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Alumni Profiles

Grant Jackson (Class of 2003)

Wintering With the Yup’ik Eskimos of Alaska

“Hi, my name is Grant Jackson and I graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a degree in anthropology in the spring of 2003. The summer after my sophomore year I went to Alaska for the first time through the practicum program offered by the anthropology department through Hope Community Resources, Inc. It turned out to be a life changing experience for myself and the other students that I went with.

Grant Jackson standing on a glacier in Alaska “Well it's only the second week of October and there is already snow in the mountains just north of Dillingham, Alaska. It won't be long from now that the vast expanses of tundra will be covered with white.

“During the practicum I was lucky enough to be placed in a rural village on Alaska’s southwest coast called Dillingham. Dillingham is roughly 400 roadless miles west of Anchorage with a permanent population of around 2,000 half of which are native Yup’ik Eskimos. This blend of indigenous and Western cultures makes Dillingham a truly unique location. Much of this population relies on subsistence hunting and gathering to meet their basic nutritional needs. However, that’s not to say that people here don't enjoy Ben & Jerry’s and Pepsi because they most certainly do.

“During the fall of my senior year I received an offer from Hope Resources to return to Dillingham to run their program that provides supports to individuals who experience developmental disabilities in this region of Alaska (Bristol Bay Region).

“I have now been back in Dillingham since early July and I am in charge of services provided in a dozen mostly Native Yup’ik speaking villages. I now have the opportunity to travel to these villages and to immerse myself in ways of life that are all but forgotten in the lower 48 states.

“The populations of these villages vary from 20 people, being the smallest, to 2,000. Visiting families in these tiny villages has been an amazing anthropological learning experience. I was always told that I would learn the most when I am out in the field. This couldn’t be any closer to the truth. Having to learn how to work with a language barrier, mostly in the smaller villages, and realizing that you may not always be welcome in certain places forces you to start thinking creatively.

“Gaining the trust of the family and the community is the most important and prevalent barrier to my job. It may only take a pleasant conversation in some cases or it may take sampling some traditional cuisine. Never pass up an opportunity to try Walrus skin. It’s simply divine.

“I could not be more grateful to everyone in the Anthropology Department for giving me the opportunity to come to Alaska. The knowledge and skills that these professors offer us is more relevant and applicable in the job market than you may realize.”

Haagen D. Klaus (Class of 2000)

Combination of a Love of Prehistory and Science Opens Doors

Photo of Haagen Klaus at a desert excavation site Haagen D. Klaus came to SUNY Plattsburgh from Long Island, New York, in 1996. He spent the first two years of college exploring various majors.

In the summer of 1998, Haagen joined SUNY Plattsburgh’s archaeological field school in the Adirondack mountains. During the first day working at the site, it became clear that archaeology was what he had been searching for, combining his long-standing interests in history, prehistory, and the sciences, and he became a declared anthropology major. Over the next two years, Haagen was exposed to a wide range of research opportunities and training at SUNY Plattsburgh that set the foundation for his development as an anthropologist.

In 2000, Haagen graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with several honors including the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. That summer, he entered the graduate program at Southern Illinois University, where he joined Dr. Izumi Shimada’s Sican Archaeological Project in Peru. By 2002 Haagen had completed a Masters degree (with distinction) in bioarchaeology. And by the summer of 2003 Haagen returned to Peru as an Associate Investigator at the Sican National Museum, where he carried out the skeletal analysis of many individuals (mostly children) who were sacrificed and buried on a mountaintop in the Lambayeque Valley some 1000 years ago.

In his own words:

“The influence of all the professors in the Department of Anthropology at SUNY Plattsburgh had a great impact on me as an undergraduate. Gordon Pollard (Professor Emeritus) initially facilitated my exposure to the field of anthropology and archaeology. In the SUNY Plattsburgh archaeology laboratory, we worked closely on the year-long analysis of the artifacts excavated from the 19th century Clintonville Ironworks site in 1998.

“After that, Dr. Pollard (with Dr. David Mowry from the Honors Program) supervised my Advanced Honors Project: a large-scale, museum-quality reconstruction of the Clintonville Ironworks site, based on archaeological data and historic documents. The model is currently on display in the Special Collections room of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Feinberg Library. During this same time, Dr. Pollard also offered a course on Andean prehistory, which ignited my interest in South American archaeology, leading directly to my subsequent work.

“Dr. Mark Cohen fostered the other half of my research interests. In early 1999, I undertook an independent study in Human Skeletal Analysis under Cohen, thinking that an understanding of human bones would be helpful. As I was exposed to the field of bioarchaeology, I became captivated by the kinds of anthropological information that could be gained from bones and teeth. I conducted two hands-on research projects on the Tipu site Maya skeletal collection curated at SUNY Plattsburgh. One involved treponemal infection, and the other on infectious disease and skeletal stress indicators.

“The other faculty at Plattsburgh — cultural anthropologists James Armstrong, Patricia Higgins, Richard Robbins, Deborah Altimirano, and Amy Mountcastle — all contributed to my education as well. While working with material remains of past cultures, I found that an understanding of the interplay between behavior, ideology, and history in contemporary, living cultures can often be a key to understanding archaeological phenomena. This perspective was gained by taking various courses in cultural anthropology, including medical anthropology and a practical course on ethnographic research.

“In the not-too-distant future I will be seeking a teaching and research position on the university level. Ideally, I would love to be able to return to SUNY Plattsburgh as a professor, to give back to SUNY Plattsburgh and its students the kinds of opportunities and educational experiences that they gave to me.”

He is now Dr. Haagen Klaus and was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University in 2013. Check out his faculty profile

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

If you would like more information about the Anthropology program at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact:

Dr. Richard Robbins, Chair
Office: Redcay Hall 131
Phone: (518) 564-4006

Laura Collier
Department Secretary
Office: Redcay Hall 103
Phone: (518) 564-3003
Toll-Free Phone: (800) 398-4801