Austin Lawrence

Anthropology, 2017

I started at CU Boulder as a math major. But, after a year it was not what I wanted — I enjoy math, but not as a career. I met Professor Dennis Van Gerven through the Honors Residential Academic Program. He did a lecture called Tales from the Crypt: Life and Death in Ancient Nubia. He was an incredible speaker. Between his lecture and an anthropology class I was taking, I was hooked..

Broadly speaking, humans are interesting, so it’s fascinating to study humans from around the world from different perspectives. In my major, I study both the biology and culture of humans, which offers a unique perspective as to what makes us who we are. More specifically in my focus, I study skeletal biology, and you can learn a lot about a person’s life from their bones. You can learn how they lived and what sorts of things they did when they were alive, which brings the human element back. It is a delicate balance – you have to be objective, but recognize the significance of the bones being a human being.

I am studying a collection of mummies that were excavated by Professor Van Gerven in 1979 in Nubia, now Sudan. The collection was naturally mummified by being shrouded and buried in the desert – most are skeletonized, but some are nearly entirely mummified. This collection is about 1,500 years old and has been the subject of numerous honors theses.

My research focuses on pathologies of the hip. I read a medical study about modern-day athletes and was curious if hip impingement was because of athletics today or if it has been around longer. So I started out by conducting an exploratory study to see if hip impingement was present in these people who lived 1,500 years ago, and now I am looking at a specific injury to see if it was present then and if it is related to other injuries we see today. My focus is to show a linkage and develop that into a tool to determine what they were doing when they were alive.

I think I am more prepared than other undergraduates, because I was exposed to research early on. At CU-Boulder, if you take the right approach, you can do your own research within months. And, there are multiple ways to get involved with research, which is great. You have the ability to do innovative research as an undergraduate, which you would not at other universities.

I’m also working on materials for a conference now. Attending and presenting at conferences is a really cool experience, because you are able to meet other people in the field and start making connections early on. I hope to publish this project in the next few months – I am working on my manuscript this semester.

The faculty at CU Boulder are very approachable and all have different specialties, which is great because I am able to get multiple perspectives. It is great talking with faculty and learning about their interests. I am working primarily with Paul Sandberg, who is a lecturer and recent PhD. He knows this collection really well and has looked extensively at the teeth in the collection. I also work with Dennis Van Gerven, who excavated the collection.

I was drawn into it because it is a unique opportunity to reach across disciplines. There is so much diversity across the Norlin Scholar community – and with so many different people, you get built in networking. I also find the Constructions of Knowledge classes, which are specific to Norlin Scholars, really interesting. In your freshman year, you take a broad course and then in your junior year it is more about your field. Norlin Scholars is also a really close community, which is awesome. The group is really supportive.

I have also loved my experience with the Honors Program and Honors Residential Academic Program. There is lots going on all of the time, and you get a built in community. Just as an example, while sitting at the front desk in Smith Hall, I have been part of conversations about astrophysics with film students. There’s always interesting conversation to be had.