Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Ph.D., University of New Mexico
M.A., Northern Arizona University
The University of Maine at Farmington’s small size and close knit community won over Anthropology Professor Nicole Kellett, whose studies and research led her from small town Nebraska to Belize, Peru, New Mexico and now Maine.
“I love UMF’s environment. Here, I get to know my students. I get to build relationships with my students. Teaching one class, I see them bring up something from another class I taught. I love to see those linkages. You couldn’t see that at a big university,” Kellett said. “UMF students are bright, curious and dedicated. My impression is that UMF students aren’t just here to get the credits and get their degree — that they really do want to learn. I’ve been really impressed with the students. They keep me on my toes.”
She has found UMF to be “a very affirming school — it’s very open. That plays out in the classroom. I find students very accepting of each another and their differences.”
Love of Fieldwork and Traveling
“I like aspects of both research and teaching. The part I like about research is the field work. I love being able to travel and meet people and learn from their perspectives. I was doing research that could change policy and practices. I like working on that applied scale, really putting anthropological knowledge to work in the real world,” Kellett noted.
For her master’s degree, Kellett carried out research in environmental anthropology. “I worked in Belize with engineers who developed a biomass gasifier that converted waste into electric energy. I assessed whether this technology would be suitable in areas of Belize that had waste from the tourism industry and needed more energy. They were facing environmental degradation. I was helping discover whether this technology would remedy the situation and be appropriate for these communities.”
Micro-loans in Peru
While conducting her doctoral fieldwork, Kellett lived in a small rural community in the Peruvian highlands determining the impact micro-loans were having on gender relations, women’s empowerment and economic development. Kellett stated that the ultimate goal of her research was to learn how the micro-finance organization with which she was collaborating could adjust their programs to better fit the needs of their clients.
According to Kellett, “The micro-loans had some positive effects, but there were some areas that needed tweaking.”She found as more women received micro-loans, competition rose, prices fell and it became difficult for families to repay their loans because they couldn’t earn a profit. On the other hand, she said, the women in the program reported more shared decision-making within their households, greater opportunity for travel, and increased prestige within the community.
Working with Inmates in New Mexico
Working for the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), Kellett had the opportunity to interview female inmates, their family and friends, as well as their professional social supports such as probation officers, counselors and judges as part of an ethnographic research project. The goal was to identify the challenges women with mental health and substance use issues face upon release from prison and design a reentry program for those returning to resource-poor rural areas of New Mexico.
AIDS Stigma in Africa
Most recently, Kellett has been consulting on a medical study of AIDS stigma. Specifically, she is studying how this stigma is affecting women and the spread of the disease in Africa. “First our researchers went to Kenya and did a series of focus groups. Now we’re conducting research in Uganda. We are assessing how an economic development project influences how women are experiencing AIDS stigma. We’re curious if being involved in this economic initiative helps remedy the stigma they experience from a HIV-positive diagnosis,” Kellett said.
Bringing the Classroom Out Into the Field
Kellett had the opportunity to lead a travel course to Peru alongside her husband, Luke Kellett, literally bringing the classroom out into the field. Throughout their two weeks in country the Kelletts and 13 UMF students visited catacombs, 16th century Sistine chapels, archaeological complexes along the dry coast, as well as archaeological sites at elevations hovering at 10,000 feet and above including Machu Picchu.
They also explored “off the beaten path” visiting communities in which the Kelletts have conducted research, sampling Peruvian cuisine from locals’ homes, exploring traditional markets, and picking up a word or two of the indigenous Quechua language.
Experiencing Peru through the eyes of her students was definitely a highlight for Kellett especially when hearing from a student that the trip was “by far the best experience of my life.”
Bringing the Field Into the Classroom
I feel fortunate to be involved in all these research projects,” said Kellett, who shares her field experiences with her students. “I think being able to take something from our textbooks and share my own experience and research helps ground the concepts we’re learning into the real world.”
Kellett likes to bring ideas to life in her classes. She described a field experience she created in the classroom. Certain students were cast as anthropologists who were unaware of rules the rest of the class had scripted. The “anthropologists” had to discover the “rules,” in order to demonstrate methods and issues of culture shock and power in anthropological research.
“People often think the anthropologist or the researcher has all the power in the relationship, but that’s not true. Anthropologists often feel helpless, like a child, not knowing the rules or which questions to ask,” Kellett said.
“I remember reading the Robert McCloskey books about Maine and thinking that this is some imaginary world that doesn’t exist. Before we came to UMF, my husband (who also teaches at UMF) and I were looking through an issue of Down East magazine. We said that this place couldn’t be real. It’s too idyllic,” Kellett said.
Maine, however, has managed to live up to those high expectations for Kellett and her family who enjoy hiking, camping and skiing. “Coming from the desert, Maine is amazing. I love being able to jump in a lake after going for a run. We have a stream right across from our house. I love the Southwest, but now we live on 35 acres. All that open space is pretty incredible,” Kellett said.