University Scholar Anna Roosevelt
The University Scholars Program, now in its 35th year, honors faculty members for superior research and teaching, along with great promise for future achievements. The award provides $15,000 a year for three years.
Professor of anthropology
Years at UIC: 26
What are your research interests?
I’m a four-field anthropologist, which means I look at ancient and modern people, their languages, their archaeology and their biology. I am interested in the evolution of early humans, the peopling of the Americas and the development of complex societies. Most of my field research has been in the tropical rain forests of Amazonia and Africa.
How did you become interested in these topics?
First, my mother, Frances, was a painter interested in ancient history and archaeology. She and my grandfather would take my two sisters and me to ancient sites like Mesa Verde. I was especially inspired by the things in the museum at Mesa Verde. When I was 9 years old, I told her that I wanted to be an archaeologist, and she said OK.
What do you teach?
I teach about ancient and historic cultures of Amazonia and Central Africa. I have a course on African peoples and one on African kingdoms. I also have courses on hunter-gatherers and the Paleoindians. I teach a course on how knowledge of our evolutionary history can help you make good decisions for your health. I teach courses on the role of colonial Europeans and Americans in violence in the Americas and in Africa and a course on African dictators.
I also teach introductory anthropology 100.
How do you balance teaching and research?
In my department at UIC, we can “teach our research.” That means that we can develop courses that show what we are working on and give students the opportunity to do research themselves. So, our exciting new research can nourish our courses and vice versa. My teachers went out of their way to help and foster me, and I try to do the same for my students.
What’s your advice to students who want to focus their future careers on research?
I highly recommend that students with a liking for research follow that path. It is very rewarding and that makes one eager for work. Certainly one can support oneself in a research career, whether it be in a university, institute, museum, private company or a government agency. One of the best things about a research career is that you get paid for what you love to do. What could be better than that?
As for what makes for a successful career in research, I think it is flexibility, independence of mind, and persistence. Many times, someone would try to persuade me not to follow a research direction I wanted to go in, but in almost every case the direction was one that led to an important breakthrough. My advice is to listen to advice but in the end to follow your inclination. That is what works in research.