Before she had her for class, Michelle Johnson was a long-distance Alma Gottlieb admirer — from 2,093 miles away.
“As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, I was hooked on anthropology and knew shortly after taking my first class that I wanted to go to graduate school and become a professor,” says Johnson (Ph.D. '02), who ultimately did, at Bucknell.
“In one of my courses, we read several chapters from Alma Gottlieb’s co-edited book, ‘Blood Magic.’ I was captivated and knew then that I wanted to go to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to study with her.
“I saved up enough money to buy a second-hand copy of her book, ‘Under the Kapok Tree,’ at a local bookstore in the university district, which I read with great interest.
“My honors advisor provided me with helpful feedback on my application materials, and he encouraged me to write to Alma, who wrote back immediately. I was accepted into the University of Illinois’ anthropology Ph.D. program and Alma became an incredible teacher, mentor and friend.
“She worked with me on multiple drafts of my first grant proposals, taught me about the key figures and ideas in symbolic and interpretive anthropology and the study of religion and ritual in Africa, and mentored me during my first, and subsequent, fieldwork. She also was an amazing role model for how to be an effective teacher-scholar.
“Most importantly, perhaps, she provided me a window into life as a (female) academic, teaching me how to effectively balance research, teaching and parenting. When I think back on my time at the University of Illinois, I think of Alma Gottlieb, whom I am still in touch with today. I am forever grateful for her mentorship.”