Graduating Senior Melanie Pitt of Farmington Hills, Mich. has been chosen by the Department of Anthropology as this year’s Outstanding Senior.
Pitt said she was elated and shocked when she heard the news.
“It was very unexpected,” Pitt said. “I don’t tend to expect much from what I have done, but it was a nice surprise. I was really happy.”
Professor of Anthropology and director of the MSU Bioarcheology Laboratory Dr. Gabriel Wrobel nominated Pitt for the award because she showed initiative with organization, something that is crucial for work in the lab.
Wrobel said Pitt’s organization set her apart from other students.
“When I first met Melanie and I talked to her a little bit, I immediately saw that she just had an organized brain and she liked to put things in order. And I thought, I need somebody that can do that in this lab,” Wrobel said.
“She was clearly prepared and organized and that was great,” Wrobel added. “I love finding students like that.”
Pitt transferred to MSU from Schoolcraft College in Livonia in 2021. She previously studied at Albion College, where she worked as a research assistant in the Anthropology Department. Pitt said she always enjoyed studying anthropology and the thought of studying and working in MSU’s bioarcheological lab intrigued her.
“When I was transferring into a bigger university, I started to think, ‘Oh, maybe forensics would be interesting,” she said.
Pitt said she did more research and connected with Professor of Anthropology Dr. Stacey Camp, who helped her narrow down which subfield she wanted to study: bioarcheology.
Wrobel helped Pitt secure the Dean’s Assistantship grant through the College of Social Science. The grant, a $5600 stipend, gives students “the opportunity to have an enriched independent research experience in the social sciences with a faculty mentor.”
Pitt worked closely with Dr. Wrobel to create a digital repository for the bioarcheology lab using Kora.
Kora is an open-source, database-driven, online digital repository application for complex multimedia objects (text, images, audio, video) created by MATRIX. The application ingests, manages, and delivers digital objects with corresponding metadata that enhances the research and educational value of the objects. (from Kora’s website).
“She has completely restructured the lab and how we organize the materials that are in it, how we find things, how we keep digital records,” Wrobel said. “It has been a huge help.”
Pitt said organization did not always come naturally to her, but following her diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, things got easier, and she started to excel in her college courses.
“I’d always sort of thought I was just a bad student, my peers never seemed to struggle with homework and studying the way I did,” Pitt said. “Once I was diagnosed with ADHD and began treating it, the difference was unbelievable – it was like I had needed glasses my whole life and never understood why I could not read the board like everyone else. I was not a bad student, my brain just worked differently, and I had never had the means to excel.”
“Before coming to MSU, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college,” Pitt said. “I’m still a little unsure, I am figuring it out as I go. I love archaeology, and this experience with the digital archive and organizing the lab has shown me I also really like collections management. It has given me a few things to think about as potentials for future careers.”
After graduation, Pitt is slated to join Dr. Wrobel in Belize where they and other members of the Ambergris Caye Archaeological Project, including Maya students from Belize, will excavate an ancient Maya site community. Pitt will lead the project’s field lab.
Pitt said she is excited about the opportunity to travel, and she is looking forward to continuing her work. She said it is bittersweet to look back on her college career and she is proud of how far she has come.
“It’s strange to look back six years ago and remember how much harder school used to be for me,” Pitt said. “At the same time, I would not have it any other way. I think the way that I was when I first started college and the struggles that I faced were essential for where I am now. That was a foundation that I needed to build upon. But it was all necessary steps to get to where I am now.”