Some might think that we already know pretty much all there is to know about the past, especially the history of this country. Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dr. Kelly Jenks, however, always felt that there was more to history than what she was taught growing up. From an early age, the 2014-15 Fort Lewis College New Faculty Teaching Award winner felt the need to study the past, particularly that of the Southwest, in order to help others learn about their heritage and gain a new and deeper perspective on the world.
“The goal behind studying history was wanting it to be out there for everyone,” she says, “wanting more people to experience or think about all these other past lives when they were thinking about where they themselves lived and who they were.”
After completing her own education at Cornell and the University of Arizona, Dr. Jenks continues her work at Fort Lewis College. For a long time she viewed herself primarily as a researcher, but now she finds teaching a rewarding experience.
“What I enjoy about teaching, especially anthropology, and what I liked about anthropology in studying it, is when it makes you look at the world in an entirely new way and everything is suddenly so interesting.”
She’s already seen her work open the eyes of her students to new perspectives. One example is a student who thought he didn’t have any interest in learning about how historical artifacts help shed light on a culture. That student later found himself talking to his younger brother about different kinds of tin cans and what the cans tell us about the people who used them. It was at that moment that he realized he had learned something useful and interesting.
“It’s great seeing people experience something like that or think something like that for the first time,” Dr. Jenks says.
Part of giving her students a new perspective is challenging them to think critically and comparatively about the world around them. She wants to build up their abilities, as well as their confidence. Seeing her students rise to the challenges she sets for them is particularly rewarding.
“I’ve seen students who’ve come in and been overwhelmed and then figure it out and just do incredible things because they realize that they can,” she says. “That’s a good place to be.”