Studying the Significance of Copper Leads to Outstanding Research Award: Gillian Bryce Smith, '20

Dec. 14, 2020
Gillian Smith

Gillian Smith

Gillian Bryce Smith, who is graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Africana Studies, is the recipient of SBS Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award for winter 2020. This award recognizes a graduating senior in the College of SBS who has demonstrated academic achievement, originality, and creativity in an independent, undergraduate research project.

“I am nominating Gillian for her original and exciting research on the complex roles and significance of copper in medieval West Africa,” said Emma Blake, associate professor in the School of Anthropology. “I expect that Gillian’s research paper will serve as the basis of a publishable article.”

“Her project is very much student-led and of her own devising,” Blake added. “Gillian has come up with an innovative research project, one that can be conducted with published data alone in light of the COVID-related restrictions.”

Gillian argues in her paper that copper heavily contributed to the growth of the Mali Empire and other state systems in medieval Africa by being a key resource for the spirituality, decoration, and wellness of many in African society.

Blake, who nominated Gillian for the award, noted that Gillian conducted this research while taking five other classes and working 20 hours a week as a team lead in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.

“Gillian embodies the work ethic and intellectual curiosity of UArizona at its best,” Blake said. “I have taught her in two classes and been enormously impressed by her intelligence, engagement with the subjects, lively participation, insightful comments, and stellar academic performance.”

"I would like to thank my family who has supported me in my academic endeavors and my close friends who have inspired me to well represent women of color in academia,” Gillian said. “The faculty in the School of Anthropology and the Africana Studies Department who I have been lucky to learn from over the course of these years have truly been inspirational.”

Gillian said the faculty have helped prepare her to take on graduate school next fall to study precolonial African archaeology, hopefully at the University of Chicago, UCLA, or Stanford.

“I plan to contribute to the new movement in higher education and scholarship in diversifying our curriculum and adjusting the spotlight towards peoples who have historically been misrepresented and underappreciated,” Gillian said.