Experiential Learning Student Spotlight: Adam Kazmi

Don't assume that you can't afford a study abroad or research experience. Second-year student Adam Kazmi took advantage of all of his resources and found a way to conduct research in Sicily, Italy, which was fully funded by a National Science Foundation Grant. 

College is a once in a lifetime experience, not just because of the people that you will meet and the classes that you will take, but also because of all of the opportunities that become available to you. There are so many research programs that will allow you to gain experience in your field AND travel around the world. Take advantage of your summers, travel and learn! All it takes is a conversation with a professor or your academic advisor to learn which programs are accepting applications and even which programs might match your interests the best. Don’t be afraid to approach a professor with questions about these opportunities, they were once undergraduates too and chances are they would be more than willing to offer advice.

I am a third-year student majoring in anthropology and classical culture with a focus on classical archaeology. I didn’t really know what research would be like for me, I had always thought of research as something that you did in labs, but I also knew that my fields focused more on people than anything else. I found out about the NSF-REU (National Science Foundation-Research Experience for Undergraduates) program “Immersive Research in the Bioarchaeology of Greek Colonization, Sicily, Italy” from approaching a professor and asking about programs that may help me develop my career over the summer. Because the program is funded by the NSF, it would not only cost me nothing, it offered to pay students $500 a week in stipends. For an eight-week program, that sounded too good to be true. To get in, I’d have to write a research proposal, get two recommendations from professors whom knew me fairly well, submit a transcript, a CV, and write a personal essay. I would be working at Himera if I got accepted, attempting to answer questions regarding Greek colonization and its cultural impact. It was a lot of work and preparation, but I had never even left the southeast, let alone the country. Just reading the word “Sicily” seemed like a far-off dream for me. I never expected to actually get accepted into the program. It had only eight highly-competitive student positions, and I knew that there are a lot of people out there who have a higher GPA than mine. But, I applied anyway. What harm could it do? If I didn’t get accepted, I would find something else to do that summer.

But I got accepted. I couldn’t believe it when I read the acceptance email that I got from the program. It turns out that programs like the NSF-REU program care about more than just what a person’s GPA is, they care about the person, too. They aren’t investing time or money into GPAs, they’re investing in you. The recommendations, the personal essay, and the research proposal mattered far more in the selection process. Programs like this just want to see that you are able to write about research and that you are a person who is capable of working with other people.

Before I had even gotten over the shock of being accepted in the first place, I was boarding a series of planes with the other student participants, the TAs, and the program directors to get to Campofelice di Roccella, Sicily, where we would be staying for three weeks. Sicily was far more than I ever dreamed of. It was beautiful beyond belief. The mountains dotted the landscape. Some started at the coastline and ran directly into the clear-blue Mediterranean Sea, with thin fog that draped the peaks and seemed to turn golden in the sun. The water was usually calm, glistening with the sun and  creating amazing sunsets and sunrises. Campofelice is a relatively small town, but with beautiful architecture and friendly people. I will never forget the people that we met in Sicily. They were all very understanding and accommodating, sharing with us their culture and traditions and giving us all a better experience than we could have ever hoped for. The program was about research and learning more about Himera, but it was also about living and working with people who have different cultures and who speak different languages. We learned about their heritage and how they think about themselves and their history. Research programs allow you to gain experience for your future careers and develop skills necessary in conducting research such as communicating with people across language barriers and understanding and respecting their cultures.

Even research had wonderful surprises. We were allowed to study 2,500-year-old human remains from a site called Himera, to learn more about how Greek colonization affected actual people. I became trained in human osteology, identifying bone fragments and the age, sex, and health of individuals who had been dead for nearly 3,000 years. We spent our days studying these remains at the site’s outdoor storage facility, with the facility’s guard dogs keeping us company every step of the way. We were also able to travel a bit while on the research program. We visited the beautiful and ancient cities of Syracuse and Messina, which are still bustling with people today. We also visited Morgantina, another ancient site in Sicily that is no longer inhabited, but it displays remarkable remnants of a past civilization.

After leaving Sicily and returning to Athens, I engaged in lab work to figure out where individuals came from using strontium isotope analysis. Technical skills are still important to develop, and programs like this will certainly help you do that. The NSF-REU program that I took part in was very well-rounded, with great emphasis being placed on learning about different cultures and on using high-tech lab equipment to answer cultural questions.

After you finish a program, opportunities open up, as you now have research experience and have shown that you are capable of working in your field. The connections that you create by taking part in a research program last a lifetime, the program itself is just the first step down your path. If you weren’t sure of what you wanted to do before, a research program will help you discover what you are truly passionate about, as it did for me. My experience on the NSF-REU program has helped me decide what future research I want to do, which is on Greek colonization and the cultural interactions it produced. So, apply to any program that interests you, there are tons of scholarship and funding opportunities provided by the University of Georgia, all you have to do is ask your advisors and professors!