When I tell strangers I am an anthropology professor, they often tell me, “I loved the anthropology class I took in college!” Such comments convey the joys of teaching anthropology. Foreign images, fascinating customs, and far-away places easily capture students’ imaginations and engage their interest. Yet it is precisely this foreignness that can make it difficult to impact students’ lives in a lasting way. Inevitably, after saying they loved anthropology, people tell me, “But I did not major in it—what would you do with that in the real world?” Students often cannot see how anthropology provides tools to understand—and, perhaps more importantly, to build careers in—contemporary America. Engaging with these challenges is at the core of my teaching philosophy.
My first goal as a professor is to ignite students’ passion for anthropology and global health. My research examines human survival in the face of poverty, water scarcity, and food insecurity, and I use this as the basis for my teaching. In my course on “Poverty, Social Justice, and Global Health,” for example, I take the class on an intellectual journey through Chicago’s South Side, Brazil’s favelas, and Haitian health clinics to show how poverty creates premature death, lifelong disability, and grinding misery. Once I capture students’ attention with stories and images, I use demanding readings, intensive writing, and structured debates to help students critically evaluate and challenge received wisdom about poverty eradication. By the end of the course, students are armed with a deep understanding of how poverty creates health inequities, how their personal histories shape their own ethics, and how they can make productive contributions as professionals.
Beyond inspiring students, I have two main instructional goals. First, I strive to help students bring their passion and energy to bear on real-world problems in poverty, global health, and sustainability. Second, I aim to provide rigorous training in practical research skills. My instructional approach was honed as a faculty instructor in the National Science Foundation’s prestigious methodological institutes in cultural anthropology (2006-2016). In the NSF institutes—and my workshops at ASU’s Institute for Social Science Research—I employ a “teach the teachers” model designed to grow capacity for university-level instruction in social science methods. My experiences with the NSF methodological institutes have also shaped my teaching program at ASU in profound ways.
At ASU, I provide leadership in curriculum development by designing, in collaboration with ASU faculty and community partners, innovative research-oriented programs for undergraduate and graduate instruction. These programs demonstrate anthropology’s real-world relevance and develop students’ professional skills. I use four models to enhance education in the classroom and beyond. Here are examples of collaborative studies I developed using each model:
I co-direct the Culture, Health, and Environment Lab (2010-present), where faculty and students work on NSF-funded research and develop cutting-edge skills for data collection and analysis. In the lab, I have mentored over 80 undergraduates and 25 graduate students.
Collaborative International Research
I designed the Global Ethnohydrology Study (2007-present), a multi-year, cross-cultural study that examines local ecological knowledge of water in 10 countries. Each year, this study provides hands- on research experiences through faculty-guided study abroad, research assistantships, and independent research. Through this study, I have provided mentorship opportunities for over 1000 undergraduates and 20 graduate students.
Locally-embedded Community-based Research
In South Phoenix Collaborative (2008-2013), my colleagues and I designed a participatory community-based study of health risks in a Latino immigrant community. This project trains historically-underserved Latino students in community-based research and outreach. On this project, I have collaboratively mentored 26 undergraduates and 13 graduate students.
Locally-engaged Citizen Science & Education
I designed the Science of Water Art (2010-2013), a citizen science study that partners students with 78 Arizona elementary and middle schools, the Maricopa County Board of Education, and SRP. This project teaches undergraduates about community partnerships, citizen science, and curriculum design. On this project, I collaboratively mentored 56 undergraduates and one graduate student.
In addition to developing research-oriented educational opportunities, I am passionate about innovating alternatives to traditional classroom teaching. To address the poverty and inequity I study as a researcher, I am particularly enthusiastic about alternative instructional formats that provide underrepresented groups with greater access to university-level education. My drive to make high- quality university education widely accessible motivates me to experiment extensively with non- traditional forms of teaching and share “lessons-learned” with my colleagues. Three examples:
As an “early adopter” of ASU’s online program, I was excited by the flexibility online formats afford students—especially those working multiple jobs to make ends meet. I was delighted to discover that innovative online tools can create a highly interactive, immersive learning experience.
With student debt increasing, 8-week courses can lower the cost of undergraduate degrees by speeding degree completion. I have begun offering 8-week courses, and see this innovation as one that helps increase the financial accessibility of a university education.
I am inspired by recent research showing “flipped” classrooms (lectures online, classroom interaction) have better educational outcomes. Like online teaching and 8-week semesters, hybrid formats can help make coursework timing more flexible and speed students’ degree progression.
As a professor, my focus is on inspiring students, teaching them professional skills, and demonstrating how these skills can help them combat poverty and inequity. To expand my impact as a professor, I am dedicated to developing new approaches—whether through research mentorship or alternative teaching formats—to reach and motivate anthropology and global health students.
Through my national teaching program, ASU workshops, and informal relationships with colleagues, I have worked hard to provide innovative leadership in university-level teaching. In doing so, I hope to address the inequities I study—in small but significant ways—by increasing university access for underserved students and improving global health practices in disadvantaged communities.