Focusing on forensics: New major arrives to the anthropology department at NMU, boosts enrollment

Lindsey+Eaton

Lindsey Eaton

Tim Eggert

An emergent major at NMU aims to occupy a cornerstone position in the university’s index of academic programs. This is the first semester that the sociology and anthropology department has offered an anthropology major to students.

“We had the student demand to switch over to a major, and the university had confidence in us to build the infrastructure to help us grow,” Associate Professor Scott Demel, said.

Before the new major was available, students interested in pursuing anthropology were limited to a 20-credit minor, or an Individually Created Program (ICP) as a pseudo-major. Although interest in anthropology was high, the retention of students within the program was low, Demel explained.

“Students were taking that route [ICP] because they were really stoked about anthropology, but since we didn’t have the formal route of a major they went elsewhere.”

A continuous increase in student demand for a four-year undergraduate degree program, coupled with a growth in the global-relevance of the field of anthropology ultimately led Demel and Associate Professor Alex Ruuska to conceive the major.

“We think anthropology is one of the disciplines of the hour in the 21st century because of cultural and environmental issues that are happening on the world stage and at the local scale,” Ruuska said. “We saw that students were interested and engaged, and since we’re small enough, we tried to adjust and provide opportunities specific to student needs.”

Students will have the choice to explore a specific area of study through the major’s archaeology concentration or sociocultural anthropology concentration, and starting fall 2018, a forensic anthropology concentration.

The introduction of the new major coincides with the upcoming Forensic Research Outdoor Station (FROST), a facility that will operate through the sub-field of forensic anthropology.

“We’ve always been poised and ready to go, and this was a great opportunity to do it in tandem with the FROST program,” Demel said. “It also gives us our third full-time anthropologist.”

Newly appointed director of FROST, Jane Wankmiller, will offer her first course in osteology fall 2018.

“We are hoping to have a linguist as well. If we do down the road, then we would have a truly balanced approach to what we’re doing,” Ruuska said.

“We’ve already noticed that students are coming to NMU for the anthropology major, and specifically for the forensic component, so this is going to be a good recruitment tool for the university,” Demel emphasized. “We’ve seen increased enrollment at the freshman level this semester, and we’re excited to have been a part of that.”