The library is the typical
spot for undergrads to escape the bustle and racket of college life and focus
on their work.
A few University of North
Florida anthropology students have found an even more secluded location to chip
away at their research. It’s a place so quiet that the only souls around
haven’t made a noise in decades.
Three UNF anthropolgy
seniors — Genevieve Day, Rissia Garcia,
and Karen Lowery — have been mapping the layout of the cemetery
attached to the historic United Methodist Church in Middleburg for the past few
months under the supervision of their faculty adviser, Dr. Gordon Rakita.
The cemetery has been in use
since the 1860s, and the students have been working to paint a clearer picture
of the grounds, which encompass about 670 occupied and 300 unfilled burial
To accomplish their goal,
they’ve studied headstone orientation, analyzed patterns in child burials and used
advanced equipment, such as ground-penetrating radar, to properly map the
grounds for an accurate depiction of how the cemetery has grown over the
Like any good hands-on learning
opportuntiy presented by the University, this is workwork the students would definitively want to put on a grad-school
application or job resume.
“I think these experiences are exactly
the sorts of things potential employers or graduate school programs are looking
for in candidates,” Rakita said. “If you were going to hire someone or admit
them into your academic program, you would want to make sure they would be able
to actually do the things they’ll need to do to be successful. It’s one
thing to have an undergraduate degree listed on your resume — it’s another
thing entirely when you have a grant proposal, publication, or field experience
listed. Those sorts of things are going to move a candidate to the top of
Rakita said the idea for the
project sprang from UNF’s involvement and reputation in the Northeast Florida
community. The church, an idyllic, white single-steepled
building nestled in a corner off Main Street, has long catered to the burial
needs of the local community. But the passage of time had made it difficult to
accurately map the grounds.
caretaker Sandra Wilson said they wanted to ensure they didn’t encroach on any
occupied plots when planning new burials.
“We knew the
University would have the equipment to help us out,” Wilson said, as she probed
the leaf-matted cemetery ground with a long, thin metal rod used to detect
subterranean anomalies. “They can be more precise than we can be with this
Rakita answered their call
for assistance and worked with his students to turn the community exercise into
a full-fledged research project.
This experience will be
invaluable resume fodder to the undergrads who made the effort — and the drive
— for the past few months.
“One of the
wonderful things about working in the community is that students get to see how
the things they learn inside the classroom can actually be applied to
real-world problems,” he said. “ When the students are out in the cemetery,
they are surrounded by real-world examples. As they explore those examples
and try to make sense of the things we’re seeing, they often have to integrate
our more theoretical classroom discussions with those real-world
experiences. This is often when students have “ah ha!” moments.”
Day said she’s enjoyed the
hands-on learning opportunity presented by the research. She was especially
excited to use the surveying technology in a real-world setting.
“That’s how you can really
learn skills that will help you later on down the road,” she said. “You can
learn about it in class, but it really helps to go out there and do it.”
The showpiece of their
research has been the ground-penetrating radar, a piece of equipment that uses
radar pulses to depict the subterranean world. The images it presents are
detailed, and it doesn’t disturb anything underground, making it a perfect tool
for professional anthropologists who want to keep their research intact.
They’ve also used equipment
familiar to many survey crews. Day and Garcia took turns using the stadia rod
and a total station tripod to measure distances across the cemetery.
Once they’re finished, their
research will present an accurate map of the cemetery grounds down to the yard.
“We want to be as close as
possible,” Garcia said. “It seems like a lot of work, and there’s some
trial-and-error, but it’s really enjoyable.”
Wilson said she’s overjoyed
about all the assistance she’s received from UNF and is happy to chip in on the
work when she can. She even brought Rakita and his students individually
wrapped pieces of dark chocloate as they toiled away one afternoon.
“They’ve helped so much,”
Wilson said. “They’re really great ambassadors for the University.”
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