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A passion for peering into the past

May 2, 2016

Nathan Shelley left a career in IT to pursue his first love — archaeology — and will leave ASU with the Cynthia Lakin Award

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Nathan Shelley likes to imagine the first people who came to the Americas looking at the Grand Canyon.

“Can you imagine that?” said the soon-to-be-minted baccalaureate in archaeology. “All the beautiful things that are in this country, in the Americas, period. I get jealous. I wish I was the first person to see a pristine Tonto National Forest, Yellowstone, all the places I’ve ever been. It’s kind of a driver. I love thinking about it. ... They mastered them all and became the people we have here today. It’s really exciting.”

In somewhat the same fashion, an admittedly lackadaisical student arrived at Arizona State University, mastered the forests of academe, and now leaves with his own mammoth kill: the Cynthia Lakin Award for graduating seniors who have majored in anthropology and made sustained contributions to the field at ASU.

“I’ve never won an academic award in my life,” said Shelley, who is receiving his bachelor of science in anthropology through the School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeThe School of Human Evolution and Social Change is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.. “In high school I wasn’t a great student. I told my mom 'D's' are fine. So winning an academic award like that at ASU is pretty cool. I never saw it coming.”

Shelley wants to spend his career studying the early peopling of the Americas.

“I’d like to help answer when they got here, how they got here — dispersal, how they moved about the landscape,” he said. “They came in, and it was a brand-new environment."

The oldest known archaeological site in the Western Hemisphere is Monte Verde in Chile, on the deepest southern tip of Chile, according to Shelley.

“That means there are archaeological sites somewhere in the rest of the Americas,” he said. “They have to be older or the same time frame. It’s really exciting to know that our oldest is the farthest away from where they came from — the Siberian land bridge. There’s a lot of exciting stuff still to be discovered in this field and really understood.”

He sat down with ASU Now at the ASU Center for Archaeology and Society Repository on Alameda Street in Tempe to talk about his time at ASU.

ASU anthropology grad Nathan Shelley

Anthropology senior Nathan Shelley decided to follow his passion for projectile points — arrowheads and other lithic fragments — instead of his previous work in IT. He spends much of his days at the Center for Archaeology and Society Repository studying the relics. This and top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: When I was a kid I traveled around a lot to the national parks, and I was always interested in the people who lived there. Then I went to work in IT; I’ve always been really good with computers. I was about five years in when I realized while it was good, I wasn’t happy. I wanted to do what I loved, and I really loved archaeology. So I came back to school and decided to study archaeology.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: The technology. I worked in a field school at Cooper’s Ferry, Idaho, over the summer. Using total stations (electronic/optical instruments used in modern surveying and building construction) to pinpoint map things, how we gain provenience, how we learn collection methods, learning all the different methods we use in the field, was the biggest surprise. ... I figured (the technology used in archaeology) was farther behind than it is.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’ve been in the Valley for 20 years, and it’s become a part of my life. I wanted to start my career here.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Get involved and don’t fall through the cracks. Find a way to meet professors and work with them, talk to graduate students, take advantage of everything we have here to get more experience. Don’t fall behind into the shadows. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Everyone will talk to you and try to help you as much as they can. There’s a lot of good people here, and a lot of extremely smart people here who could really help your career. Get involved.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Here. [The ASU Center for Archaeology and Society Repository.] Right here. I love this place. I spend a lot of time here. I study here. It’s like a second home.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m going to Eastern New Mexico University to pursue my master’s in archaeology. I’m really excited. If I’d told my teen self I’d be going to grad school, I would have laughed at myself and said, “Yeah, right.”

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Climate change.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News


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Reimagining the comic book genre

Herberger student's graphic novel project wins audience choice at IDEA Showcase.
Comic book by ASU student explores less mainstream, more emotional content.
May 2, 2016

Visually impaired ASU artist creating both audio, print versions of graphic novel to make art accessible to all

Editor's note: Marieke Davis will talk about her graphic novel Ember Black at a Phoenix Comicon 2017 panel from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, May 26.

Herberger student Marieke Davis doesn’t wear a cape or possess any special powers, but to visually impaired fans of the comic book genre, she could be their next superhero.

Davis, who calls herself a “visually impaired visual artist,” was recently crowned the Audience Choice Award winner at the IDEA ShowcaseMFA student Ashley Laverty won the Judge’s Prize and was awarded $500 to continue her work on Kerfuffle, a theater company for children age 5 and younger. — an event that rewards student innovation in design and the arts hosted by the Herberger Institutue Office of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. Davis will use the $250 prize money to advance an arts venture she has been working on for the past two years, a graphic series titled “Ember Black.”

The BFA drawing major in the School of ArtThe School of Art is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. BFA stands for Bachelor of Fine Arts. , who was diagnosed with hemianopsiaHemianopsia, or hemianopia, is decreased vision or blindness in one half of the vision field, often caused by stroke, traumatic brain injury or brain tumor. as a child, is drawing on her life experiences to create a comic for the non-traditional reader.

What makes Davis’ endeavor particularly impressive is that she is visually impaired in both eyes, stemming from three brain surgeries since age 10.

“Growing up I tried accommodate my impairment in different ways,” Davis said. “Art, drawing and writing have always been my therapy.”

The series is based on Emily Black, a bright but cynical 22-year-old college senior who is extremely protective of her naïve 17-year-old sister, Amy. When Amy is kidnapped by a cult-like group, Emily is left for dead until she becomes possessed by Ember, a cannibal spirit known in Algonquin lore as a Wendigo. Together, Emily and Ember must learn to co-exist and cooperate in order to find Amy before it’s too late.

“This experience has taught me a lot. Mostly that art should be inclusive, not exclusive.”
— Marieke Davis, Herberger Institute drawing major who is creating both visual and audio versions of a comic book

Davis, who has a minor in English literature and will earn a gender studies certificate in creative writing, said her intended audience is young women and men ages 15 to 30.

She said feminists will embrace Emily, too.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of comic books are written by men, and you see them draw women who are buxom with these ridiculously slender waists,” Davis said. “Emily is pretty but not ridiculously gorgeous. She’s a bit of a tomboy, rides a motorcycle, wears a leather jacket, neck tee and jeans. She’s sarcastic and suspicious and will explore feminist issues.”

That’s the beauty of “Emily Black,” said Jessica Fishell, a development officer with the ASU Foundation for a New American University and the co-owner of Critical Threat, a comic book store in Tempe. Fishell was also at the IDEA Showcase and was “thrilled” when she heard Davis’ two-minute pitch.

“Marieke’s art is impressive and definitely a lot more emotional than a lot of the stuff being published today,” Fishell said. “That’s a trend I’m starting to see in more of in comic books. There’s a growing space for artists to create characters that are more meaningful and less mainstream.”

Davis is also creating an audio component of the book for the visually impaired, and recently completed recording the first installment with a group of eight ASU students Emily Adams, Kayla Towbridge, Analise Rosario, Jerry Hoover, Angel Lopez, Sedona Ramonett, AJ Maniglia and Karen Davis. and ASU sound engineer Derek Stevenson. They recently completed recording the prologue and the first chapter, which totals about 45 minutes, in the audio lab of ASU’s School of Arts, Media and EngineeringThe school is a collaborative initiative between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. .

“I rely on speech-to-text programs. Without audio support, I wouldn’t have attended college, and I’d have missed so much,” Davis said. “When my liaison at the Disability Resource Center told me that her daughter is a visual artist, yet since she’s blind, she’s never seen her daughter’s work — that’s when I decided to create an audio version.”

Davis said drawing the comic book was nowhere near as tough as auditioning, selecting and directing the cast, which started in February and ended this month.

“It took a little longer than expected because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. For a while I was very stressed out and thought there was no way I could get this done,” Davis said. “After the cast was assembled, everything fell into place. It turned out that since this was for audio, I didn’t have to worry about if the cast looked the part or how good their gestures were. It’s mostly inflection.

“Any good artist or writer will be able to envision their characters and know how they speak.”

Theater major Emily Adams, who played the speaking role of Emily and Ember Black, said Davis was a strong director and thought she did a commendable job.

“Even though Marieke had no experience directing, she had a very clear idea of what she wanted and guided us in a way that vocally brought the characters to life,” Adams said. “It was also exciting doing voice-over work and getting paid for it.”

Adams said she is pleased that the audio recording will reach a new audience.

“We are creating a new awareness about communication and showing that the arts are not just for the rich but for everyone,” Adams said. “I’m starting to see this in all facets of performance art, and it’s about time.”

With the audio portion in the can, Davis will spend the summer focusing on finishing the 160-odd storyboards to assemble for the print version of “Ember Black.” She will present both the print and audio version at the School of Art BFA Exhibition in fall 2016. Davis believes the audio could be released as a CD or possibly posted on an “Ember Black” website in the future.

“This experience has taught me a lot,” Davis said. “Mostly that art should be inclusive, not exclusive.”

Reporter , ASU News