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USF to Oxford: Digging for knowledge

A golden idol hidden within an ancient temple, the sound of cracking a whip and a fedora-wearing adventurer are a few things popularly associated with archaeology.

One USF student, however, is setting out on her own archaeological adventure —albeit more academic than Indiana Jones’.

Jessica Goodman will pursue a master’s in archaeological science at the University of Oxford this fall, thanks to a scholarship awarded to 10 students from Florida state universities.

“In academics, everyone’s heard of Oxford,” she said. “It’s known as one of the world’s best universities.”

Goodman graduated this spring with a dual degree in anthropology and interdisciplinary classical civilizations.

While Goodman was shopping around for Ph.D. programs at top U.S. institutions, including Boston University, Johns Hopkins, University of California Berkeley and University of Chicago, she heard about the Frost scholarship from USF’s Office of National Scholarships. 

In March, she received rejection letters from all except University of Chicago’s master’s program. Goodman said she felt a feeling of “uncertainty” for the next month, until she received an email from Oxford encouraging her to pursue a research-oriented graduate program. 

The scholarship is for students studying subjects in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Goodman, who focuses on biblical history and archaeology, said archaeology is a science often misunderstood.

“I get two big questions: ‘Is it like Indiana Jones?’ or ‘Have you found any dinosaurs?’”

Indiana Jones, she says, is the worst example of an archaeologist.

“He’s not even really an archaeologist,” Goodman said. “He’s a crime-fighting antiquarian.”

She said archaeology expresses more important narratives than the ones depicted in fiction, with a more powerful connection to culture.

“It’s interesting to see how people interacted, how different kingdoms came into power and how this set up the world in which the monotheistic, Judeo-Christian traditions emerged,” she said. 

Looking at the mistakes of ancient civilizations can help determine how to preserve modern ones, she said.

“History shows how interregional dependency led to the collapse of multiple civilizations — when certain economic and geological and environmental conditions have led to the collapse of one civilization, it affected all the others,” Goodman said. “In our current, very interdependent world society, it’s a lesson we need to take into consideration. I feel like a lot of places should try to become more independent, because of that potential collapse.”

Her interest in archaeology began in high school world history and she started watching the History Channel to supplement her curiosity.

“Back when I was in high school, they still had decent stuff on,” she said. “I saw ‘Egyptian Week,’ where it played entirely Egyptian history and archaeology shows before it started playing ‘Ancient Aliens’ all the time.”

While at USF, she was able to cultivate her archaeological education, taking part in two excavations in Israel. One of these led to her accidentally castrating a fertility statue with a pickaxe.

“It’s a good conversation starter,” she said.

Goodman’s key to success is simple, as she said she just wants to be the best that she can be. 

Ultimately, Goodman said she wants to achieve two goals after studying at Oxford: delve deeper into the realm of academia and inspire others to pursue their academic dreams.

“I hope I’m inspiring other students, including my friends, to apply for the Frost scholarship in future years, because people think, ‘Oh, that’s difficult to get into’ or, ‘That’s really expensive,’” she said. “This enables a lot of students, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford or who otherwise would not consider going to Oxford, to have an opportunity to study there.”

After Goodman finishes her studies at Oxford, she “looks forward to reapplying” to Boston University, Johns Hopkins, UC-Berkeley and the University of Chicago. 

But this time, with a master’s degree from Oxford listed on her resume.