Faces and Voices: interview with student Ashley Cercone

By Tamara Dixon

“By studying anthropology, I have been able to study cultures in both the past and present. This major combines fields, such as history and science, in a unique way. ”
Ashley Cercone
Anthropology and Classics Major

Why did you decide to major in anthropology?  Did any specific courses and/or professors influence your decision?

"I actually applied as an Anthropology major coming into UB because I knew as a high school student that I wanted to work with cultures and ancient history. I was originally a Cultural Anthropology concentration, but that soon changed. After taking an Introduction to Archaeology class over the summer for fun, I knew that I wanted to switch to archaeology. My professor truly peaked my interests and inspired me want to learn more about the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. This decision was made official after I attended an excavation in Romania. My archaeology professor actually recommended this field school. Although excavating in the field and picking out small plant specimens from a large fraction for several hours a day was quite tedious, I knew that archaeology was my passion and future. I believe that after attending my first field school and visiting many archaeological sites during my first trip to Europe made my decision concrete."

What most interests you about anthropology?

"By studying anthropology, I have been able to study cultures in both the past and present. This major combines fields, such as history and science, in a unique way. Anthropology interests me the most because it allows me to study the ancient past. I also love being able to touch ancient artifacts, which allow me to take a step back into the past!"

Why did you choose to attend UB?

"Like most students, I chose UB because the university provides students with a great education for a reasonable price. Additionally the university is among the top ranked schools. But I knew that UB was truly the school for me after I attended the Open House in the fall of my senior year of high school. At the open house, I spoke with Professor Stevens from the Anthropology Department. After speaking with him about the major and university, I knew that UB was where I wanted to attend for my undergraduate degree. Since that time I have not regretted my decision."

What experiences and opportunities did you have that will help you attain your future academic and career goals?  (field schools, internships, study abroad, independent/honors research, etc.) In what ways did these experiences help prepare you?

"Throughout my undergraduate career I have tried to gain as much hands on experience as possible to further my knowledge in archaeology and boost my credentials. Each summer since I have attended school at UB I have engaged on an archaeological excavation. During the summers of 2012 and 2013, I have attended a field school (CARP) in Râșnov, Romania working on a Daco-Roman fort. There I learned how to excavate a trench, clean and bag artifacts, take photographs of special finds, and flot and sort soil samples. This past summer (2014), I attended an excavation (Seyitömer Höyük) in Kütahya, Turkey, which was a project hosted by both Dumlupınar University and the University at Buffalo. On this project I was taught how to restore ceramics, which I then conducted hands on research from. Additionally I was able to learn quite a bit of Turkish, since I was constantly interacting with the Turkish students and scholars. I even returned to Dumlupınar University this past winter break (January 2015) for a few weeks to continue my research on ceramics. For the upcoming summer (2015) I was one of the ten students who was accepted, from around the world, to work on a Bronze Age cemetery (BAKOTA) in Békés, Hungary. I will be conducting chemical analysis on the ceramics from the site. I additionally plan on returning to Seyitömer Höyük before attending the excavation in Hungary. As a student in the Anthropology Department, here at UB, I have been given several opportunities to work on archaeological projects. I believe that all of these projects have prepared me for graduate school and taught me methods that I cannot learn in the classroom.

Each summer I was able to travel throughout Europe and visit archaeological sites that I have learned about in the classroom. I have been able to visit about 13 European countries over the duration of three years. Traveling throughout these countries allowed me to see archaeology in real life and learn more of the cultures and languages.  

During the school year, I am a laboratory assistant for UB's Archaeological Survey. Since I cannot excavate all year round, I try to gain hands on laboratory experience by washing, bagging, and tagging artifacts in addition to sorting soil samples, excavating in the field when weather permits, and adding information into a data base. Also as an assistant, I help train new interns on the duties of working in the laboratory. Working with UB Survey under the direction of Professor Doug Perrelli has allowed me to gain hands on laboratory experience while learning about my local heritage and history.

In addition to my field and laboratory experience, I have additionally worked on an honors thesis since this past summer (2014) with Professor Peter Biehl. Under his direction, I have been able to successful conduct research and write a paper, which was successfully funded through two grants. My honors thesis encompassed explaining the importance of ceramic restoration and then applying this theory to the site of Seyitömer Höyük. Working on this project has been a wonderful experience. This project has both allowed me to create a strong bond with my adviser and conduct hands on independent research."

Did you participate in extracurricular activities (athletics, student government, student clubs, volunteer activities, etc.)?  How did your participation in such activities influence your undergraduate experience?

"I am mostly engaged with the College of Arts and Sciences Ambassador Program. As the Anthropology Ambassador, I represent the department at different events. I have assisted at Open House, Accepted Students Day, Celebration of Excellence, Scholarship and Award ceremonies, and Alumni Events. By being an ambassador I have been able to inform students about the department and expanding field in modern day society. I have additionally been given the opportunity to network and meet people, such as the dean and president of the school. I think the most notable experience was eating dinner with Ms. Annette Cravens, who donated the artifacts of Cravens' World [at UB's Anderson Gallery]. I am also a representative for the Provost's Adjudicating Committee. By being a student representative, I have been able to give a different view on student grievances. I frequently attend student club meeting for a variety of culture groups, such as the Turkish Student Association, Turkish Graduate Student Association, Greek Graduate Student Association, Students for the Justice of Palestine, and Afghanistan Student Association. In addition to those clubs, I also attend meetings for Anthropology Club and Classics Club. By engaging in several clubs, I have been able to network and learn more about other cultures.

One of my favorite activities is being a TA World Civilization and tutor for anthropology, art history, classics, and history courses. Being a TA as an undergraduate has been an amazing opportunity. I have been able to experience what it feels like to run and manage a class. Additionally I have been able to become an expert in the courses that I tutor in."

Ashley, do you have any final recommendations for future students interested in anthropology at UB?

"It is extremely important to establish a relationship with your professors from the start. At some point in your college career you will need a letter of recommendation from a professor, whether it is for applying to study abroad, graduate school, or even a scholarship. Also your professors can give you great advice for studying. Most importantly, your professors will respect you more if you take the extra time to get to know them. Professors love it when students talk to them after class or attend their office hours. I would highly recommend becoming close with the faculty. 

I would recommend gaining as much experience in your respective field as possible. To gain a job in the future, having experience is absolutely crucial. Take advantage of your time as an undergraduate and study abroad, attend field schools, learn some languages, and intern. Experience is everything!"

Ashley is a joint Anthropology and Classics major.