Jensen Beach, Florida
College:College of Sciences
Degree Program:Integrative Anthropological Sciences PhD
Research Focus:Archaeology, ancient Egyptian monumental art, fractal geometry, ancient Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region studies
Jessica Robkin knew since she was seven years old that she wanted to become an archaeologist and explore her fascination with the past. Today, she spends her days working to preserve ancient history and studying different cultures around the world.
Robkin completed her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology at the University of Florida and her Master of Arts in Anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, focusing on Archaeology, ancient Egyptian monumental art, fractal geometry, and ancient Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region studies. She came to UCF to further her studies in the Integrative Anthropological Sciences PhD program and work with Dr. Scott Branting, who is faculty in the Department of Anthropology. “Dr. Branting’s work combines cutting-edge tools with traditional research methods, which is exactly the research that I seek to be a part of,” Robkin says.
Though pursuing a career in archaeology was always her dream, it wasn’t until Robkin witnessed the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 that she began to narrow down her focus area. Seeing the protests in real time; led her to doubt the value of her work as the people faced such pressing concerns in the present. However, her doubts were put to rest when she began working with the U.S. Army at the Fort Benning Military Installation in Georgia and Alabama. Responsible for the archaeology collection housed on the installation and keeping the historic sites safe, Robkin had the opportunity to work directly with the living descendants of the sites and materials she was working with. “Experiencing firsthand how important these were to living people – and not just interesting histories one reads about in books – firmly cemented what I wanted to do with my career,” she says.
Robkin now dedicates her passion for historical preservation to helping communities in the MENA region. As with the Federally Recognized Tribes, these groups are often beset with the practical concerns of daily life and survival. “They may not have the opportunity, or training, to focus on protecting their cultural heritage, but I do,” Robkin says. “I can offer my skills and abilities to aid them in this work, to help them protect and preserve their culture and history, which will, in turn, work towards goals of regional stability and the protection of cultural heritage on their terms.”
Currently, Robkin is involved in a diverse array of research projects. She is part of the senior staff on the Kerkenes Project, a UCF Global affiliated program focused on excavating a large Iron Age city on the high ridge of Kerkenes in central Turkey. While on-site, she coordinates the geospatial component of the project, records data, creates maps of the excavations, manages the 3D scanning of objects, and trains students in these methods.
Robkin is also involved with the ChronoPoints project, a component of the SENSEable Design Lab at UCF’s IST School of Modeling, Simulation, and Training. The project focuses on digitally documenting historically significant structures and artifacts using terrestrial 3D laser scanners (LiDAR). Additionally, she is a part of the NEH-funded DATCH (Documenting and Triaging Cultural Heritage) project, developing prototype open-source software for field assessment and documentation of built and movable cultural heritage using mixed reality hardware.
Robkin’s love of archaeology and technology drives her to take an interdisciplinary approach to study heritage protection, combining traditional archaeological methods with modern technological advancements. “I have always had a deep interest in archaeology and technology, and I am constantly seeking ways to combine these seemingly disparate elements,” she says. “I’ve learned that there is so much to absorb from working with other people in other disciplines, as well as working with the communities we serve, that it is always important to remember that however much I have learned, there will always be so much more waiting for me to explore and grow from.”
Within her department, Robkin has made a significant impact as well. When she began her studies at UCF, she was part of the first PhD cohort for the Anthropology department and struggled to find her place. Wanting to create a safe space for the cohort to connect, she collaborated with her peers to form the Anthropology Mentorship Program (AMP). “We have successfully been running the program since 2021. As my cohort graduates, members from incoming cohorts are already starting to take over the mantle, ensuring that our peers have a safe place to go when navigating those first semesters and beyond,” she says.
For her work at UCF and dedication to historical preservation, Robkin has won numerous awards to support her research endeavors. During her time at the university, she has received the Multidisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship, the Trevor Colbourn Anthropology Endowment Fund, the College of Graduate Studies Presentation Fellowship, and the Doctoral Research Support Award.
Once she graduates this fall, Robkin plans to catch up on sleep and an ever-growing stack of recreational reading. She aims to work within the federal government or the private sector in a role that will allow her to prioritize the protection and preservation of cultural heritage, specifically in emergencies related to environmental and handmade disasters. “As much of my work focuses on regions suffering from long-term political instability, spreading awareness about the importance of protecting and preserving cultural heritage is essential towards creating a long-lasting stability, both in troubled regions and across the world.”
- Involved in the Kerkenes Project, the ChronoPoints project, and the DATCH project
- Co-founded the Anthropology Mentorship Program
- Won several UCF fellowships for her work in cultural heritage preservation
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