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University anthropology professor honored with prestigious presidential award

Sarah Cowie awarded for her work surrounding Native and non-Native American collaboration

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Sarah Cowie, with the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Liberal Arts, was awarded with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award is coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President of the United States.


3/7/2016 | By: Lindsay Honaker  |

University of Nevada, Reno Assistant Professor of Anthropology Sarah Cowie was recently named one of 105 Presidential Early Career Award recipients for Scientists and Engineers by United States President Barack Obama. The Presidential Early Career Award is the highest honor awarded by the United States government to scientists and engineers at the early stages of their career, coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology policy with the Executive Office of the President. Awards are given to outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research and show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the 21st century. Awardees will be recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. this spring.

"These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness," President Obama said in the official news release sent last month. "We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people."

Cowie, with the University's College of Liberal Arts, received the career award for her earlier work on the archaeology of capitalism and industrial archaeology. It was also awarded based on the recent collaborative archaeology project to preserve the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, conducted in partnership with the Nevada Indian Commission and the Washoe Tribal Historic Preservation Office, with further participation from numerous tribal members who contributed tremendously to the research.

In addition to the Presidential Early Career Award, Cowie also received a research grant from the Department of Defense Army Research Office. The grant gives Cowie the opportunity to continue the second phase of her research, which explores strategies for humanizing respectful heritage consultation between American Indian tribes and the federal government.

"I am glad that this award recognizes collaborative work with native and non-native people, to recognize how important it is to explore shared heritage," Cowie said. "I am confident the partnership between my research team and tribal organizations on the project helped with the PECASE nomination, which includes public outreach and recruitment of diverse students among the criteria for evaluation, in addition to the research itself."

Along with her specific grant work with the Department of Defense, Cowie was recognized for her efforts in historical archaeology of the American West and Southeast. She has done extensive research in social theory, power relations, structure and agency, landscapes, cultural resource management and decolonizing methods, archaeology of working communities, industrial archaeology, and collaborative archaeology.

"Anthropology addresses human diversity by combining both quantitative and qualitative data, and archaeology does this through a material lens," Cowie said. "The PECASE is a STEM award, and my work does involve GIS, geochemistry, quantitative methods and such. But the theoretical framework that drives my research is based on post-modern theories, and much of the data is qualitative, for example, archival research, multi-vocal observations and ethnographic work."

"This is an outstanding achievement and an honor for the University, as well," University President Marc Johnson said. "I recall following her ‘Old Indian School' dig a few years ago in Carson City. Congratulations to Sarah for this impressive award."

Cowie became interested in anthropology at a young age. After growing up in Mississippi during the 1970s and 1980s, she struggled to understand the conflicts among diverse people. This led her to become interested in interpreting behaviors from the things people left behind and learning how they influence modern interactions.

Throughout her career in anthropology Cowie has received a multitude of awards including the John L. Cotter Historical Archaeology Award from the Society for Historical Archaeology; the Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship and Dissertation Research Award from the Wenner-Gren Foundation; the Raymond H. Thompson Fellowship Endowment from the Arizona State Museum; the William Shirley Fulton Scholarship; the Graduate College Fellowship and Emil W. Haury Educational Funds from the University of Arizona.

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