Brieann DeOrnellas

Brieann DeOrnellas

Dean's Scholar

Major: Anthropology
College of Social Sciences

Why did you choose your major?

I had initially chosen the Behavioral Sciences major, which is essentially a combination of sociology, psychology, and anthropology.  As a requirement for the major, I took my first cultural anthropology course, and I was hooked.  But it was not until I took my second anthropology course, Culture through Film, that I decided to change my major.  In the process of creating a short documentary for the class, I chose my subject of research to be the affective and culturally-produced struggles of aging; for which I interviewed six residents of an assisted living facility.  It was my experiences talking to these people at length, hearing their stories, and learning how to contextualize and analyze their struggles in a way in which it could be applied to facilitate empathy, that I realized: this is what I need to be doing.  I love this.  I love anthropology.

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

I got this award for receiving high marks, which are a product of my hard work, but I certainly don’t work hard to receive awards; I do it because I am passionate about my major, and I want to get as much as I can out of this academic experience so that I will be prepared to apply it and help others in some capacity.  That being said, it is lovely to receive recognition for my work.

Who has had the greatest influence of impact on your life? In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

This is an extremely difficult question to answer.  I feel that many people, and my positive and negative experiences with them, have shaped who I am and the way I perceive the world.  However, for the last seven years of my life, the person who has most greatly impacted my life is my son, Andres.  He inspires me to be as empathetic and motivated as I can be, despite many obstacles.  And each time he says something that completely blows my mind because of an extraordinary amount of creativity, intelligence, or compassion, it is the most rewarding feeling in the world. 

The question concerning an influential SJSU faculty member is also a tough one to answer.  Although I have not been a student of every professor in the San Jose State Anthropology Department, I regularly comment to others about how much I appreciate the anthropology faculty, and what amazing instructors they are.  Before I discuss the professor whom has been the most influential to me, I would like to say that Doctors AJ Faas, Roberto Gonzalez, John Marlovits, Lorna Pierce, and Charlotte Sunseri have been beyond amazing and have contributed to shaping me intellectually and facilitating my success as a student.  Of that anthropological super group, Dr. John Marlovits has been the most influential to me.  He taught the first cultural anthropology class I had ever attended; he shaped that first anthropology experience and helped to spark my enthusiasm for the discipline.  Then and now, Dr. Marlovits’ attentive feedback, moving lectures, intellectually stimulating reading material, and thoughtful ethnographic projects have kept me extremely engaged in the classroom.

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

To describe an experience that has shaped who I am today is another difficult task.  What one experience shaped you?  A part of who I am is a collection of experiences, processes, and narratives of memories. Having experienced being a mom, a student and a worker bee have shaped me.  Being raised by a single mother who does not have a college education really shaped me, as did the fact that our economic status was always a rotation between low-income and poverty and every footpath was constructed precariously.  We were always one accident, one paycheck, or one illness away from insurmountable struggle.  At 15, I dropped out of high school, worked 40 hours a week, and experienced homelessness and the violence of inner-city streets.  When I began college, nearly ten years later, I was unsure as to whether or not I was intellectually capable of succeeding in academia, but I knew one thing for sure: I was determined to try.   The encouraging and arduous elements of my experiences have strengthened me and my empathetic attitude, and have ignited in me a passion for others who are marginalized. 

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

What is academic excellence?  If you define it as getting good (or great) grades, then what you need to do is take standardized tests well, show up to class, complete assignments, and follow directions.  However, if you define academic excellence as understanding and deeply engaging with the academic material being presented to you, then do this: Read.  Read what you’re assigned to read and, when you’re on a semester break, read more.  Write.  Think while you write, start off with a vague idea, let yourself go and see what unfolds.  Create systems of emotional support with people who understand the stresses of academia.  Work hard, be prepared to devote much of your time to work that doesn’t pay the bills (yet), but also allow yourself to play hard once in awhile.  You have to allow yourself to engage in personal activities that you enjoy to balance out the stress of school.  Get out there and experience the world.  It is extremely hard to juggle subsistence, social relationships, and college, especially here (in the gentrifying Silicon Valley) and now.  If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed, tap into those systems of emotional support, get out and do something you like, and imagine yourself graduating, and moving forward in your life.  How amazing will that feel?  Keep trying.  It will happen before you know it.

What makes you a Spartan?

What makes me a Spartan is the fact that I attend a university for which the mascot is a Spartan.  Jokes aside, I suppose what makes me a Spartan is that I am determined, strong, caring, and diligent.


Nominated by AJ Faas

"A star student in a graduate seminar on Advanced Anthropological Theory (the only undergrad in a very challenging graduate course) and conducting research on American Indian Relocation in San Jose on a largely graduate team. She is also presenting a paper as sole author for the upcoming conference of the Southwestern Anthropological Association."