USU Anthropologist Bonnie Pitblado wins teaching award

Bonnie Pitblado was meant to be a teacher. She goes the extra mile to give her students opportunities to gain hands-on experience that will ensure their success upon graduation and provides the encouragement and support they need to thrive at Utah State University. It is no wonder that she has been selected to receive the annual American Anthropology Association/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching this month.Each year, the AAA acknowledges teachers who “advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects … and who further the professional interest of American anthropologists, including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems.”The Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching goes to the AAA member who shows the most outstanding contribution to the undergraduate teaching of anthropology. Plitblado, USU associate professor of anthropology, was honored Nov. 16, at the AAA’s annual meeting in Montreal.”I was really happy to receive the award because it is for teaching undergraduates,” Pitblado said. “That represents a huge passion for me. There are lots of awards out there, but when one comes from your peers for something you work hard on and take pride in — that means the very most.”Pitblado also directs the anthropology program at USU and the university’s Museum of Anthropology. Colleagues describe Pitblado as a hands-on teacher who personally mentors her students on individualized pathways to success.”She has a lot of confidence in her students; in consequence, they really rise up to her level of expectation,” said Patricia Lambert, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “It’s not something that every professor does.”Pitblado’s devotion to her students has led to educational opportunities that go well beyond the classroom, and even beyond campus. She leads an annual summer archaeological field school in the mountains of Colorado and Idaho, giving 16 students from all over the country a chance to experience what it means to be an archaeologist. While on site, Pitblado’s students interact with the local community and are often featured in local newspapers to help people outside the university better understand the work they are doing.”She loves being out in the field,” Lambert said. “She has an exceptional ability to get students engaged in that kind of learning and she finds ways to support it financially and logistically. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but she’s always willing to do it.”However, Pitblado’s greatest contribution has been nurturing USU’s Museum of Anthropology from a space catering to a few students to a thriving center for campus and Cache Valley community members alike. Under her leadership the museum serves as the classroom for students seeking a certificate in Museum Studies, who — as part of their learning experience — facilitate more than 10,000 community visitor contacts per year.The museum is a teaching tool for student curators as well as the community that attends. Students who work there learn to be museum professionals. The program draws students from a variety of disciplines who work in teams and take responsibility creating and managing the exhibits and programs.”It’s a one-of-a-kind laboratory; everybody is teaching everybody,” Pitblado said. “It’s very gratifying. Students who earn a certificate are getting really good jobs right out of school in museums across the United States.”The anthropology program in USU’s Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology designated Pitblado as head of the museum when she came to USU in 2002. Her success is culminating now in the restoration and rehabilitation of the 90-year-old Aggie Barn, which will serve as a larger and more accessible Museum of Anthropology and as a vibrant new Welcome Center for the USU campus.”We made it part of her role and she really ran with it enthusiastically,” said Lambert. “When she got here, there was no money in it; she did all the granting and fundraising.”Pitblado’s efforts have contributed to providing internships and improving accessibility to all facets of the community with programs such as the family-oriented “Saturdays at the Museum” and a docent program in which students host tours designed specifically for elementary age students.With seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm, Pitblado commits herself to undergraduate education in archaeology and museum studies, as well as to community outreach — something her students notice and appreciate.”I believe that Dr. Pitblado truly values every student and the individual knowledge, skills and insight they bring to any situation,” said Benjamin Fowler, a graduate student studying anthropology at USU. “She takes time to be a mentor and lets you know that you can succeed — no matter what.”Fowler has worked with Pitblado since his freshman year. He credits her for his success.”Dr. Pitblado has given me the opportunity to learn ‘hands-on’ and shaped my education in archaeology by offering me opportunities to push myself,” he said. “I would not be graduating next year if Dr. Pitblado wasn’t here mentoring me in my research and reminding me that I can do it.”

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