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UAA Applied Anthropology Program in Anchorage, Alaska

By Sally Carraher, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Alaska Anchorage

At the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), we offer an applied anthropology MA program centered upon place-based, experiential education through faculty mentorship, practicums, internships, and field research opportunities. UAA began our MA program in 1999 with general and applied tracks, with faculty working in archaeology, biological, and cultural anthropology.

Over the years, most students have pursued the applied track, in part because of the internship and research opportunities our colleagues outside of the university system are able to offer students. Our faculty often work in partnership with Alaska Native agencies and communities, and many of our students have ties to these communities. Several of our students complete theses in museum studies and medical anthropology.

Our graduates are well-versed and experienced in working in Alaska’s unique physical and sociopolitical climate. While we accept new students from both inside and outside of Alaska, over 60% of our MA graduates have stayed in Alaska gaining work as anthropologists and archaeologists outside of the Academy. In short, UAA supplies a substantial number of the applied anthropologists who serve Federal, State, Tribal, non-profit, private, and self-employed organizations in Alaska.

The success of our program would be impossible without the strong ties our faculty have established over the years working with these many agencies. Existing university-agency relationships include the Office of History and Archaeology, Alaska Fish and Game, the National Park Service, the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Some students have volunteered and worked for the Anchorage Museum, home to the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center as well. Several applied anthropologists, some of whom are UAA Anthropology alumni, work at places like the Circumpolar Institute of Health Research, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and the Alaska Native regional non-profit health organization, Southcentral Foundation.

Many anthropologists at these agencies, as well as in private and self-owned consulting firms, volunteer to advise our faculty, keeping our program aligned with Alaska’s evolving research, advocacy, and employment needs, and connecting students to agencies and individual professionals who can provide internship, short project, and thesis project field work opportunities. UAA’s satellite community campuses, such as Kenai Peninsula College and Kodiak Community College, also employ community-engaged anthropologists and provide applied research opportunities for students.

In 2019, we revised our MA curriculum to make it a distinctly applied anthropology program, dropping our general track, for four reasons: First, our students have historically conducted applied thesis research on Alaska topics. Second, all current faculty do explicitly applied and community-engaged work locally and 100% of our faculty are experienced in and committed to northern, place-based education and research. Third, there is a continuing need in Alaska for anthropologists and archaeologists who are not only professionally trained in disciplinary theory and methods, but who are also familiar with the unique climate and field conditions, cultures and heritage, and local history of research relationships with various Alaska communities. Fourth, our department’s reputation as an applied anthropology program providing real work experience in the discipline to students appeals to prospective students locally and beyond.

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