down the hall, to the left: I’m not staring, I’m a social scientist


Image courtesy of Horner-Brackett

The human species has evolved for millions of years, from the Sahelanthropus tchadensis and the Australopithecus afarensis, to the Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Neanderthals. Without these wonderful people, we wouldn’t have you, and we wouldn’t have Professor Rachael Horner-Brackett.

Prior to becoming an educator at Black Hawk College, Horner-Brackett crafted her art of teaching at the University of Iowa and Augustana University. In the fall semester of 2013, she took the final leap from adjunct to full-time professor.

All of her students know she wrote her dissertation while in Italy, but what few may understand is how much the opportunity to study abroad from Knox College impacted her life after that one year.

“When I got to college, I realized that essentially to study abroad, it wasn’t going to cost much more, and you could get financial aid to help with it. It was built into the structure of my four year plan. I saved my money, and my parents helped me, but I was terrified,” confessed Horner-Brackett.

“I had never been out of the country before,” she continued. “I remember being on the plane and just crying, for like an hour, underneath my little eye mask, cause I was so scared. It was the longest I’d ever been away from my parents.”

But once she landed, she instantaneously fell in love with Italy, where she spent the first half of her year abroad. The second half of her journey was in London, where she had to use “those mythical phone booths that people hear about” with a phone card in order to call home to the States.


Image courtesy of Horner-Brackett

“While I was in Europe during that year, I went to France and Germany, Ireland and Scotland. I traveled around a little bit more during breaks too,” she reminisced.

It was on this trip that Horner-Brackett felt the puzzle pieces of her future locking snuggly into place.

“It was while I was in Italy, and I had a Renaissance art class where we would actually go see the paintings for the class, when I realized I was way more interested in the people looking at the art than the actual art,” she grinned. “I had taken my first anthropology classes already, and I was really interesting in art history…I was close to an art history double major, however I graduated with an Anthropology/Sociology mixed major.”

She hasn’t regretted her decision for an instant; “I always tell students that if you have the chance to study abroad, you should do it.”

When I was fortunate enough to take two of her classes last spring, her impact on my education was as influential to me as the discovery of “Lucy” and “Turkana Boy” was to the field of archaeology. By the end of the semester, I had the upmost respect for anyone willing to become an archaeologist.

“You have to like old stuff; you can’t mind dirt or not always being physically comfortable. And you have to see the possibilities in just a big empty field of dirt,” mused Horner-Brackett.

For any student interested in archaeology but doesn’t have the time or money to travel abroad to do it, there are numerous sites just mere hours from home.

“You don’t have to go to Pompeii to see archaeology,” she promised. “I would suggest, right out of the gate, if you wanted to drive out towards St. Louis there are the Dixon Mounds and the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, which is a huge Mississippian site and one we don’t talk about a lot. If you really want to stay close to home, you can go up to Albany, to the Indian Mounds. People like to go up there and hike.”

There’s also an opportunity for students to visit the Field Museum and the Art Institute in Chicago. On March 24th, a bus is leaving BHC and for only thirty dollars, you could be on it. The main attraction will be China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the Field Museum.

Professor Horner-Brackett always tells her students “it’s okay to explore some of the things you’re interested in and take a class that isn’t necessarily on your narrow path.”

After all the traveling, the food, the work and the achievements, Horner-Brackett manages to create an atmosphere in her classroom where her passion for what she teaches inspires students to find true passions of their own.