Dean’s medalist expands horizons with diverse archaeological experiences

June 08, 2023

Opportunity is knocking for Faculty of Environment Dean’s Medal recipient Melissa Watts, who graduates at the top of her class with a degree in archaeology this June.

Originally a history major, Melissa switched to archaeology after her first year. She was taking electives in the subject and liked how it combined her two passions, history and environmental work. She also completed a certificate in cultural resource management, which she says fit well with her degree and made her a better archaeologist.

Melissa, who has always loved to travel, hoped archaeological work could take her to different parts of the world — and last year it did. During a bioarchaeology field school in Portugal, Melissa spent three weeks excavating a medieval Islamic cemetery on the beach.

Though the work was physically demanding, it was a boost to her self-confidence. “It was really rewarding to prove to myself that I could do it,” she says. “It also helped that I was in the Algarve. My favourite part of the trip was going for a swim after every field day!”

In addition to excavation work, Melissa gained archaeological experience at some of the local museums in Portugal, where she assisted with cataloguing. At SFU, she also volunteered at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology for two years, organizing and rehousing collections. She says the most exciting part about this work was getting the chance to handle the artifacts.

“I was definitely one of those kids who would go to museums and desperately want to touch the things behind the glass, so for me the novelty of having access to the collections never wore off.”

For Melissa, the value of these hands-on experiences goes beyond how they will look on her resume. They have made her more well-rounded in her knowledge and allowed her to grow in her field. “When I started university, my goal was to find extracurriculars that were meaningful to me. Field school and the museum were both opportunities where I got to have some independence and explore what I liked about archaeology.”

This summer she will be doing field work at a job in Northern B.C. After that, she is eager to continue to diversify her experience. “SFU gave me a great base of knowledge in the field, and now I’d like to go and see how it’s done in other areas before deciding where I’m going to specialize.”

Congratulations Melissa!