“Anthropology isn’t just digging up bones,” Marty Otañez, PhD, chair, and associate professor of the CU Denver anthropology department, urges. While archaeology is an important part of the anthropological spectrum, this field of scientific study comprises the entire human experience, including societies, cultures, and behaviors. Through research and analysis, anthropologists seek to understand the elements that bind people together, including human origins, ideologies, language, health, art, faith, social justice, and technology.
Students interested in anthropology will discover the diverse ways in which people organize their lives, from their social structures and cultural practices to their beliefs and values. They use various techniques—including fieldwork and participant observation to archival research and quantitative analysis—to explore these complex and multifaceted topics.
At its core, anthropology is concerned with understanding the diversity of human experiences and the ways in which people create meaning in their lives. In Otañez’s words, the anthropology department at CU Denver is “small but mighty,” and aims to explain both diversities and commonalities of peoples and cultures. The department offers a range of courses in areas of cultural/medical anthropology, biological anthropology, and archaeology.
CU Denver Anthropology Programs
The anthropology department at CU Denver provides students with hands-on experiences working on past and current problems faced by diverse cultures and communities, using research and creative work, research design, ethnography, communication, and collaboration skills.
Through coursework interactions with faculty members, anthropology students receive creative thinking experiences, which are foundational as students transition into the workplace. Students also engage in real-world projects using existing data from faculty members’ research or new data obtained by students.
Otañez highlighted that, “faculty members are approachable and create classroom spaces where students develop skills to think more critically about issues that influence diverse cultures and to conduct research and creative work with social impacts.” Faculty strive for an experiential approach to teaching by integrating field visits to local communities to develop team building and skill-based learning. The department values the insights of students, with faculty often creating opportunities for students to be paid research assistants or to join arts- and community-based projects.
Programs and Student Organizations
The department offers several degree paths for students looking to pursue anthropology. For undergraduate students, a BA in anthropology is offered, along with a minor. These programs provide a broad understanding of the field. For graduate students, the department offers a MA in anthropology. Students in the MA program can choose to focus specifically on archaeology, biological anthropology, or medical anthropology. Graduate students participate in a mentorship program, where mentors with professional work experience pair up with students to discuss problem solving, resume development, and career building.
Students will also find healthy support networks within the anthropology department. The Anthropology Club sponsors several activities, events, and faculty lectures. The department also provides a slew of professional development opportunities, including research and fieldwork opportunities, speaking events, conferences, and a strong network of organizations.
For the BA and minor, students will find courses such as Introduction to Archaeology, Introduction to Biological Anthropology, Culture and the Human Experience, Foundations in Cultural Anthropology, World Prehistory, Human Evolution, and Quantitative Methods in Anthropology.
The MA offers thesis and non-thesis program options with required courses including Integrating Anthropology and Quantitative Methods. Depending on the concentration, students will engage in more advanced courses such as Biological Anthropology Core: The Fossil Record, Biological Anthropology Core: Modern Human Variation, Contemporary Perspectives in Archaeology, Archaeological Research Design and Analysis, Current Theory in Ethnography, and Qualitative Research Design and Methods. Students on the thesis track in the program will work closely with faculty members to develop and conduct original research.
A bachelor’s degree in anthropology can prepare students for a wide range of careers. Otañez emphasized this, saying “students pursue careers in nonprofit organizations and community-based groups, government agencies, businesses, social work, museums, and health care.” While not explicitly necessary, it is common for anthropology undergraduates to undertake an MA or PhD to advance their knowledge and remain competitive in the job market. While careers can vary widely, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the median annual wage for anthropologists and archeologists was $61,910 in May 2021. Additionally, the BLS provides some insight into career choices:
Anthropology Teachers, Post-secondary | Average Salary: $97,340
Anthropology professors work in higher education institutions and teach anthropology or related courses at the college level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
Government Anthropologist | Average Salary: $80,910
Working in government agencies, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, or the Smithsonian Institution, government anthropologists may be involved in research, education, and outreach related to cultural heritage.
Epidemiologists | Average Salary: $78,830
Epidemiologists are public health professionals who study the causes and patterns of diseases in populations. Their work involves investigating the distribution, transmission, and risk factors of various diseases in order to develop effective strategies for prevention and control.
Business Anthropologist | Average Salary: $60,540
Business anthropologists work in the private sector and use their understanding of cultural differences and social dynamics to inform marketing strategies, product development, and other business decisions. They typically provide management, scientific, and technical consulting services.
Museum Archivists, Curators, etc. | Average Salary: $50,120
Archivists appraise, process, catalog, and preserve permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators and managers oversee collections of artwork and historical items and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.
Marty Otañez, PhD
Marty Otañez is the Chair and Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department at CU Denver. His professorship in anthropology specializes in cultural, visual, policy, and medical anthropology, as well as political ecology. His current research focus is health and labor justice in Colorado’s cannabis sector, and psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) use among people of color and low-income individuals in the state. In 2023, he is developing a book-length graphic novel featuring interview findings from 75 drug users with themes of opioid overdose prevention and anti-drug stigma reduction. Otañez holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, a second master’s degree with a specialization in labor and employment studies from the Institute for Social Studies in Den Haag, the Netherlands, and a PhD studying issues within Malawi’s tobacco industry at the University of California, Irvine.
Students with an interest in cultures and societies are encouraged to learn more about anthropology opportunities at CU Denver.
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