Dig This: An Archaeology Professor Recognized Nationally for Her Work
Get to know Jennifer Ramsay, an associate professor who stands out for her work in archaeology and her ability to teach.
Through the door of her Cooper Hall office, Associate Professor Jennifer Ramsay has settled into a Brockport way of life.
“I’m just loving the students here. They’re just so eager to learn new things,” she said.
Ramsay took a one-year position at SUNY Brockport in 2009 after working in Vancouver, Canada. The next year, she competed with more than 140 applicants for a permanent position in the Department of Anthropology. Since then, she has been developing the program, lab work, and educational experiences for Brockport students.
In January, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) presented Ramsay the 2019 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching award. The AIA is the oldest and largest archaeological organization in the United States.
“[Ramsay is] unusually generous with her time. She is a prolific supervisor of independent study projects and internships,” according to the AIA.
Q&A with Ramsay: Plane rides, Petra, and PJs
Question: How do you approach teaching?
"I grew up working two jobs while going to college, so I can kind of relate to our demographic of students, because a lot of them are working; they're juggling life," said Ramsay. "So, I'm not really strict on a lot of my policies. I’m like ‘Look, this isn’t rocket science; you clearly have things going on right now. If you want to get this in a few days late, I don't care. Please, you’d have a much better paper.’”
Ramsay teaches three classes a semester, including Greek and Roman Archaeology. Because the classes have confusing terms, she reassures her students to not be scared by the big words. Ramsay’s style is flexible and approachable while she seeks to push students to come out of their shells and get involved, using a variety of methods to connect with everyone's learning styles.
Q: You bring students with you to Petra, Jordan, and Israel. What is that experience like?
“I have been taking Brockport students in the field since 2010. Right when I first arrived here, I only had two that year,” Ramsay said.
They live in a “dig house,” which is like camping with walls, Ramsay explained. So, the group gets pretty close to one another. They’ve seen their teacher in her pajamas brushing her teeth, Ramsay laughed.
“I get them to ride camels, we camp out in the desert, they get to live with Bedouins," said Ramsay. "So, it’s not only an archaeological experience, but it’s also a cultural experience for them. And most of them have never left the state; they’re experiencing a totally different culture. They’re all kinds of scared at first, and afterward, they’re like, ‘These are the nicest and most hospitable people ever, and we have a lot of things in the U.S.’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah we do, we rent storage lockers for the things we have.’”
The students participate in field schools learning a broad range of skills, including excavation methodology and how to work with artifacts.
“Some of them will fall in love with it, some of them won't. But they’ll always have this amazing experience,” she said.
Q: What is the purpose of archaeology and your trips into the fields?
“The purpose is different at every archaeology site," said Ramsay. "For me, I’m a specialist, and I look at ancient plant remains on archaeological sites. I do this because we can then look at ancient trade patterns, we can look at the agriculture, we can look at food and diet, and we can learn a little bit about the environment and how the people were behaving.”
“I’ve worked on 18 sites, because there are not a lot of people doing what I’m doing," she said. "I’ve only excavated on a handful of sites, but I have research material on a wide variety (1800 BC to 1200s AD).”
Q: Do your students become archaeologists or anthropologists?
“They’re all over the place," she said. Her students have taken a range of paths. Some work in museums doing cataloging, one works for Disney, others in labs and at consulting firms. Some have sought master's degrees, and one former student has earned their PhD.
“That’s the weird thing with anthropology; there's not really a clear path,” Ramsay said. But even if students don't want to continue in the field, she says taking a class is worth it. “You really learn a global perspective and critical thinking," she said.
Q: How did it feel to be given this award?
“I was completely honored, kind of a little humbled to be included in this list,” she said. Ramsay noted that other winners on the list are notable academics who have accomplished a lot in the field.