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Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant - Michelle Hammett

Michelle Hammett, an ETSU senior and University Honors Scholar majoring in Anthropology, is quick to point out the benefits of becoming involved in an undergraduate research experience while at ETSU.   In collaboration with Dr. Jay Franklin, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Michelle received an ETSU Honors College Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant (SFCG) to study pottery sherds and bone fragments uncovered from the Nelson Site on the Nolichucky River.  This large Late Middle Woodland locale dates back around 1300-1400 years and, until now, has never been described in a publication.  Michelle’s research project entailed analyzing items from the location, including 3000 pieces of pottery, with the goal of providing a clearer, more detailed understanding of the history of the site and its inhabitants.

The project originated during Michelle’s sophomore year at ETSU, when she made the decision to change her major to Anthropology.  Dr. Franklin suggested that she start a project that would allow her to become more familiar with the fields of anthropology and archaeology. “It all started when he gave me the stuff from the Nelson site and I had to wash every piece of pottery,” said Michelle. The pottery had been stored in bags in an attic for 30 years, so a great deal of time needed to be spent washing and categorizing the items.

During analyzes of the pottery sherds, Michelle and Dr. Franklin identified the stylistic preferences of the people who inhabited the Nelson Site. The pottery sherds excavated from this site are similar to sherds found in Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia, and the Ohio Valley. According to Michelle, this suggests that inhabitants of the Nelson Site had interactions through trade and partnerships with natives in other areas in the Eastern part of the country.  Michelle admits that, before beginning her research project, she had never thought about the pre- history of our region and thought the area evolved with the settlers and colonials.  Furthermore, “I didn’t realize there was such a rich history, culture, and trade in the area before European colonization,” says Michelle. “These early peoples had very advanced trade networks that our current generations don’t recognize.” Michelle hopes that this original research will encourage more exploration of other local sites, so we can learn more about the region’s heritage. “If research is done on other sites, we can eventually do some large comparative studies to find out more about the ancestry of this area. I believe there will always be an interest in such research.  Part of that interest results from the establishment and growth of the East Tennessee State University Anthropology Department, as well as the presence of an active ongoing research program that assists undergraduate students in funding research,” she says.

Michelle’s research about the Nelson Site was published in the fall 2008 issue of the Tennessee Archaeology, with a photo of one of the site’s pottery sherds used as the cover for the issue.  According to Michelle, being published while an undergraduate student is one of the most rewarding aspects of her research experience and she enthusiastically adds, “This has been the highlight of my undergraduate career.”

Michelle emphasizes that funding from the SFCG was instrumental in the success of her project. The SFCG and other similar grants are great ways to provide undergraduates with research opportunities that can be difficult to find at other schools. She reports that during a trip to the conference of Current Research in Tennessee Archaeology (a professional archaeology conference), she realized that opportunities for funding research, such as the SFCG for undergraduates at ETSU, are rare. “Because of the funding I received from ETSU’s Honors College, I was able to present research findings obtained from the Nelson site last spring.  In fact, there were no other undergraduate students at the conference other than those from ETSU.  The only students in attendance from other schools were those students working on a masters or PhD degrees.  This made me realize what awesome research programs were available at ETSU,” says Michelle.

Michelle’s research was not accomplished without some challenges.  She emphasized that learning new things, such as conducting hands-on research, is always difficult when it’s unfamiliar. Time commitments also presented obstacles because as Michelle says, “Research takes time and people need to be realistic and realize it is a commitment.  Then she jokingly adds, “I did cry a couple of times when I thought I lost my data because I was like… ‘That’s my baby.’   I didn’t lose the data, but it would have been a huge set back if I had because my data provided the foundation for my project and our publication.”

Michelle encourages other students to become actively involved in their field of study and not to be afraid to talk to their professors about research.  She suggests that students discuss research projects with professors to help them develop ideas for prospective SFCG proposals.  The conversations may focus on new research projects or may include working with a professor on some aspect of their on-going research programs.  Either way, the SFCG is a great way to get funding for supplies, equipment, travel (research only), computer time, and other expenses related to a research project.  Michelle also adds that experiences and opportunities, such as those obtained during her research project, help students stand out when applying for graduate studies.  “I don’t think I would be as prepared for Graduate School had I not done research with Dr. Franklin and  had the exposure to research, grant writing, and publishing,”  says Michelle. 

As for Michelle, after graduation she will be taking a couple of years off before entering Graduate School.   She is currently planning to teach English for a year at North China University of Technology in Beijing (NCUT).   Once she has gained more international experience, she hopes to return to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Anthropology.


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