Amber Wutich

2017 OFM Amber Wutich
Amber Wutich
Professor and Director, Center for Global Health, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

In an increasingly globalized world, anthropologists can play an important role in collaborative efforts to solve global problems. Yet most graduate students in cultural anthropology are still trained in the “lone wolf” model of solitary field research and publication. My goal is to teach graduate students from anthropology and allied fields to do rigorous, collaborative research that can promote sustainability, social justice, and global health. This involves: (1) bringing theories from anthropology and allied fields to bear on real-world problems; (2) providing students with rigorous research skills that are in demand and professionally marketable; and (3) recruiting and mentoring graduate students from underrepresented groups, as these students are often especially well-positioned to advance novel scholarly understandings of injustice and inequality.

Graduate teaching excellence

I teach research methods for graduate students nationally, through the NSF methods institutes in cultural anthropology and other initiatives. These experiences taught me that good research training is an essential foundation for graduate student success. In SHESC, I teach the required graduate course in Ethnographic Field Methods. Since I took over teaching this course, ASU’s success rates in NSF Cultural Anthropology DDIG grant awards rose to 42% (in 2016), compared to a national funding rate of 16% (NSF 2016).

I also teach and mentor graduate students in research methods across all ASU’s graduate programs in the social sciences. Since 2012, at ASU’s Institute for Social Science Research, I have taught 17 intensive workshops in research methods to about 350 ASU graduate students and early-career scholars. The quality of my teaching has been recognized by awards such as Carnegie CASE Arizona Professor of the Year (2013) and ASU’s Award for Excellence in Classroom Performance (2011).

Commitment to graduate student success

I have created a number of hands-on research programs, with colleagues, to mentor graduate students from ASU’s programs in Global Health, Environmental Social Sciences, and Cultural Anthropology. We use our research—on unjust environmental institutions and global health disparities—as a platform for collaboration. Working together with faculty, graduate students develop skills in research, publication, teaching, and mentorship.

We use four collaborative models to enhance education in the classroom and beyond. Collectively, these programs have created 46 research mentorship experiences for graduate students, and 48 opportunities for graduate students to co-author peer-reviewed publications. Here are examples:

Lab-based Learning

I direct the Culture, Health, and Environment Lab (2010-2017), where faculty and graduate students work on NSF-funded research and develop skills in data collection and analysis.

Collaborative International Research

I designed the Global Ethnohydrology Study (2007-2017), a multi-year, cross-cultural study that examines water management and knowledge in 10 countries.

Locally-engaged Citizen Science & Education

I designed the Science of Water Art (2010-2013), a citizen science study that helps graduate students hone their skills in community partnerships and curriculum design.

Locally-embedded Community-based Research

In the South Phoenix Collaborative (2008-2011), my colleagues and I designed a participatory community-based study of health risks in a Latino immigrant community.

Record of mentoring and student professional development

One of the greatest joys of being a university professor is working with graduate students within a supportive collaborative research group. I manage a large, dynamic and diverse lab research group in SHESC, currently with 2 postdocs, 6 graduate students, and 15 undergraduate students. The graduate students help mentor the undergraduates, although I am very involved with everyone.

To be successful, graduate students need to develop independent research proposals and scholarly agendas. Learning grant-writing requires intensive mentoring. Of the ABD Ph.D. students I have supervised, all received national grant funding (NSF, Fulbright, SSRC). Time to degree is another important marker of intensive mentorship. My Ph.D. students have graduated, on average, 3 years earlier than the national average for Ph.D. students in Anthropology (NSF 2006).

Final markers of graduate student success are publication and employment. In the “lone wolf” model, graduate students never co-author publications with their mentors. My now-graduated Ph.D. students published, on average, 8 peer-reviewed publications, many co-authored with me. Finally, all the Ph.D. recipients whose committees I chaired are employed full-time in academia in teaching or postdoctoral research positions.

Commitment to diversity

As a professor, I hope to address the inequities I study by increasing access for underrepresented students to excellent graduate education. In my current cohort of Ph.D. students, the majority are students of color and women. Although numbers matter, I believe quality is more important than quantity in graduate education. Female and minority students often endure harmful discriminatory experiences in graduate school. My mentorship approach is the result of serious self-education and self-reflection about structural inequality in the academy. In addition, I have built strong informal networks at ASU with African-American, American Indian, Latino, and women scholars. Working together, we leverage our respective skills and expertise to support underrepresented graduate students as they realize their scholarly potential at ASU.