Mercyhurst University announces inaugural doctoral program

basket lab
It may sound cliché – if you build it, they will come – but nothing could be truer than at Mercyhurst University, where this small school in the corner of northwest Pennsylvania has built an internationally renowned archaeology institute, the largest intelligence studies program in academia and a winning Division 1 hockey program. Roll in a public opinion polling center whose polls are garnering local, state and national attention and a new public health program that is likewise gaining ground in national and international arenas, and you have – as President Dr. Tom Gamble likes to say – “an institution on the move.”

Mercyhurst student Kristyn Affeldt in the R.L. Andrews Center for Perishables Analysis

“These things shouldn’t have happened; a small school like ours with 4,000 total students shouldn’t have had this capability, but it’s the entrepreneurial spirit here and the willingness to take calculated risks that has put us in this unique position,” said Provost Dr. James Adovasio.

Adovasio is at the helm of the latest pioneering development at Mercyhurst – the launch of the university’s first Ph.D. program – a doctor of philosophy degree in anthropology, which represents a natural extension of the university’s existing master’s degree in anthropology.

The boutique program, as Adovasio calls it, will admit only six students, two each in three tracks: archaeology, geoarchaeology and forensic anthropology.

“I am relatively certain that we are the only small to medium-sized university in the entire country offering a Ph.D. in archaeology; I know we are the only one in Pennsylvania,” Adovasio said. “Most are far larger universities. Additionally, we will become the only school in the nation – large or small – to offer a Ph.D. with a track in forensic anthropology.”

What makes Mercyhurst’s new doctoral program even more distinctive is that it will provide students the opportunity to do high-end research in a very personal setting. Students will have access to laboratories that are among the best equipped in the country and will work directly alongside full-time faculty with international reputations.

The new program’s launch comes at a most fitting time as Mercyhurst celebrates its first full year as a university.

“This is an exciting development in ‘The Year of the University,’” Gamble said. “There’s a sense when Mercyhurst does something, we do it all the way. We already have an international reputation in anthropology and archaeology and this new degree program will serve to further expand that.”

Adovasio said the reason Mercyhurst has chosen to build a doctoral program in anthropology is simple. “We’re ready. We’ve put a lot of money into our facilities over the past two decades and our labs and equipment are among the best.”

In particular, he noted, the R.L. Andrews Center for Perishables Analysis is the only laboratory in North America fully dedicated to the analysis of basketry, textiles and related non-durable plant fiber-derived materials.

The university has also ensured that its anthropology faculty members are second to none. Adovasio achieved world acclaim as an archaeologist in the 1970s with his excavation of Meadowcroft Rockshelter, 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Meadowcroft has been widely recognized as the earliest well-dated archaeological site in North America, with evidence of human habitation dating to ca. 16,000 years ago.

Dennis Dirkmaat and Steven Symes are the only board-certified forensic anthropologists in Pennsylvania; Dirkmaat specializes in the archaeological recovery of human remains and Symes specializes in trauma to bone. Both are called upon to lecture worldwide and to lend their expertise to human rights investigations, crime and natural disaster scenes, court trials and related medico-legal proceedings. In his former position at the Smithsonian Institution, Steve Ousley managed one of the largest osteological documentation programs in the U.S. He is the co-author of FORDISC, an interactive forensic computer program used to determine race and sex from cranial measurements.

Additionally, Mary Ann Owoc is well known among her counterparts in European Prehistory and several of the junior faculty, notably, Edward and Ruth Jolie, Nicholas Lang, Heather Garvin and Lyman Persico, are well into building national reputations. Finally, Mercyhurst has a research staff that includes a group of scholars active in their disciplines, well known in their fields, and directly involved in the teaching and mentoring of students. These include David Pedler, Allen Quinn, Judith Thomas, Luis Cabo-Perez, Allison Byrnes and Jeff Illingworth.

Gamble said he is confident that this inaugural doctoral program will provide the model for others to come at Mercyhurst. “This is just the beginning,” he said.

Since this is the first doctoral program for the institution, a program application is being submitted to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education for approval. Students are expected to enroll in the new program in fall 2013.
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