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Anthropology in action explores complex human issues

Behind the scenes with Brenda Kellar, anthropology advisor and instructor

Brenda Kellar, Ecampus anthropology advisor, sits in front of a bookshelf smiling at a person sitting across from her.

By Julie Cooper
Feb. 27, 2019

Brenda Kellar is determined to help students make the most of what she calls the “limitless” potential of an anthropology degree – potential that she has demonstrated throughout her multidisciplinary career. She’s curated archaeological collections; researched the honey bee pollination industry; contributed to a global encyclopedia about women’s lives; produced original research on the role of community in online learning environments; and most recently, taught and advised students who earn their anthropology degrees online with Oregon State Ecampus. She’s been a leader in the anthropology program since Oregon State first began offering the degree online, but as a three-time OSU alumna, her roots go even deeper. Brenda earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology, as well as a Doctorate in History of Science, from Oregon State University.


Describe your role as Ecampus anthropology advisor and instructor.

“I help students understand the university and major requirements, learn to navigate the processes and technologies required to successfully complete their programs, and prepare for their post-graduation goals.”

What do you like most about advising anthropology online?

“The students. Most of our online students are older and many have a long history of trying to earn a degree in-between all of the other demands on their time; others fell in love with anthropology and despite having successful careers in other fields, cannot let go of that love. I am in awe of students who will not give up on their goal of getting a bachelor’s degree. In the last few years, we have had freshmen and international students who bring new perspectives to this discipline for me. I’ve also begun to understand that traditional education has caused personal and financial trauma for some of the students coming to us. I love finding practical ways to make students’ goals a reality.

In the beginning, advising and online education was really new to me; however, I knew my main focus was to be an advocate for our online anthropology majors and online OSU students generally. Ecampus provided resources, training and thoughtful advice any time I called – and I was calling pretty frequently. As I’ve interacted with other colleges and universities that offer online education, I’ve learned that the support from OSU Ecampus is exceptional, and not all advisors or online instructors get that same level of support.”

You’ve been involved in the Ecampus anthropology program since it was first offered online. What changes have you seen since then? 

“There were not many students to interact with in those first weeks and none of us thought there would be very many students even at the end of that first year. I was amazed when the online anthropology program grew quite quickly and was even more surprised that I found the job challenging and satisfying. I still do. It is such a new field and the potential is limitless. Because we are experimenting as we go along – with how to make sure students are prepared for any arena their degree will take them and how to make sure students feel connected to OSU, the College of Liberal Arts, anthropology and each other – there is a new challenge every day. I love that.

One of the biggest changes has been our understanding of our online anthropology demographic. When online education was new for our department we made some big – and incorrect – assumptions. Finding out that many of our students were coming into the program with little-to-no experience with anthropology or understanding of how grad school works had the biggest impact on the way we redesigned our online program and the resources we have developed for our online students.”

“The ability to work on complex issues with diverse communities and exchange information within a respectful, productive process is what makes anthropology so universally applicable.”

What traits, passions or career goals do you frequently see in those who study anthropology?

“The opportunities provided by anthropology are broad – so broad that they often disappear and people don’t know that they are observing anthropology in action. All of our majors share a desire to know more about people and for the anthropology they practice to promote changes in social and environmental justice.”

How can earning an anthropology degree help students in their futures? What skills do they learn and what types of jobs does this degree set them up for?

An anthropology degree that’s tailored to you

In a field that can lead most anywhere, customize your anthropology degree with one of four areas of focus: archaeology, biocultural, cultural/linguistic or general anthropology.

Explore degree paths

“Anthropology majors are in high demand within many sectors because they explore differences – between past and present, local and global, urban and rural, and genders and social classes. They learn critical thinking skills and the ability to step outside of their own cultural expectations and limits. The ability to work on complex issues with diverse communities and exchange information within a respectful, productive process is what makes anthropology so universally applicable.

Students can find jobs in human resources and marketing departments, forensics, archaeology and cultural resource management, or with a nonprofit or governmental agency, both of which work with diverse and marginalized communities on a variety of issues.”

How do you build a genuine connection with students who, in many cases, you’ll never meet in person?

“I think it is about making sure the students know I am genuinely interested in them and their goals and building trust so that they feel comfortable sharing those goals with me. Many of our online students have had advisors in the past and they have had a variety of experiences with that relationship. It is easy for us to become focused on just getting through everything that needs to be done that day rather than spending an extra minute or two with a student to talk. Distance students sometimes don’t have anyone to sit and listen to their dreams and plans. They can’t linger in a classroom with a professor they admire or in the office of an advisor they find encouraging. It is up to me to remember to make a space for these types of discussions to take place.”

What advice would you like to give to students?

“Be open to possibilities. Don’t immediately assume you can’t do something just because you don’t see an easy way to achieve it. I’ve learned this from my students. You may need to revise or even abandon an idea, but the exploration of that idea may lead you to your true passion or to a better understanding of what you want in life.”

Who do you consider to be a role model in your life, and why?

“I am constantly learning from my students – perseverance, compassion and passion for learning. I get hundreds of examples of these traits from big and small events taking place in my students’ lives.”

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