Deep below the Washington State University Museum of Anthropology, Chris Sison sorted through bags of archaeological material — rock, rubber, ceramics. The U.S. Army veteran separated, tagged the finds and photographed, working with a team of veterans.
“It gets me out of the rut I was in, and now I have lab experience,” said Sison, a psychology major at the school.
The WSU team is part of the Veterans Curation Program, a five-month, national program that hires veterans and teaches them a variety of marketable skills to help build their resumes.
The Army Corps of Engineers is behind the WSU curation program, as well as similar labs in Virginia, Georgia, Missouri, California. Arizona, and Texas. The Corps pays universities to maintain their archaeological collections.
“Part of maintaining those collections is to take material that is sitting there in the same paper bags that it was put into in August of 1969 or June of 1958 and get it repackaged, get it identified, get it into a database that can be searched,” said Diane Curewitz, the collections manager at the museum.
The satellite lab on the Pullman campus was started in June 2018. There are three veterans currently working as a part of this program. However, there is no limit to the number of veterans who could be served, and any veteran can join the VCP. They do not have to be a student and are not required to have any lab or anthropology background.
While the VCP is a benefit to the veterans, they are also helping archaeology. Curewitz said that if the archaeological collections do not receive funding, they could potentially sit in their original paper bags forever.
Cassady Fairlane, who supervises the program, said that the veterans learn skills - such as data management and photography - that are transferable to many different jobs, even outside archaeology.
Trent Raymer, a U.S. Air Force veteran, and Steven Bergquist, a U.S. Marine veteran, both said their favorite part about the program is the digital photography skills they get to learn. Managers trained by a forensic photographer, teach veterans to take photos that accurately represent the artifacts.
“You have to take a picture of the artifact as it appears in real life,” Fairlane said. “You don’t want any filter, you want to make sure the lighting is right, the color is right, and the scale matches it perfectly.”
Sison said that his favorite part of the VCP is “the co-workers and the boss. It’s a good community to come to.”
Fairlane said the work allows veterans to form a community and gain skills.
“They’ve all got similar stories that they can talk about together, so it’s cool that they have a support system here.” Fairlane said