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common ground

Reaching the Public
Spring 1998, vol. 3(1)

Online Archive

*  A Life of Its Own: An Education Program Takes Root in the Desert

(photo) Students reconstruct a 1000 year old Mississippian house.

"I am simply astounded that there is virtually no scholarly literature which addresses the role of North American archeology in the contemporary world. "

Brian Fagan

by Carol J. Ellick

Archeologists typically do a double-take when they hear about our program. They'll say, "You do education in the midst of construction sites and tight deadlines?" Or, "You get clients to pay for public outreach?"

Actually, education on archeology projects is mandated by the Historic Sites Act of 1935, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (as amended), and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1988. But in most cases, the truth is that education is seen as a "frill," subservient to the other mandates called for by preservation statutes. It takes looking beyond the law to see the bigger picture. Do we want continued support for preservation? Do we want an informed public voting on preservation issues? Do we want to stem the problems of vandalism, caused by ignorance? Statistical Research, Inc., not only says, "yes" to all of these questions, we put our money where our mouth is.

SRI is a for-profit contract archeology company based in Tucson, Arizona. Since its formation in 1983, the firm has grown from a one-office three-person consulting business to two offices with fifty full-time employees. Our compliance work and research throughout the West is predominantly funded through contracts sponsored by federal, state, and municipal agencies. We also work for private clients.

For SRI, the motive for including education programs is both altruistic and selfish. Most of our contracts are through government agencies, on public lands, funded by taxpayer dollars. These projects belong to the people. By giving tours, publishing booklets, and building displays, we give something back. On the selfish end of the scale, we have resources to protect. Involving people in public programs results in an educated public, a public that can deliver the preservation message on a personal level, and vote for legislation to protect our nation's rich archeological legacy.

Since the beginning, SRI has followed a somewhat non-traditional path. The staff brings with them a plethora of backgrounds in archeology, history, statistics, soil science, and education. Individuals are encouraged to blend personal research interests with their projects. The company's mission is to create an organization where creative people can do interesting and important work on the human condition.

How the Program Evolved

The education program had humble beginnings. There were no strategic plans, no long-range goals, no meetings, no models to follow. It just kind of happened, starting slowly, building momentum, and—within the last few years—taking on a life of its own.

In the beginning, we did education as a free add-on while excavating a site or providing other archeological services. Then, clients began to ask for it on specific projects. Today, the program is nearly independent, supported primarily by grants and contracts to do education projects. The factors that lead to this success are a commitment to including public programs on every project, the financial assistance and institutional support for trying something new, the ability to build partnerships with clients, and above all else the staff with the educational and archeological background to communicate with diverse audiences.

The company's first outreach effort, in 1988, was conducted on the Navajo Indian Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Lukachukai Archaeological Project, as it was called, involved test excavations and data recovery at 33 sites. SRI personnel used the opportunity to offer training in field techniques to the Native American community. Archeologists also took time to share their findings at the local school.

The BIA neither encouraged or discouraged the public aspects of the project. But the outreach was of direct benefit to the community and SRI was rewarded with positive feedback. Consequently, the company continued its commitment to public outreach, and in time more and more clients felt the benefits of educating local citizens.

The increased interest in education led to the founding of the SRI public programs division in 1994. Since then, there have been enough contracts to support one person in a salaried staff position and another person three-quarter time. In 1996, SRI won two contracts solely for education programs, included outreach in four compliance contracts, sponsored three education programs in partnership with other agencies, and funded several other education projects through overhead. By mid-1997, the division had been awarded four contracts specifically for outreach.

Tailored to Each Project

Each client and project has different needs. It's not feasible to take one method of outreach and bend the client and the situation to fit. Projects must be tailored to fit the circumstance. A look at two of our projects will illustrate this approach.

Since 1989, SRI has had an open-ended contract with the Pima County Department of Transportation and Flood Control District. As with other compliance contracts conducted by SRI, we have pursued the inclusion of public programs in every major project undertaken for this client.

In 1993, Pima County was extending Irvington Road, a major east-west artery bisecting southern Tucson. Because the project was in the middle of town, it offered a prime opportunity for public involvement. It was SRI's first major project with a specific outreach component written into the contract.

The firm offered weekly tours during the entire nine weeks of excavation. SRI staff donated their time on weekends to work with volunteers on the site. There was an information-sharing meeting for professional archeologists and a tour for local avocational societies. The site was featured on the evening news and a local PBS news magazine show. Fourth- and fifth-grade students from the local elementary school were recruited as "Junior Site Stewards" in the state-based volunteer steward program, which was modified for the children, who looked out for suspicious behavior as they rode or walked past the site. The steward program involved the entire family, as children were allowed to participate only if accompanied by a parent. In addition, public presentations were made on the fieldwork and initial findings were reported at various professional and avocational society meetings. The project, which took 1 percent of the archeology budget, cost SRI and the sponsor $2,500 each.

The Julian Wash project, undertaken in 1996, presented an entirely different set of challenges, with entirely different results. The survey and excavation of the Julian Wash site, sandwiched between a cement drainage, Interstate Highway 19, and the streets of the city, presented some logistical problems for developing an education program. Several safety concerns made the location unsuitable for public tours and school programs. SRI proposed that a slide program be developed based on the field research and analysis. This presentation, which is upcoming, will be made at the local library and at the neighborhood schools. When the site was being surveyed, a tour for the professional archeological community was held. Although the strategy was different than for the project above, the cost again was minimal—about $2,500 each for SRI and the client.

The Benefits

The qualitative benefits of public programs far outweigh the quantitative ones. In return for the investment, there is not only an increase in community support, but in positive public relations as well, for us and the client. The public also gets a return, as most projects are sponsored with tax dollars. Some programs continue beyond the contract, taking on a life of their own. This trend can be seen most dramatically in the schools. Three years after initiating the Junior Site Steward program at Irvington Road, the same teachers brought their classes to another project. Many teachers have incorporated archeology into the fourth-grade curriculum for the study of Arizona cultures.

Funding for the program has grown over the course of the last nine years. For SRI, the cost of programs funded from overhead has gradually increased from approximately $5,000 in 1988 to approximately $15,000 in 1997. On the other hand, funding from grants and contracts has risen from $5,000 in 1990 to over $160,000 as of last year.

Of course, none of these programs would be possible without key individuals in numerous federal, state, and municipal agencies standing behind the idea of outreach. Generally, this begins with one person, and as the benefits of education hit home within the agencies and among the public, the number of people and the level of support increase.

Starting Small, Growing Large

With an initial investment of approximately $5,000, SRI has been able to develop an outreach division that makes a real impact on preservation, and is now nearly self-sufficient. Participation is contagious, inside and outside the company, with employees donating free time and the firm contributing overhead as financial support.

As a for-profit entity, the division does depend on winning contracts and grants—small and large—such as a recent award to manage the clearinghouse for the Forest Service Passport in Time program. The bottom line is SRI's commitment to public programs. As long as our clients realize the benefits of sponsoring public education, these programs will continue. By sharing our findings with the client and the public, the company receives a great deal in return.

For more information, contact Carol J. Ellick, Public Programs Division, Statistical Research, Inc., Box 31865, Tucson, AZ 85751, (520) 721-4309, fax (520) 298-7044, e-mail SRIArc@aol.com.

Ms. Ellick has a B.A. in anthropology and an M.A. in education. She has been active in developing public archeological programs since 1987. Ellick joined SRI in 1989 and has been director of the public programs division since its inception in 1994. An active member of the Society for American Archaeology public education committee and past chair of the Arizona Archaeological Council educators committee, she is currently president-elect of the council.