Seaford native presents paper at Oregon meeting

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College senior Victoria Burke, of Seaford, recently traveled to the West Coast to present a college project to the 79th annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology’s (SfAA) — a worldwide organization for the applied social sciences, according to their website.

The 21-year-old anthropology major, studying at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and five of her classmates’ presented their project — “A Mixed-Method Approach to Documenting College Students’ Dining Experiences” — between March 20-24, in Portland, Ore., according to a Saint Vincent College news release. The project was developed during the fall semester.

“[Through] the project, since it was based in anthropology, you really learned how important it is to understand who you’re working with, and what they want out of the job that you’re doing,” she said.

Burke, along with nine other students, took an Applied Anthropology class during the fall semester, taught by Dr. Elaine Bennet, associate professor of sociology and anthropology. “For that, basically you learn about the particular application of anthropology in other fields, so in medicine, in education and in business,” Burke said.

The students participated in a semester-long project, where they were contracted by Parkhurst Dining, the company that runs the school’s dining services, to discover what students like and don’t like about the services. “They also appointed a new head of dining services, Mr. Jamie Ballew,” she said. “He basically wanted to get a feel for the student perspective on what it’s like to be a college student and eat at our dining hall.”

Burke and her classmates gave out surveys — which roughly 400 people took — and conducted focus groups. “We just learned what students really want; what they want to eat, what they want for seating and what they want the school to tell them,” she said.

The students applied for, and received, a grant for the project: the school’s Palumbo Research Grant, given to groups of students for project research and travel to an academic-based conference.

Burke said that although the project was a school assignment, she learned unexpected things, such as the value of anthropologists in the career world. “In the real world, people actually do hire anthropologists to do this type of work on all types of bases,” she said. “Whether it’s in business, on a college campus or anywhere, this stuff actually does happen.”

Michael Paolisso, program chair for the SfAA meeting in March, said, in a newsletter, that the meeting provided “an ideal venue for applied social scientists to reflect on the challenges we face in these turbulent times, and to identify opportunities to positively affect future outcomes.”

Prof. Bennet said, in an email, that working with students like Burke, and her classmates, on a project like this one can be rigorous and rewarding. “In this applied anthropology course, I believe it is important for students to learn how to work with a community partner or client and as part of a team, because this is the kind of work they will have to do in a professional setting,” she wrote.

Bennet said the fact that Ballew, of Saint Vincent Dining Services, would be directly applying their research to various initiatives motivated Burke and her classmates. “This real-life application in an area that is so central to college student life —campus dining — pushed the students to put theory into practice and put forth their best effort,” she wrote.

Burke received a bachelor of the arts degree in anthropology on May 11. She is currently looking for a job in the field of anthropology. While in college, she was a board member of the public health club. For hobbies, she went on three school service trips — to Guatemala, Jamaica and Alaska.