collaborate on a project.
“I took her advice,” said Hannah, “I'd never been to South Africa. I was really interested in kind of exploring more of the world at that point in my life, which I still am. And I went and I loved it.”
Hannah explained that she went back to South Africa the next year and realized that, even if she continued her education with a master’s in forensic anthropology (her then career path), she would still want to come to the site in South Africa and ask questions pertaining to early human evolution, particularly the intersection of human subsistence and environment.
This realization led Hannah to switch her graduate study focus and reach out to Jamie Hodgkins, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at CU Denver and inquired about becoming a graduate student.
“She said, ‘well, submit your application’,” laughed Hannah, “And two years later, here I am.”
Hannah appreciates CU Denver’s rigorous approach. The Anthropology master’s program offers tracks in different fields of anthropology, allowing students, such has Hannah, to gain experience in both archeology and biological anthropology.
Her master’s thesis focused on the same site in South Africa that paved her academic career path to CU Denver. Hannah shared, “It's a fascinating site because it's currently on the coastline and what's unique about the South African coastline is the really shallow shelf in front of it.”
Hannah explained, “During glacial periods when it was a bit cooler the water would retract [into the glaciers] and expose this broad shelf. Then, during interglacial periods, i.e. climactic change where it's warmer, the shelf became flooded like you see today.
Hannah's research was aimed toward understanding the human diet – specifically how they prepared and ate mammals during the times when the shelf was exposed versus the times when the coastline was high, providing access to more marine life.
She did this by determining how humans were preparing the mammalian long bones (the hard, dense bones that provide an animal with strength, structure, and mobility); i.e. smashing open the long bones to get certain nutrients which may have been scarce in other food sources due to environmental stress. She found that early man seemed to break up the long bones more frequently when the ocean was far away. She only had a small sample size, which is why she returned to the South African coast over the summer to expand her results.
During her two years at CU Denver, Hannah traveled not only to South Africa, but also to Italy and Thailand. Since she researches earlier humans, most of her work takes place on other continents. In addition to her academic pursuits, she was also the Anthropology club president for two years and coordinated many events on campus. Her efforts earned her the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Outstanding Master's Student Award.
Hannah feels that the faculty noticed that she was focused on her schoolwork, engaged with her research topic, and worked hard teaching the rising anthropology graduate students.
"I really appreciate being able to come [to CU Denver] and learning from the faculty here, getting their viewpoints, and kind of expanding my mind,” said Keller. “I also loved living in Colorado for two years. It's really amazing.”
THE FUTURE YEARS
As a doctoral student at Yale University Keller said, “I'll be continuing my work in South Africa looking at the late Pleistocene. It's earlier human focus, it's a little bit more of the bridge between the biological anthropology, which focuses on human evolution, and then archeology, which tends to be a little bit later in the record.”
Hannah's dream job is to do research and teach at an institution like CU Denver. She truly enjoys teaching because she can engage young minds and share the fascinating discoveries in the field.
“I'd really love to continue [my research] and keep exploring, keep discovering more about the past and people who lived back then.”
Hannah’s advice - Think about where you would like to be in two years. What are your personal goals or accomplishments within the program? One of the reasons I was able to graduate and finish my thesis in two years was because I came in already knowing at which site I wanted to work, and I had a game plan.
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