Learning is Doing


I think my learning style has always been hands-on.  I wonder now if it is because I compensated for my vision problems when I was a child by using my hands or if that is just naturally how I learn.  Regardless of the reason, I am so thankful for the opportunities the University of Indianapolis offers us, to use the knowledge we learn in our classes and implement that knowledge in a real world situation.  It is my goal to become a forensic anthropologist.  I know this will be a tough journey, but I am determined to get there.  I feel so thankful to have two board certified forensic anthropologists to learn from at UIndy.  It is interesting to see how both Dr. Nawrocki and Dr. Latham do things, and how while they both practice forensic anthropology, each professor does certain things slightly differently because that way works best for them.  I really appreciate being able to observe both of their styles, enabling me to gain multiple perspectives of the field.

This semester I took Human Osteology with Dr. Nawrocki, and then I was able to apply the knowledge I gained in his class during our lab days in Texas.  While applying this knowledge, I was also able to observe how Dr. Latham conducts skeletal analyses.  I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to apply my knowledge while observing Dr. Latham because I learned so much in the process.  We each develop methods for doing things that work best for us.  It is often the case that we model our own work after our mentors.  I appreciate being able observe both Dr. Nawrocki and Dr. Latham as they work because they each had different mentors in their time as students learning the field of forensic anthropology.  It allows me to develop my own methods modeled after each of theirs, as I find my way as a student studying to become a forensic anthropologist.

I am so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity to test my knowledge and to further gain knowledge on how to conduct skeletal analyses.  It is one thing to learn in a classroom, but it is a completely different thing to apply what you learned in the classroom to a real life situation.  My time doing lab work in Texas has enabled me to see the areas where I need to further study but also the areas where I feel most comfortable.  It has helped me gain a better understanding of the field of forensic anthropology and it has helped me understand that developing your own style within this field is perfectly acceptable.  I am so glad the University of Indianapolis offers experiences such as these because I feel it was incredibly beneficial to me on so many levels.


Feed the Fire

Throughout our time here in Texas, we have discussed lessons that we have learned, areas where we have done well, and areas where we can improve at the end of each night. During the lab analysis portion of this season, a lot of these lessons reflected on the education that we have received at the University of Indianapolis. Before our time in the lab at Texas State University, I hadn’t fully realized just how much I have learned during my graduate career. And being able to apply that learning to such an important cause honestly felt amazing.


With this being my second time participating in this work in Texas, I have not only been able to apply my education from UIndy but also my experiences from the previous trip in January. In January, however, we were only in the field and did not do any of the analyses in the lab. Therefore, my fellow students and I really had to draw from our education and experience from casework in Indiana to problem solve. And I think we did a fine job. We knew we had a lot to accomplish in our short time in the lab at Texas State and we were determined to exceed expectations. This required a lot of critical thinking and problem solving but I believe that the education and experience that we have all received at the University of Indianapolis really helped us in this regard.

It was a great experience being able to be a little more independent in these analyses, which of course also came with more responsibility. None of us shied away from this, however. We each worked together to figure out the best way to complete each task and by the third day, we had really found our groove. I really believe that in addition to everything we have learned under the guidance of Dr. Latham and Dr. Nawrocki at the University of Indianapolis, our ability to work so well together as a team to problem solve helped us to accomplish everything that we did during this Texas season. And being able to use our skills to contribute as much as we can to a real-world crisis situation that needs all the help it can get really feeds the fire to continue to work hard and stay involved as much as possible.


Just a small town girl


This past year, my classmates at UIndy and I have spent countless hours in our osteology lab going over different methodologies including skeletal analysis. During my first field season in Brooks County in January, the majority of the time was spent conducting field work and seeing first hand why this mission was started. Fast forward a whole semester, here I am back in Texas and everything is different. The first half of this trip was spent at Texas State University’s ORPL conducting skeletal analysis. During those three days, our team conducted a total of 9 skeletal analyses as well as taking an interesting tour of their decomposition research facility, FARF. I enjoyed the skeletal analysis half of this trip for many reasons. This was the first time that our group was able to apply what we had learned in the classroom in an actual case setting.

A view of Freeman Ranch while driving to FARF.
A view of Freeman Ranch while driving to FARF.

After spending 3 days at ORPL, our group and a group from Texas State, traveled to Rio Grande City to start excavations of more unidentified individuals at the local cemetery. Although we are still on the same mission, conducting the same type of excavations of individuals who were never identified; there are several differences between the trip in January and this trip. Temperature was a big one- when we came in January, we also brought the cold Indiana weather with us. This time, we have been faced with both rain and sunny skies with temperatures in the 90s-100s.

The UIndy team was stationed at area 2 and we knew ahead of time that there were reportedly five individuals buried in our area. In Falfurrias, everything was haphazard when it came to finding unknown burials. In Rio Grande City, Texas State was given information from one of the funeral homes as to how many individuals to expect in each area. In area 2, we recovered the five individuals and then made sure there were no other burials in that area before calling it quits. The soil consistency in Falfurrias was sandy and much easier to dig; however, that also meant that we had issues with walls caving in as we dug down deeper. In Rio Grande City, the walls were hard, packed clay with large rocks. If it was not for Silvestre and his excavator, I am not sure how we would have excavated down to the level that we needed and survived the heat.

Silvestre and the backhoe.
Silvestre and the backhoe.

This trip was quit the experience and it feels bittersweet to have it end. Although I am incredibly happy to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed, I am going to miss the comradery and awesome team work that was displayed during this trip. Until next time…

End of the day group photo.
End of the day group photo.