Ryan Strand, Field Expert
Human Biology, Graduate Student
How is your expert role important to the group’s mission?
For the past two years, I have been assisting with excavations and teaching other students how to use archeological methods to properly and respectfully exhume remains. This year, I’m shifting to the lab where I will assist with the analysis of the skeletal remains. I’ve spent the better part of my time at UIndy learning and practicing the necessary methods to conduct a skeletal analysis, and now I get to directly apply those skills. Additionally, I’ve come to be seen as a team member that encourages ‘pep talks’ that encourage teamwork and positive reinforcement. I get really excited about things easily, and I like to cheer our team on.
Why is this humanitarian work important to you?
The university motto of “Education for Service” resonates what I believe is the most important thing one can do with their life: help others. Any work that can be done to help others is not only important but a priority.
What do you hope to gain from this experience?
I ultimately hope to contribute as much help as possible to the project, as any progress toward the project is a gain for all of us. I hope to learn more about the project through the direct participation and how I can contribute in the future. I also hope to expand my abilities as an anthropologist, field expert and team member.
What are some of the biggest challenges you will face while in Texas?
2015: The biggest challenges this year will be mental rather than physical. Everything I’ve learned as a student will be put to the test. This isn’t the kind of test I’ve taken in school, but instead a test where every action has a reaction. I’ll have to make sure that every conclusion I draw is supported, that all my limitations and assumptions are recognized, and that every action I take is an action that is a step forward to identifying a missing loved one.
2014: The biggest challenges will be quickly adapting to the many obstacles that we will likely face. This year’s field season will be challenging as we move to a part of the cemetery that is poorly documented or mapped. This will require careful technique and patience as well as the ability to adapt to any obstacles that suddenly catch us off guard. However, I am confident that our team will overcome these challenges as best as we can. Last year, a rainstorm threatening flash floods almost kept us from exhuming the last set of remains in our grid. We quickly set up a tent and completed exhumations within twenty minutes, all through the pouring rain.
What’s one thing people probably don’t know about you until they’ve known you a long time?
People learn quickly that I like to read but rarely finish a book, and that while I like finding new restaurants, I’d much rather cook. I’m also terrible at fantasy football.
When did you know you wanted to pursue human biology as a degree, and how did you become interested in forensics?
I first became interested in forensics at Texas State University while pursuing a degree in anthropology. I became very interested in the magnitude of information that could be obtained from bones and volunteered at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility at the university to learn as much as I could from their collections. I became extremely interested in the Human Biology program at UIndy because of its unique emphasis on human biology and understanding the science behind forensic anthropology. Since I’ve joined the program, I have become even more interested in anatomy and other scientific fields that underlie anthropology.
What advice would you give other students interested in pursuing a human biology degree at UIndy?
What makes UIndy’s human biology program unique is its small class size coupled with its nationally-recognized, enthusiastic professors. The best advice I can suggest is to become acquainted with your professors and to let them know of your future goals and aspirations along with any questions you have. While the classes are extremely intensive, the professors at UIndy passionately work to help their students succeed. By engaging your professors, not only will you benefit from their advice but you will also become more ingrained in your classes.
What makes UIndy’s human biology program distinctive?
Our focus on the science and research design behind human biology and anthropology sets our program apart from other anthropology programs that take a traditional four-fields approach. We focus heavily on anatomy as a stepping stone for the rest of our classes. Our program also has many rare opportunities for hands on experience, including active forensic casework, the option to become a TA and teach undergraduate classes, and opportunities to participate in international research and humanitarian work.
Besides the work, what was your favorite memory from last year’s trip?
I have two memories that stand out. The first memory is of us having a home-cooked dinner and singing karaoke at Constable Arturo’s house. He and his family graciously invited us over for a night of relaxing, and I’ve never seen anyone as happy as Arturo when we all came over and sang with him.
My second memory is touring Lavoyger’s ranch and seeing firsthand artifacts left behind on migrant trails. It was an intense experience that brought me directly to the reality of the crisis. Walking those trails in the hot afternoon gave me the tiniest of glimpses into what migrants face, and solidified my passion into helping those who are brave enough to face such unbelievable conditions.
What’s the one thing you learned about your fellow participants that you didn’t know before last year’s trip? Or what surprised you most about them?
While not necessarily surprising, I learned how people with different interests and levels of experience could come together as an efficient, cohesive unit. Dr. Latham knows more about punk rock than all of us combined. Erica is an excellent mapper. Justin can turn anything into a limerick. Also, there is no need for a backhoe when you have the shoveling power of Jessica. Cheneta was so quiet at first, but by the second day was the loudest of all of us. She rose up to become the one responsible for making sure we all took breaks, which requires a level of confidence to tear down our stubbornness.