Anthropology instructor honored with Minnesota State Board of Trustees Award
Katie Nelson, PhD, Anthropology faculty at Inver Hills Community College, was recognized by the Minnesota State Board of Trustees as a 2022 Educator of the Year. The Board of Trustees Awards for Excellence acknowledge and provide system-wide recognition for consistently superior professional achievement of Minnesota State college and university teaching and service faculty.
The Board of Trustees Awards virtual ceremony, Celebrating Excellence, honored Katie and her fellow 2022 recipients April 20, 2022, from noon to 1 p.m. Everyone was invited to share in the joyful pride that board members, faculty, students, and campus administrators take in these exceptional teachers and administrative service faculty.
“I would like to thank Inver Hills Community College President Michael Berndt, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Derrick Lindstrom, and Interim Dean of STEM & Social Sciences Yohannes Agegnehu for their nomination, support, and leadership,” Katie said. “Strong and effective leaders such as they are key to creating a culture of excellence and equity. I thank the faculty and student nominators who commented on my work and supported my nomination for this distinguished award. I thank my colleague, Anthropology Instructor Dr. Bradley Perkl, for his partnership and dedication to the department and our students. I also thank my family for their support.”
Katie added that working tirelessly for equity, student success, and democratizing access to anthropological knowledge is not always easy.
“Indeed, behind any successful woman is, undoubtedly, a supportive family,” she said. “I am profoundly honored to receive this recognition and newly energized to continue my work.”
“We have so many outstanding educators in Minnesota State. It is a testament to Dr. Nelson’s dedication and craft to be recognized among so many excellent peers. I am proud to work with her at Inver.”
Inver Hills Community College
Dakota County Technical College
Minnesota State: “Described as ‘a force’ and ‘masterful,’ Dr. Katie Nelson focused her career on exploring and honoring cultural difference and promoting equity and inclusion.
“Nelson and three co-editors helped reduce the high costs of textbooks for students, often a barrier to student success, by developing the first comprehensive introductory biological anthropology OER in anthropology. Now more than 750 faculty use the textbook. With a co-editor, she also completed a new OER textbook, Gendered Lives: Global Issues.”
More about Katie…
Originally from Frogtown, Saint Paul, Katie graduated from Northfield High School, Class of 1998. Katie started teaching at Inver Hills in June 2012. She earned her Ph.D. in Social Science with an Emphasis in Social Anthropology from the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology, CIESAS Occidente, Guadalajara, Mexico.
She has an M.A. in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an M.A. in Instructional Technology with E-Learning Graduate Certificate from the University of St. Thomas, and a B.A. in Anthropology, Latin American Studies, from Macalester College.
Katie is an exceptionally engaged member of the Inver Hills campus community. She serves or has served on multiple committees and work groups, including the Diversity Committee, the Teaching and Technology Committee, Shared Governance, the Academic Affairs Standards Committee, the OER Work Group, the Climate Change Studies Program Development Committee, and the Social Justice A.A. Emphasis and Certificate Development Committee.
She also serves as the Anthropology Club faculty advisor. “This club helps students connect with anthropology faculty and the college while furthering their understanding of anthropology,” she said. “As the only full-time faculty member in anthropology at my institution, I singularly maintain and represent the program and engage in campus activities that promote the department and anthropology as a discipline.”
Katie served as the college’s interim chief diversity officer in 2019. She has been an active member of the Diversity Council since she started at Inver Hills in 2012.
Katie’s multilingual ability helps advance her anthropological goals
For her doctoral dissertation in 2015, Katie studied identity formation and contestation among undocumented Mexican immigrant college students. She also looked at the cultural and social barriers many face in their path in higher education. She is a passionate advocate for undocumented and immigrant students.
“I completed my doctoral degree through a prestigious anthropology institute in Guadalajara Mexico called CIESAS Occidente,” Katie related. “My coursework was conducted in Spanish. I use my fluency in Spanish and Portuguese and my experiences studying and living abroad regularly in my pedagogy.”
Katie noted that her fluency in Spanish and Portuguese assists her not only in viewing student experiences from multiple perspectives, but also in more subtle ways of helping students see multilingual and multicultural people as having assets that contribute significantly to society rather than as representative of challenges to overcome.
Recognizing that the high cost of textbooks is a barrier to success and persistence for historically marginalized students, Katie has been active in creating and promoting Open Educational Resources (OER) in anthropology. In recent years, she has become a national leader in OER anthropology in higher education.
Along with three co-editors, she received a $25,000 grant from Minnesota State to create the first comprehensive introductory biological anthropology OER textbook: Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology. Published in 2019, the text is a multi-authored comprehensive textbook with 16 chapters and three appendices. An accompanying lab and activity book along with ancillary materials, including presentation slides, a test bank, and an associated note-taking system were subsequently created.
“We have data that indicate that more than 750 faculty across throughout the world have adopted the textbook,” Katie said. “This represents thousands of students and tens of thousands of dollars in textbook savings for students.”
Along with a co-editor, Katie developed a new OER textbook entitled Gendered Lives: Global Issues, which is published by the American Anthropological Association; a print copy is available through SUNY Press.
“Gendered Lives takes a regional approach to examine gender issues from an anthropological perspective with a focus on globalization and intersectionality,” Katie said. “The text is distinctive in that it is the first anthropology OER textbook to include ethnographic case studies, written by diverse authors and uses a feminist and intersectional approach.”
Katie is currently working on a new textbook, to be published by Routledge, that integrates the four fields of anthropology to tell a holistic story of humanity.
I have taught anthropology at the college level for more than 15 years. In this time, I have discovered that teaching is as much an art as it is a set of substantive techniques founded in research. I love teaching as much as I love learning and as much as I love the discipline of anthropology. Consequently, my teaching philosophy has emerged out of this triad of passions for anthropology, teaching, and learning.
Anthropology, Teaching and Learning
Anthropology is an exciting discipline to teach. Most generally, anthropology can be defined as the study of humans throughout time and across space. One of the broadest and most holistic of all academic areas of study, anthropology offers students a unique opportunity to explore the full range of what it means to be human.
Doing anthropology is an intensely interactive and reflexive human activity. It requires the anthropologist to develop a strong rapport with her informants and also reflect back on herself as a researcher and to (re)examine her own perspectives, biases, interpretations and privileges. I have found that teaching and learning are equally interactive and reflexive endeavors. This is a feature of the teaching, learning and anthropology triad that I value the most.
As a cultural anthropologist, I use my ethnographic fieldwork experiences (in Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, and the U.S.) to engage my students in this dynamic discipline. Ethnography involves an intimate understanding of and participation in the everyday lives of people to understand how they experience and interpret their lives and the world around them.
As an ethnographic researcher, I am bound to a set of basic ethical responsibilities. These include treating people with honor and respect, exploring diverse perspectives using a culturally relativistic lens, and seeking to understand what I see and hear within the context of peoples’ various personal, social, and greater historical lives. This same approach is also very much a part of my teaching philosophy.
I believe that students learn best when they feel that their life experiences are honored and respected, and when their opinions and perspectives are valued. I understand that students come to the classroom from a very diverse set of backgrounds, and I continually seek to contextualize their experiences. My classes are designed around this goal.
Most students enroll in my anthropology courses because they are seeking to fulfill a goal area requirement. They begin with little understanding of the discipline. Many do not even know what “anthropology” means or what the field entails. While this can be challenging, it can also be a great asset.
With few preconceived ideas about the field, I have the opportunity to instill the excitement of discovery and insight anthropologists experience when exploring the ways that humans think, interact, evolve, and engage with their environment. For example, in PhotoVoice assignments, my students examine their own social and physical environments by taking photographs that illustrate key concepts. Through the lens of these photographs, students uncover important cultural behaviors, structures and values present in their own cultural context(s). Student also begin to see how things such as gender, ethnicity and enculturation intersect with their daily lives in intimate and significant ways.
Beyond key concepts, anthropology classes can be one of the only opportunities students have to investigate unconventional definitions and diverse cross-cultural examples of gender, family, economic exchange, religion, politics, health and illness, and so on. I see my role as creating a safe space for curiosity, critical analysis, and respect for cultural difference. These are essential life skills that benefit individuals and the larger society equally.
Three words that describe you as an anthropology educator:
PASSIONATE. SUPPORTIVE. REFLEXIVE.
The study of humanity is not necessarily the “easiest” or most straightforward to comprehend. Yet, I strongly believe that it is important to make complex ideas intelligible and accessible in culturally relevant ways. For instance, the dialectic of individual agency and social structure is an essential concept, but may sound impossibly complex to many undergraduate students.
To make this comprehensible, I define the key words in ordinary, jargon-free, language and then solicit examples from students’ own lives. Students share ways in which they do things that conform or do not conform to certain cultural expectations. Then we explore ways that these examples collectively and gradually create changes to larger societal values and structures.
And finally, we circle back to peoples’ choices and the never-ending cycle of culture change. When students return to class excited about such concepts and flush with stories of their critical reflections on course content, when they can’t stop thinking about our class outside the classroom, I know our academic work is shaping how they experience our world.
Ultimately, this is my goal; for all students to feel their experiences are part of the curriculum and to become personally engaged in the course material and excited about anthropology!
Katie Nelson, PhD
Minnesota State Board of Trustees 2022 Educator of the Year
Inver Hills Community College
¹ I acknowledge that the term pedagogy is imperfect, as it technically refers to the education of children. Andragogy refers to the education of adults, however it is a gendered term (education of men in Greek). Because of this, I continue to use pedagogy (begrudgingly).
Katie Nelson, PhD • Q & A
Which of the four main branches of anthropology—biological, cultural, linguistic, or archaeological—interests you the most and why?
All of them! I am primarily a cultural anthropologist, but consider myself to be a generalist. Human biological evolution is probably the area that interests me the most, outside of cultural anthropology.
What unsolved mystery of anthropology do you consider most worth exploring?
Why other human species died out and only Homo Sapiens survived.
Why is anthropology one of the best resources for sorting out humankind’s most troubling problems?
Anthropology provides a holistic view on humanity. We believe that one cannot get a full picture of what it is to be human by looking at only one dimension of human life. It all must be examined and in context with our environment.
Anthropology offers the tools to understand why people are different, how we are similar and how we can understand each other. Anthropologists are able to see problems from internal and external views and in all of their dimensions. This allows for solutions that are durable, culturally appropriate, and complete.
Katie Nelson, PhD • Nine Answers
- Place you would most like to visit: Countries in Africa including Senegal, Namibia, Mali, the Sudan and Kenya…OK, actually I want to visit all of Africa!
- The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Lived with an emerging indigenous tribe in Northwestern Brazil. I also studied anthropology in Mexico in Spanish!
- What you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: This is something I dream about a lot. I would establish an institute that helps democratize anthropological education globally, and that freely shares anthropological research and knowledge without financial or political barriers.
- Best book you’ve read lately: Why Are There Still Creationists? by biological anthropologist, Jon Marks. The book makes a persuasive argument that science can be just as dogmatic as religion. A fiction book I recently read was Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. It was absolutely horrifying yet I could not put it down.
- Time period you would explore if you could time travel: 1) What a great question! Believe it or not, I think about this question often. I love transition and change and am intrigued by how humans navigate these moments. To this end, my first choice would be the 1920s U.S. I love this period because it was fascinating time when modern values and orientations were just being worked out.
2) Another time period I’d love to be able to visit would be approximately 1.5 million years ago in East Africa at the dawn of human evolution. What did early human ancestors look like in the flesh? How did they move? How did they collaborate and form social communities?
3) Finally, I would love to visit the Middle East around 10,000 years ago when humans were just beginning to develop agriculture. I am interested in gender roles and political organization during this transitional time. These are things that are very challenging to interpret from the archaeological record.
- Dream occupation: A college anthropology professor 😉. I love my job!
- Person you would most like to meet: I am more interested in ordinary people, than famous ones. I would rather meet a thousand ordinary people from all over the world living their day to day lives than meet one famous person.
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Learn Arabic fluently. I have been slooowly learning over the past few years.
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Climate change. This is the most important existential problem humans face today. A second, closely related, issue is global cross-cultural understanding and cooperation—without which we cannot and will not survive as a species.
More about Anthropology at Inver Hills…
Anthropology offers concepts and analytical practice that will lead you to understand the deeply held values and assumed social structures that characterize cultures around the world. As an anthropology student, you will become conversant with the human condition in an increasingly sophisticated and complex world.
Earning a degree in anthropology opens doors to numerous career opportunities. Trained anthropologists enjoy successful careers in education, business, government, and nonprofits. The unique knowledge set, research capability, analytical skills, and diverse perspectives anthropologists gain through rigorous study offers a strong advantage in a relentlessly competitive global marketplace.
Being human is an art, a science, an adventure, and a challenge.
Anthropology is the study of humanity. This comprehensive discipline is divided into four subfields: archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. A holistic approach to your studies is essential.
Look to the future with a sharper eye.
The A.A. in Anthropology builds a broad, insightful foundation in your pursuit of a four-year degree and beyond. Just as humans are one of nature’s most adaptable species, anthropology is one of academia’s most adaptable disciplines.
Anthropology covers all your bases.
In our multicultural society, developing an awareness of subtle and shifting differences as well as human commonality is pertinent to any profession you choose.
Studying other societies leads to appreciation refined by empathy.
Having an anthropological perspective will enhance your experience during foreign study and travel while giving you firmer footing in international and cultural relations. The more you know about other people the more you know about yourself.
You are unique—just like everyone else.
Why are humans so amazingly diverse yet fundamentally the same? Biological anthropology reveals the evolutionary enterprise of the human species. How did we learn to adapt, survive, love, and reproduce over thousands and thousands of years?
Language is the lifeblood of humanity.
Linguistic anthropology investigates the way language manipulates, enriches, and defines the social and cultural lives of individuals, communities, societies, and nations. Listen well before you speak.
Here today, bygone tomorrow.
Archaeology is the study of the ancient past. Archaeologists are versed in numerous disciplines, including history, sociology, psychology, chemistry, architecture, botany, geology, and so much more. They really dig their work.
This 60-credit A.A. program will introduce you to the field of anthropology as a whole. You will be encouraged to find your own anthropological direction as you prepare for more rigorous future education.
The comprehensive study of humanity, anthropology features four subfields: archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Connecting these subfields is a series of approaches that empower you to become comparative in scope, evolutionary in depth, and holistic in perspective.
Learn more about Anthropology at Inver Hills by contacting:
Katie Nelson, PhD
Anthropology Club Faculty Advisor