Emily McKenzie, Earl Smith, Jr. Award

Major: Anthropology (concentration in archaeology of the Americas)

Minors: Blount Scholars Program, French

Hometown: Boerne, Texas

Favorite Experience at UA: Although I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several different research projects in the Ancient People and Plants Laboratory, our studies revolving around the genus Capsicum have perhaps been the most impactful in regards to my development from student to scholar. The chili pepper (Capsicum spp.) has cemented its place in the ancient and modern world as a fixture in medicine, ritual, and cuisine. To understand the way in which this plant has spread across time and space, we must too understand the ways in which it has been domesticated by humans. Our lab team, lead by Dr. Katherine Chiou, conducted morphometric analyses of a diverse array of modern seeds from multiple species of wild and domesticated Mexican chilies and used that data to create a basis for identification and comparison of Mesoamerican species and varieties within the genus Capsicum. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to incorporate machine learning technology to aid in identification. It was in this project that I first felt the satisfaction (and frustration) of scholarly activitiesーof adding to the sum of accurate information in the world.

Favorite Professor: It is so difficult to say who my favorite professor was, as I’ve had the joy of being taught by so many outstanding educators and scholars here at UA. Dr. Katherine Chiou will always have my appreciation and gratitute. Her acumen, ethics, and kindness have made such an impression on me and so many other students. She gave me the opportunity, guidance, and confidence to pursue my passions. I will always be indebted to her and the other outstanding faculty members in the Department of Anthropology for being such incredible mentors throughout my undergraduate education.

Future Plans: Over the next year, I will be interning with the United States Army Corps of Engineers Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise. Afterwards, I plan on entering a PhD program with a focus on paleoethnobotany in the Andean region.