Penn State alumnus Jason De León receives 2017 MacArthur Fellowship

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jason De León, a 2008 doctoral graduate in anthropology, has recently been named to the list of 2017 MacArthur Fellowship recipients. The MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “genius grant,” is a prestigious award given to those who display exceptional creativity and significant accomplishments in their respective fields.

De León is one of 24 winners this year. The other recipients represent a variety of professions, including musicians, writers, community leaders and scientists.

De León currently works at the University of Michigan as an associate professor of anthropology and a faculty associate of the Latina/o Studies Program. His ethnographic research is centered on migration from Latin America to the United States; through migrant stories, forensic science and archaeology he hopes to bring life to the inner workings of this journey, and to demonstrate the real effects of immigration policy.

“Our current political climate is one in which the rhetoric about immigration is deeply polarizing,” DeLeón said. “Through anthropology we can understand the human condition to help educate the general public about this topic.”

De León is an accomplished anthropologist and a recognized innovator in the field. He was originally attracted to Penn State’s doctorate program in anthropology because of the impressive reputations of the faculty members doing Mesoamerican archaeology at Penn State. He credits his adviser, Kenneth Hirth, professor of anthropology at Penn State, for helping him every step of the way. “I wasn’t necessarily the best grad student, but Ken was a very supportive mentor,” he said.

Since then, De León has taken on many projects, including field work in the Sonoran Desert along the U.S.-Mexico border. There, he collects artifacts that migrants left behind on their journeys. He also applies his training in forensic science to study the remains of migrants that die during their journey. De León also has conducted interviews, produced academic publications, and created a museum exhibition with items left behind by migrants.

De León’s vast experiences provide a strong foundation for the research he now performs. According to him, much of this foundation began with his doctoral studies at Penn State. De León credits his coursework and professors for teaching him important techniques, like the focus on methods, attention to detail and rigor.

“The work I do now was fundamentally shaped by my time at Penn State,” he said.  

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Last Updated October 18, 2017