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Anthropology grad inspired by her children

Mireina Cochran

Photograph courtesy of May Benoliel.

November 20, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Inspired by the birth of her own daughter, May Benoliel is becoming the first woman in her family to graduate from college. Though it was challenging at times to work, parent and go to school at the same time, she was driven by the desire to be a role model for her three children. 

Benoliel is graduating from Arizona State University in December with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

She began college in-person at another prestigious university, but transferred to ASU’s online anthropology program because of the flexibility, allowing her to be an employee, student and parent simultaneously. She lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, and finished her degree online, other than a four-week in-person field school experience. 

While she’s the first woman in her family to earn a college degree, Benoliel's family encouraged her to continue her education. Her parents even helped watch her kids while she attended the field school. 

Benoliel wanted a hands-on experience that fit her academic program and budget, and was able to transfer the credits into her ASU anthropology degree. During the field school, Benoliel helped excavate the Doane Site in Eastham, Massachusetts. The research team was documenting the human toll on the environment over time, by analyzing both artifacts and ecofacts --  items directly from nature, like charcoal, animal bones and pollen. 

Now, Benoliel is applying to graduate school for historical archaeology and looking for jobs to expand her excavation skills in the field.  

Mireina Cochran

Benoliel testing the strength of a root in an excavation plot during her field school experience at Cape Cod during the summer of 2019. Photo courtesy of May Benoliel.

She shared more about her studies at ASU.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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

Answer: I spent my childhood living all over the U.S. and in different parts of the world, and my family is incredibly diverse. This gave me a deep appreciation for, and fascination with, culture. I was in 9th grade when I learned that there is a field dedicated to human culture, and the choice to study it was a no-brainer. 

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

A: In the virtual classroom and at the in-person archaeological field school, I was surprised to learn how diverse the student body is across America. I began my undergraduate career after high school at another university, and I always had this idea that college students were young, single and childless. At the field school I attended, there were students that were married and had children pursuing their archaeology/anthropology educations, and in the virtual ASU classroom there were, too.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: I chose ASU because I became a mother and ASU’s online anthropology program allowed me the flexibility to finish my education while taking care of my children and working.

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

A: Keep going! An education is invaluable. There were many occasions I felt like quitting, but an education is something you will keep with you all your life, and it’s something no one can take away from you.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: As an online student, my favorite spot for power studying was at the dining room table! 

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

A: Global warming. It’s a problem that seems to be consistently overlooked and it’s only getting worse. 

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