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Hello, Newmans: Family members join anthropology program

Left to right: Shelly, Mitchell, Briana and Elliott Newman

July 27, 2016

You wouldn’t think four students interested in four different fields — sustainability, geology, psychology and mathematics — would have much in common academically. This unique group unites, however, when it comes to pursuing anthropology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Oh, and they’re also all related.

Brothers Mitchell and Elliott Newman recently finished earning associate degrees and will transfer to Arizona State University this fall for school's anthropology Bachelor of Science program. Their sister, Briana Newman, took anthropology courses from the school while earning her bachelor’s in psychology and will take more as she begins her master’s program this fall. The mother of these three, Shelly Newman, is a part-time student on her way to earning a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.

So, how in the world did they all end up at the doors of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change?

Patient Zero for the family’s anthropology bug was Mitchell. A former engineering student at ASU, he took various anthropology courses at community college and got hooked. He’s considering adding a dual major in sustainability, but that’s not a problem; what attracted him to anthropology was its interdisciplinary nature, which lets him tie in his many different interests.

“Anthropology is a little of everything,” he said.

His decision would have a snowball effect. Mitchell soon convinced Elliott to take anthropology courses while getting his associate degree. He later swayed his brother, then undecided about his university major, to join him in the school's anthropology program. Now Elliott plans to double-major in geology and anthropology. His main interest is in geoarchaeology.

“I’m interested in looking at the human past by examining the soil layers,” he said.

While her brothers were taking anthropology at community colleges, Briana decided to take some classes from the school as related-field courses for her psychology degree. She sees psychology as an extension of anthropology because it also involves the study of humans, though on an interior level. When Briana returns to ASU in the fall for her master's in applied behavior analysis, she plans to continue taking anthropology courses when possible because of the unique viewpoint they offer.

“I’m trying to get a better picture of humans as a whole,” she said.

Shelly cites her kids’ enthusiasm as the inspiration behind her decision to change the major of her second bachelor’s degree from mathematics to anthropology with a math minor.

“I am a life-long learner and enjoy taking interesting courses,” she said. “Mitchell, Briana and Elliott ... sparked my interest.”

Shelly likes exploring a variety of anthropology topics. What strikes her most is that anthropologists have many opportunities to serve communities and preserve history through their work.

Thus we arrive at fall of 2016, where the four Newmans will attend the School of Human Evolution and Social Change together. Mitchell, for one, is stunned to have most of his family joining him.

“I never assumed we would all be going to ASU at the same time,” he laughed.

Being together, however, has its benefits.

For one, the Newmans can continue learning outside the classroom just by talking to each other. And each will be exposed to different perspectives since they’re focusing on different areas of anthropology.

“It’s nice to be able to talk to each other and be on the same level,” Shelly said.

Their situation is also very practical; they essentially have their own automatic study group. They can get ready for exams, help each other with projects and even recommend courses to one another. Though they’ve already done a little of this in the past, the effect will be even stronger once all four are at ASU.

“I think as we all start in the fall, we’ll provide an even better support platform,” Mitchell said.

Elliott and Mitchell have enrolled in two courses together for this fall — “Doing Archaeology” and “Death and Dying in Cross-Cultural Perspective” — which will give them ample opportunities to push each other to succeed.

After finishing their anthropology coursework, the Newmans already have some ideas about what they’d like to do.

Elliott aspires to work for the U.S. Interior Department as an archaeologist or a geologist, or perhaps a combination of the two. Mitchell wants to study how humans have made sustainability mistakes in the past and how we can correct them to improve the future. Briana, with her insight from anthropology, plans to become a certified behavior analyst and possibly continue her present work with autistic children. Shelly hopes to do anthropological volunteer work after she retires from her computer programming job, with a particular interest in helping historic communities map and preserve their deteriorating cemeteries.

In looking toward the future, one question rises to the front — might there be even more Newmans joining the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in years to come?

“We actually just talked to our cousins the other day,” Mitchell said. The siblings’ cousins are starting community college and may look to the school for a bachelor’s degree in a couple of years.

“And the grandkids, you never know,” added Shelly. “I’ve got four.”

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