Amazing Students Profiles

Jacob Kennedy

Jacob Kennedy

Foundation Fellow and senior anthropology major Jacob Kennedy has had the opportunity to study in Morocco and Ethiopia and was even able to combine his academic pursuits with his love of long-distance running.


As a Marine brat, I don’t really have an answer to this.

High School:

Lee County High School

Degree objective:

Anthropology with a minor in Arabic

Expected graduation:

Spring 2016

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

As a high school senior I never imagined my college experience would have been as incredible as it has been. I entered UGA as a bright-eyed 17-year-old who was eager to throw himself into new situations. I was drawn to non-Western cultures so I majored in anthropology and decided to minor in Arabic. I ended up joining both the Arab Cultural Association and Anthropology Society. I knew that becoming an Honors student would open up a wide network of mentors and opportunities, so I applied to the Honors Program after first semester and ended up getting in. At the time, I sought to work in NGOs in the Middle East and North Africa, using applied anthropology to help solve local problems.

My first two years of college were spent exploring the academic possibilities at UGA: brief stints as sociology, philosophy and linguistics majors gave me a well-rounded background. One of the draws of the Honors Program is the ability to do world-class research with pre-eminent professors. In the spring of my sophomore year I started working with professors E.M. Beck and Dawn Robinson in the sociology department on an Arabic sociolinguistics project. The aim was to use input from Arabic students and native speakers to create a supplemental resource to guide students learning Arabic as a second language. This culminated in traveling to Morocco that summer with support from the Honors International Scholars Program—a travel scholarship for Honors students. I studied Arabic for three months in the city of Meknes while living with a host family. That was my first time outside the U.S. and it brought many memorable moments: learning to surf in the capital city Rabat behind a 12th century castle, playing in a Berber drum circle in the Sahara, getting chased through the medina of Marrakech Jason Bourne-style by an angry merchant and escaping by sliding over the hood of a car traversing the narrow streets. I grew a lot as a person and that included learning that I really didn’t enjoy academic linguistic research, which was actually an incredibly valuable lesson.

Spring semester I also applied to be a mid-term Foundation Fellow. Mid-terms join the Fellowship during the spring of their sophomore year. Of the 50 or so applicants and 11 finalists, I was one of four recipients of the Fellowship. After becoming a Fellow my academic career skyrocketed. The Fellowship takes a large public school and shrinks it down to an intimate community of about 100 students. With the Zell Miller Scholarship combined with the Fellowship, I’ve been able to have an Ivy League education practically for free.

Junior year brought a shift in focus when I decided to combine my passion for anthropology with my love of long-distance running. This wouldn’t have been possible without the Fellowship, whose resources afforded me the opportunity to travel to The Running Event, the only running industry conference in the world, and the Society for Applied Anthropology annual meeting. I made a lot of fruitful connections within the running industry and academic community. At this time I also joined the Public Service and Outreach Student Scholars program. I studied UGA’s public service mission and became fascinated in working at the intersection of research and public outreach and interned at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. That came to a head last summer when I used my Fellows travel stipend to work in Ethiopia with a grassroots nonprofit called Girls Gotta Run for seven weeks. Girls Gotta Run provides scholarships to middle school-aged girls and uses running as a means of building friendships and confidence. In addition, they provide a life skills lesson once a week, post-practice meals, school uniforms and supplies, and health care. My work with GGR involved using applied anthropology methods to help develop an evaluation and monitoring framework. Because of the skills I learned from the Public Service Scholars program I wasn’t just a benign intern, but instead was actually making a difference in the organization. I was doing real anthropology! Field work is a rite of passage in anthropology and my maturation was akin to the movie “Big”—all of a sudden. Because of my experience in Ethiopia, I can stand with confidence before any interview panel knowing I am fully qualified no matter what position I’m seeking.

Going forward I’m interested in how applied anthropology can improve the efficacy of grassroots organizations and their relationships with larger NGOs. What I love about anthropology is that its stress isn’t on solving problems for people, but rather solving problems with people. International development has a long way to go in order to truly serve the needs of those it seeks to help, and I believe anthropology can play a role in that.

Family Ties to UGA:

My brother went to UGA and we overlapped my freshman and his senior year. It was a nice change from going to the same high school and having the same teachers and the constant comparison between us.

I chose to attend UGA because…

UGA was the only school I applied to.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have options, I just knew that UGA was the only place for me. It wasn’t always like that, however.

The appeal of in-state tuition and the benefits of the Zell Miller Scholarship made going to an in-state school paramount for my parents, which I was skeptical about. But once my brother enrolled and we visited, I saw all that UGA has to offer. I was drawn to the resources and networks a large, public research institution affords. Studying abroad was important to me and UGA has probably the widest variety of study abroad programs in the nation. Whether you’re studying art in Italy, business in China, geology in Tanzania, or touring Antarctica, there are limitless possibilities and the ability to explore those opportunities has been priceless.

Most important in my decision were the social aspects of Athens and UGA. Having such a large undergraduate population means there is a plethora of student organizations to join, and Athens is a very creative town—there’s always something to do!

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… going to lectures and events put on by clubs and departments. A lot of effort and resources go into putting on fun events like the Homecoming carnival, which is always a blast—free funnel cake? Yes, please.

In the past week I went to a lecture on poetry during the Irish Troubles, attended an embroidery workshop, listened to a talk on how design thinking can improve the museum experience, and went to Escape the Space, where I was locked in a room with mostly strangers and had to solve puzzles to escape the detention-themed room.

I intern at UGArden, which is a student-run farm not far from campus. It’s a blast to work outside, rotating through different tasks throughout your shift. Even weeding isn’t so bad when you have a great work group. We just finished inoculating logs with shiitake mushrooms and transplanting onions which involved quite a bit of manual labor, but it’s so rewarding to eat food you’ve grown! Plus, who doesn’t love driving tractors?!

I also enjoy going to music shows downtown. Athens is one of the few small towns in America that has a vibrant music and art scene. It’s crazy how talent dense we are. There are hundreds of local acts that you can see nightly for $5, but we also get big acts too. A night at the 40 Watt music club is always well spent.

Snapchat. There’s always something snap-worthy happening on campus.

When I have free time, I like…

… hanging out with my best friend Jess Edwards. We’re members of her own un-official co-ed sorority Delta Delta Jess. It’s an informal group but we’re real enough. DDJ is all about getting out and engaging the community, be that through volunteering or just exploring town. Joining DDJ was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. We even have T-shirts.

I’m using this last semester to focus on all the non-academic, non-professional goals I have. For instance, last week I went to an Athens Free School class on embroidery and hand sewing. And I’m taking a scuba class for PE. Those are things I’m doing just for me. It’s something I neglected in previous years and absolutely recommend to younger students. In college it’s far more important to develop as a person than just as a potential employee.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

… summit Mount Kilimanjaro in four days instead of the five I planned. After my time in Ethiopia I traveled to Tanzania. Of the seven weeks I spent in Ethiopia, five were at 1,600-meter altitude and the last two weeks were at 3,000 meters. After training in those conditions, the first three days of the Machame route were easy. On the fourth day something just woke up in me and compelled me to push the pace. My guide and I skipped base camp and went straight to Uhuru Peak, racing the sunset because you don’t want to come down in the dark, cold and windy conditions. I made it to the summit just at sunset and we scrambled down to base camp by the light of our headlamps—I rolled both ankles. All told I did two days worth of hiking and about a 2,000-meter elevation gain and loss in 10 hours. That was the best night of sleep I’ve ever had. I definitely want to return, but go even faster.

All of that said, I want to make clear that the real heroes of the mountain are the porters—the men and women who carry up to 60 pounds of equipment literally balanced on their heads while traversing uneven, unstable footing. They’re incredible.

My favorite place to study is…

When the weather permits, the Botanical Garden. It’s a peaceful forested enclave just a 3-mile run from campus. I love that I live in an active college town, but also can get to the great outdoors with ease. When it’s not nice out I’ll study in my bedroom. Can I take a moment to suggest we get wood-burning fireplaces in the main library? Because I would be there every day of winter if that were the case.

My favorite professor is…

How could I pick one? Dr. Beck in sociology played an influential role in my academic career early on, becoming my mentor from first semester. Having a mentor who has seen you grow and can give you input and advice as you switch paths or double down on a particular one has been priceless. The same can be said for Athanasios Samaras in philosophy—he instilled in me a belief that I could go on to whatever great heights I imagined for myself, metaphorical or literal. Jepkorir Rose Chepyator-Thomson in kinesiology, my thesis adviser, has been instrumental in the development of my research career. I’ll go into a meeting with her thinking I have everything figured out and she’ll just humble me with all these factors I hadn’t even considered.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… my mom’s dad. He died when she was 3, so neither of us really knew him. If I could I’d take my mom out to dinner with her dad.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

I really want to get into mountain running—there are several 100-mile mountain races in the U.S. and I’d like to run every one. Unfortunately, I’ve had recurring knee issues, but I’m keen on getting healthy so I can finally put in some major miles on the trails.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… sail the world. It’s something I like to daydream about. Jacques Cousteau is my biggest hero. He was an explorer, inventor, writer and documentarian among many other things. He had a zest for life that I find motivating. My sense of adventure is something I’ll never let die out. I’m not so much scared about graduation as I am excited about entering a “whole new world”! The fact that I will never eat every food, meet every individual or run every trail this world has to offer is deeply frustrating to me.

After graduation, I plan to…

The million-dollar question. I’m applying for fellowships/jobs in development—programs like Princeton in Africa and Asia or the Americorps. After one or two years off I’ll return to grad school to study applied anthropology or some sort of anthropology of development program. I may end up as a Double Dawg, as our anthropology department specializes in ecological and environmental anthropology and conservation and agriculture are among my interests.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

Seeing the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” live with my friends Jess and Shelby. I’ve always been an oddball, but gazing at my costumed peers in the ticket line I discovered that I’d found my people. What made that night even more magical was that my favorite song of all time, “Psychic City” by YACHT, played while we waited in the lobby—it’s a song about living in a magical city where everyone and everything offers you unconditional love. That’s what I found at UGA. That’s what I found in Athens.