Strategies in Developing Successful Graduate Programs in Applied Anthropology

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2011


Kerry Feldman (UA Anchorage) and Lisa Henry (U of North Texas)


Kerry D. Feldman and David Y. Yesner (UA Anchorage), Chuck Darrah (San Jose State University), Susan Hyatt (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis), David Hoffman and Evan Peacock (Mississippi State University), Sunil Khanna (Oregon State University)

Discussant: Linda Bennett (University of Memphis)


Before students can receive the education and experience needed to engage in practicing and applied careers in anthropology, universities must be convinced of the need for and perceived viability of graduate academic programs in applied anthropology. This session considers the major challenges and successful strategies to developing graduate degree programs in applied anthropology. Although each university/department has its unique history and local context, are there common challenges and successful strategies from which other departments might learn as they consider developing an applied anthropology program? This session offers reflections on these and related issues by departments with applied anthropology graduate programs.

Summary of Discussion

Each presenter discussed the specific history and strategies of their department in developing a successful graduate program in applied anthropology. Departments were selected to include both master’s and PhD programs, both newer and more established programs, and a range of geographic locations. Linda Bennett provided insight into the commonalities of our stories as we move forward with graduate education. These commonalities are as follows:

  1. All departments have the need to balance vision with practical realities. In developing our programs, there was a need to fit our programs into the perceived needs of the state or region. It’s important for departments to make a case for how their department meets a perceived need with a graduate program in applied anthropology.
  2. All departments needed to make sure they were not conflicting with another program in the state or region. Programs must fit in a unique way within the state, given that the participating departments were all part of state university systems.
  3. In developing the program, all departments made the argument that it would not require additional resources to make the program work. Most built their programs with overloads on faculty time. Yet, once the programs were approved, departments were able to find innovative ways to get the needed resources. We discussed the idea that anthropologists are good at building relationships.
  4. All departments focused on applied anthropology in some fashion. Frequently the faculty in any given department are not all completely applied even though the department decided to move forwards with an applied program. The advice then is to hire only applied anthropology faculty once the department gets approval for the program.
  5. All departments stressed the point the administration that having a master’s or PhD level program will open up opportunities for employment for the undergraduate students in the department as well as other students entering the graduate program. Many undergraduates in these institutions cannot leave their current location to attend a graduate program in another region or out-of-state.
  6. All departments stressed that developing a graduate program in applied anthropology would not detract from the current undergraduate program. At the same time, departments recognized that this would pose challenges to the department.
  7. All departments stressed the idea that applied anthropology programs are visible in the public’s eye and this visibility helps the community know more about applied anthropology…and perhaps will lead the community use the department as a resource for local projects.

Future Dissemination

We are currently exploring publication of our session papers with Practicing Anthropology, which seems like an ideal publication for our topic. Once this publication is underway we will also explore a follow-up session that explores issues of how departments cope with university cultural change and restructuring.

Paper Abstracts

Kerry D. Feldman and David Y. Yesner (University of Alaska Anchorage) Anatomy of an Applied Anthropology Program in the Far North: Holistic Planning, Stakeholders, and Political Realities. This paper examines how the anthropology department at the University of Alaska Anchorage established its successful M.A. program in applied anthropology (1999). Ten factors will be discussed: understanding a campus’s history in a statewide system, getting departmental support, involving students and local stakeholders in the proposal process, avoiding turf battles with other anthropology departments in the state, identifying state needs for the program, preparing the proposal for board of regents review, documenting the results of the program as well as informing local academic administrators about them, and the need for holistic thinking in developing an applied degree program.

Chuck Darrah (San Jose State University) “Adding Value” Through Applying Anthropology. San Jose State University is located in Silicon Valley, a region historically characterized by mobility and immigration, fascination with technology and entrepreneurship, and a high cost of living. The regional zeitgeist is one of utilitarian pragmatism and the M.A. program in applied anthropology allows students to customize their educational plans around skills in social analysis, evaluation, and, very broadly, design. The program: responds to the regional job market and student interests; encourages students to conduct real-world projects, instead of theses; and integrates theorizing into practice. The program has grown through the CSU budget crisis and contributed to departmental success.

Susan Hyatt (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis) Applied Anthropology and Civic Engagement in Indianapolis: Starting a New Program at a Time of Fiscal Constraints. Budgets for higher education are being slashed and Indiana is no exception. Despite this crisis, we were able to accept our first intake of MA students in Fall 2010. The Indiana University-Purdue University curriculum emphasizes social justice based upon rigorous scholarship and promotes anthropology as a profession, both within and outside the academy. In this session, I will describe the process we went through in developing and inaugurating our program and will present some thoughts on building an MA program that has the concept of civic engagement as one of its core values.

David Hoffman and Evan Peacock (Mississippi State University) Genesis and Development of an Applied Anthropology Program at a Land Grant Institution in the Deep South. Creating an Applied Anthropology graduate program at Mississippi State University fit well with this Land Grant Institution’s mission of “Learning, Service, and Teaching.” Furthermore, developing an applied MA program was a strategic decision to differentiate us from the state’s traditional four-field MA programs. Despite these advantages, there was still the need to convince state-level bureaucrats of the program’s feasibility and overcome an institutional perspective of anthropology as strictly a humanities discipline. This paper will discuss how the program’s founders overcame these challenges and will detail its continued growth and expansion since its inception in 2001.

Sunil Khanna (Oregon State University) Applied Anthropology at Oregon State University: Developing and Promoting a Graduate Program in Applied Anthropology. Developing and Promoting Graduate Education in Applied Anthropology. The Department of Anthropology at Oregon State University offers graduate degrees (MA and PhD) in Applied Anthropology. The core objective of the two programs is to train anthropologists and archaeologists to be able to work closely with local communities and key societal institutions domestically and internationally. This paper provides a brief history of graduate training in applied anthropology at Oregon State University highlighting many changes that have taken place over time in size and structure of the two programs. Finally, the paper examines how various components – coursework, internship/residence, and fieldwork – of training in applied anthropology at OSU prepare students for professional opportunities in both academic and non-academic settings.