MCC Student Selected for NSF Bioarcheology Project in Alabama

Community News |Feb 27, 2020|3 min read

Like many community college students, MCC’s Christian Berends spent a semester or two exploring different academic disciplines before discovering his passion, which, in his case, turned out to be anthropology. His epiphany came while assisting students in the college’s Tutoring Center.


“I love history and I love sciences,” explained the 2017 North Muskegon High School graduate. “I didn’t know a way to put it together, then I found this while tutoring anthropology. Seeing the students connect the learning was the coolest part.”


“I can see myself doing, like, stable isotope analysis, where you go into the bones. You read what isotopes are in there – carbon, nitrogen and things like that. They tell you the person’s life story.”


This summer, Berends will take his newfound love of anthropology to the next level. He is one of just eight students selected from a nationwide competitive application process to participate in a National Science Foundation (NSF) project entitled “The Bioarchaeology of Bronze Age Social Systems.”


Housed at the Center for Archaeological Studies at the University of South Alabama, teams of students collaborate with an interdisciplinary group of dynamic scientists while conducting original research on two Arabian Bronze Age skeletal collections (2400-2100 BCE) over an eight-week period. As part of these independent research projects, students will examine how alternative pathways to social complexity were embodied in ancient human skeletal remains and reflected in burial traditions.


The project is sponsored by the University of South Alabama and funded from the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.


The participating undergraduate students conduct collaborative research, from hypothesis formation to data collection, analysis, public outreach, and publication. The program’s curriculum incorporates instruction in professional development, ethics, and statistical modules.


Berends learned of the program In January, when it was mentioned in a podcast.


“It was a week before the deadline,” he added. “”I just decided to apply for it. I got recommendations from (MCC faculty members) Kurt Troutman and Evin Rodkey. Then I reached out to people that I already knew in the field at the Smithsonian and the University of Michigan. That was a huge help. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am without them.”


“I was extremely impressed with his motivation to achieve this goal,” noted Rodkey, who teaches anthropology at MCC. “He worked extremely hard on this.”


Troutman, a social sciences instructor, echoed the view of Berends’ drive.


“I admire his ongoing tenacity and resolve, coupled with his strength of character,” said Troutman. “He does not hesitate to challenge the status quo or work to find alternative solutions to complex problems. Christian is exactly the type of student that we are proud to have at Muskegon Community College.”


Berends, who will continue his studies at Grand Valley State University in the autumn, treasures his MCC experience.


“I am so happy with the amount of support from the professors and the amount of one-on-one attention that I received at MCC,” he concluded. “I had (MCC instructor) Pamela Galbraith last spring for anthropology. I stayed after class with her sometimes for hours just talking about different research subjects in the field. She really opened my eyes to what an amazing field this is.”