Alumni in Action
Applied Anthropologist and Freelance Research Consultant
Class of 2008
Advanced Degree: MA, Applied Anthropology, University of Memphis
Where are you now and what are you doing?
I recently moved to Portland, Oregon, after my partner got a new job here. I am getting into the world of freelance research consulting for businesses and non-profits. Prior to Portland, I was living in Bloomington, Illinois, where I worked as a qualitative consumer research analyst for State Farm Insurance.
Aside from work, my partner and I have been enjoying the great city of Portland and all of its superb amenities. For one, there is an amazing food culture here, which suits us because we love to explore the landscape of cuisine. Portland is also surrounded by all kinds of great locations for photography and road trips, including mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, and rocky coasts, and interesting urban landscapes; photography is a hobby we both share. It's also a very politically progressive and environmentally conscious city, more than any other place I've lived before.
What does your job entail and how has your Eckerd experience impacted your career?
As a freelance research consultant, I try to help businesses and non-profits make better decisions based on insights gained from human-centered research. Using primarily qualitative, ethnographic and context-based approaches, I help organizations better understand the driving forces behind the behaviors, needs and preferences of their customers, users and stakeholders.
The great thing about freelancing is that the projects on which you work change from week to week and month to month. Right now I am finishing up a project doing stakeholder interviews with individuals from the business, government, environmental and agriculture communities to assess opinions of the services provided by a local water resource management company. Another current project involves preliminary research on health care interpretation services for a non-profit journalism outlet. I am also traveling to San Diego where I will be doing some ethnographic fieldwork for a major household appliances company studying beverage consumption and storage in people's everyday lives.
What makes Eckerd so special or why does it stand out to you as a great college? What does it mean to you now that you have been away for awhile?
I always say that going to Eckerd was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I think it was my campus tour that convinced me that it was where I belonged. I could see it and feel it in all of the things Eckerd had to offer, from its focus on the liberal arts and its small classes to its community life and stunningly beautiful campus. Moreover, I had the sense that I could be myself here and do the things that were important to me intellectually and personally. I could have turned out to be completely wrong, but thank goodness I wasn't!
I think Eckerd can be whatever you want it to be, whether you're really focused on doing research with your professors or interested in student government or the environment or if you play sports. Eckerd provides numerous opportunities for students, no matter what their interests are. You just have to seek out the opportunities and they will present themselves to you.
Describe some of the people who had a profound impact on your Eckerd experience.
First and foremost, there was a handful of professors who really pushed me to do my best and encouraged me to be myself and to explore. Professor Jing Shen was the best Autumn Term teacher I could have had. She really made me understand what it meant to be in college (versus high school), and prepared me for the level of work and intellectual energy that would be required for the next four years. Professor Victoria Baker, my mentor, shared her wisdom with me regularly and helped me understand the world. She guided my senior thesis work, and helped me to become the anthropologist I am today. Professor George Meese led the Winter Term 2005 London group and opened my eyes to the beauty and pleasure of the arts. Professor Erika Spohrer was a blast to work with as a tutor at the Writing Center, and a fun travel companion during writing conferences. Professor Carolyn Johnston led the Ford Apprentice Scholars class. She never stopped encouraging students to learn and explore the history of ideas. I really appreciated her enthusiasm for history and her unceasingly positive attitude.
I also developed lasting friendships with some amazing folks at the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC), including Jane McBride, Bob and Nena Shepherd, and Bob and Pat Sheldon. I was connected to ASPEC in a number of ways. I talked with many ASPEC members for my thesis on the redevelopment of downtown St. Petersburg, collecting their memories and perspectives on the area. Jim Sweeny shared with me his vast collection of vintage postcards for the project, many of which I scanned and included in the final printed version of my thesis. And I worked part-time as a server at the ASPEC food and wine dinners, where I met the Shepherds and the Sheldons, some of the most amazing people I will ever know. ASPEC is one part of Eckerd that I don't think enough students get involved or even know about, and I would highly recommend they do so.
Are there core Eckerd values you see in most Eckerd students and graduates?
Absolutely. Most of the students I've met value intellectual development, critical thinking, global citizenship and social responsibility, community as well as individualism, hard work, the pursuit of truth, both subjective and objective, and making the world a better place.
Using 5 words or less complete this sentence: Eckerd is…
a college that changes lives.