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NMSU anthropology graduates receive research prize named for esteemed professor

Two recent New Mexico State University anthropology graduates were chosen as the inaugural winners of a new prize recognizing excellence in anthropological research.


Prize winners in line-up
The two winners of the Bradley A. Blake prize were honored during the NMSU Anthropology department’s graduation celebration, which took place May 9 at the University Museum. From left to right: Alejandro Lugo, Mary Brown, Brittany Fisher, and anthropology department head Rani Alexander. (NMSU photo by Tom Conelly)
Prize winners hold plaques
The two winners of the Bradley A. Blake prize, Mary Brown and Brittany Fisher, holding their plaques. (NMSU photo by Tom Conelly)
Blake prize plaques
The Bradley A. Blake prize was established by NMSU alumnus Alejandro Lugo as a way of honoring the memory of his mentor, former NMSU professor Bradley A. Blake. (NMSU photo by Tom Conelly)

Mary Brown and Brittany Fisher were selected as the winners of the newly established Bradley A. Blake Prize. The prize, kickstarted by NMSU alumnus Alejandro Lugo, was created this academic year in honor of former NMSU anthropology professor Bradley A. Blake, who passed away in 2012.

“Dr. Blake was my anthropology professor, mentor, and advisor during my undergraduate years at NMSU in the early 1980s,” said Lugo. “Dr. Blake's eloquent and engaging lectures, as well as his rigorous seminars and his commitment to mentoring students, inspired me to major in anthropology at NMSU, and to eventually become an anthropology professor myself.”

Lugo was recently honored during the College of Arts and Sciences’ 2019 “A Starry Night” gala. During his speech, he talked about Blake’s influence on his life and his gratitude for his career serving as a senior college professor at Arizona State University and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But he wanted to do more to memorialize the memory of his mentor.

“As a very proud NMSU alumnus,” said Lugo, “I wanted to establish the Bradley A. Blake Prize for Excellence in Anthropology in order to honor Dr. Blake's incredible legacy as an outstanding NMSU anthropologist, social scientist, and educator – by recognizing rigorous and original scholarly anthropological research carried out by graduate students for their master's thesis.”

“The faculty are deeply grateful to Dr. Lugo for establishing the Blake Prize,” said Rani Alexander, NMSU’s anthropology department head. “Our anthropology graduates are producing work of extraordinary quality that exemplifies the holism, evidence-based rigor, and collaborative practices that Dr. Blake sought to instill in his students. We are fortunate to have such a dynamic community of professional and practicing anthropologists in Las Cruces, many of whom fondly remember Brad Blake.”

Fisher’s thesis, “Diné Gardening: Strengthening Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous Food Sovereignty,” is a deep dive into the values of traditional gardening amongst Navajo peoples.

“In December Dr. Lugo announced the award and its purpose,” said Fisher. “I enjoyed his talk, but had no idea that my work would even be considered. Needless to say, I was delighted to hear the news, and receiving the prize has been an incredible honor.”

Brown’s thesis, “Rock Art as Ritual Communicator: A Theoretical Evaluation,” was an attempt to reframe the conversation surrounding rock art – not about its merit as an art form, but as an untapped archeological resource.

“I was incredibly grateful to receive the award,” said Brown. “Dr. Lugo was a pleasure, and his statement that ‘we were making history’ by being the first recipients carried with it an obligation to do more, be better, and continue to strive for excellence.”

Both students received their awards during the Department of Anthropology’s annual graduation celebration in May at the NMSU University Museum. They also were asked to present on the topics of their theses, with the chairs of their graduating committee, NMSU professors Lois Stanford and William Walker, on hand to present them with their prizes after.

“Through the annual competition for the Bradley Blake Prize, my goal for the immediate future of anthropology research at NMSU is two-fold,” said Lugo. “To inspire the highest quality of scholarly work on the part of current graduate students in anthropology, and consequently, to help those anthropology students thrive in their professional careers.”