Alumni Spotlight: Adam Bohannon

BohannonPromo

Adam Bohannon will deliver the keynote at the Sapiens Symposium on Thursday, April 30th at 4 pm in Little Theatre.

 

Adam earned a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and a B.S. in Psychology in 2008 from Kansas State University. Though he was initially considering entering a PhD program, Adam decided to go into the
applied side. Using the skills and experience he gained in digital ethnography, he was able to secure a consulting job with Diigo, a web startup, producing videos and assisting with marketing strategy. From there, he found a role at Sun Microsystems as an instructional designer. His manager there was interested in his anthropology background and this was a large factor in him getting the job. This springboarded him to jobs at Rosetta Stone in the Endangered Language Program, then LivingSocial in DC. After moving to San Diego, he continued to work for LivingSocial remotely while also working full time for a boutique marketing agency. He was recruited from that agency to become the marketing director of a financial startup. After leaving there, Adam found a home at Rescue Social Change Group, a behavior change marketing agency, where he is a digital strategist. RSCG more than any other job applies both his anthropology and psychology training. They provide clients services in strategy, research, and marketing in order to effectively target young adult populations to change certain risk behaviors, such as smoking, binge drinking, drug use and more. In his free time, Adam enjoys surfing, skydiving, traveling, photography, reading, and playing the guitar.

My decision to interview Adam actually has a little of a backstory. About 6 months ago, utterly lost and trying to pick a major, I found myself perusing the K-State Anthropology departmental website. Like
many, I knew how fascinated I was by cultural anthropology, but I needed to understand if it could be workable in finding a career I’d be interested in. My eye was drawn to a skydiving picture – any
description other than “epic” would fail to do it justice. Apparently the dude in the picture was an Anthropology major at Kansas State. Out of curiosity, I did some research on Rescue Social Change Group and was enthralled by its innovative and purposeful application of anthropology. I can say that, at the time, it had a significant effect on my decision to be an Anthropology major. After that research on RSCG and a little harmless stalking of his LinkedIn page thrown in for good measure, I realized that not only did I share many of his interests, I also got the general impression that he is, in some
senses, the kind of person I strive to be. That said, when Professor Wesch mentioned that we’d be doing our own alumni interviews, I gave myself only one option as to who I’d choose.

For more general interview questions (which are very helpful also), check out the link of a previous interview – http://www.k-state.edu/acic/voices/bohannon.html. Personally, after having read these questions and answers, I asked questions that were slightly different but still relevant.

MR: It seems like faculty connections have been really important for you. How crucial were they and how did you go about creating those connections?

Adam: Oh yeah, they were such an important part of the whole experience. I made a point to ask questions after class, go to office hours, and just be an interested student. I always sat in the front because I wanted to be able to interact with the professors. I really loved my time in the anthro program. Being down to earth helps, too. Just being able to connect with the professors on a human level and showing genuine interest in what they are teaching you.

MR: Do you place importance on checking off “bucket list” items? What are some of the things you’ve done or have tried to do?

Adam: During one summer I backpacked through South America for 4 months and I took Dr. Prins’ route that he took when he was my age. I got with him and he gets out this old map, draws his route and I just did it. It was great. I’d definitely recommend that you do something like that. A long trip of some sort.

Regarding “bucket list” items, it’s just part of how I try to live my life. I’m open to new experiences and I want to try everything. Why wait? There’s so much to do, we should just do it. Every year I make a commitment to take a trip somewhere new. Last November, my girlfriend and I went to Singapore and Bali to surf. Skydiving is part of it. I got my solo certification and now I pay $25 to jump almost every weekend. If you haven’t tried it, you need to.

MR: Maybe it’s the time of the year, but summer planning seems to be pretty important now; in general it seems like summer experiences can go a long way towards shaping your college experience. Besides the trip through South America, what did you do for your summers?

Adam: I went to Costa Rica and did a spanish immersion program, on recommendation from Dr. Wesch. I learned so much Spanish that I was able to test out of all of my language requirements for my B.A. Costa Rica is beautiful and it was a great experience to live with a host family. Then I also took one summer and just stayed in Manhattan and took some classes. It was actually really nice to have some down time to do some reading and reflection. I definitely suggest doing as much as you can, but it’s also important to mellow out sometimes. And one summer I did an Archaeological field school, which was cool.

MR: It seems like you loved anthropology, you were a great student and just really smart in general, so why did you decide not to go to grad school?

Adam: My plan was to go into a PhD program in Anthropology or some kind of Media Studies. I applied and when the acceptance (and rejection) letters came I was forced to really think about whether this was actually what I wanted. If I went, I might be graduating right now. I had a decent job at the time, so I just continued with that route. I remember writing all of these application
letters, and so much of it was bullshit. They want you to know exactly what you want to focus on while you’re there and I had no idea. I was into so many different things and it was a struggle trying to choose one over the other. So it didn’t feel right. I just remember thinking, what if I’m not sure what I want to do yet. I loved school, but I’m happy with my decision. I’d be open to going back to grad school, but the economy right now makes it rough… that’s a different conversation, though!

MR: This is something that doesn’t get brought up as much, but what was there any social aspect to your anthropology experience here? How many of your friends were Anthro majors?

Adam: A lot of them were other anthros. The cool thing about making friendships with your anthro classmates is that you’re going through the trenches together, its like a rite of passage. And that makes you really close. I have so many great memories with my former anthro classmates. One friend and I
would sit in Caribou Coffee in the Union and talk about anthro theory for hours. It was great. He is incredibly brilliant, so he would take the theories to the most bizarre places and I would try to keep it. It was very intellectually stimulating. For me, friendships started to really solidify as we moved through the program. When you get into upper level classes, for instance, you’re in a room of people who are as dedicated to the discipline as you are. It’s easier to connect in an environment like that. In the lower level classes it’s not necessarily like this.

MR: What were the classes that affected you the most?

Adam: Digital ethnography, Religion and Culture, Anthropology Theory, Prins’ South American Indians class, and Wesch’s Cultural Anthropology. Also, Archaeological Fact of Fiction was great. I’m sure I’m leaving some out. There wasn’t an anthro class I took that I didn’t like. Dr. Finnegan’s Physical Anthro classes caught flack for being so hard, but I even loved those (and yes, they were really hard!).

MR: If you could transport yourself back in time to when you were a sophomore at K-State like myself, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Adam: Well, this isn’t the most inspiring answer, but some practical advice: I would not take
out any private loans, just take as many federal ones as possible. Federal loans are more flexible and with the possible loan reform on the horizon, they’ll be the first to be affected. Private loans don’t have the same flexibility. For instance, I wanted to go into the Peace Corp. but I couldn’t because
when I got out my loan payment would be so huge that it’d be impossible to pay off. If you’re at all confused about financial aid, go talk to someone and make sure it’s crystal clear. I had no idea about that stuff in school and I wish I had.

My second answer might be to chill and just remind myself that what I’m doing is worth it. There’s
always those moments when you’re like “Come on, life is worth more than this paper/test/etc.”. And you’re right, it definitely is – but those things can be rewarding too. I worked SO hard on my senior
thesis. I probably didn’t take very good care of my body; there were times when I hated life; things went up and down. And then Wesch told me that I won the Ibn Battuta award and they all agreed that it was possibly the best paper they had ever received. And that felt really great. Then all of a sudden, all of that suffering is worth it.

Also, I would suggest taking your time. I took five years. I was a double major, and I enjoyed my time to study. I never wanted to be so stressed out with a heavy load that I just hated life all the time.
I saw my time at K-State as sacred – monastic, almost. On campus, you’re there and it’s like
walking into a church. Your senses are bombarded with symbolism everywhere you go. When you’re on campus, it completely envelopes you. The architecture, the history, the other students, the beautiful landscaping. It’s like walking into an old church with stained glass. Once you enter, you’re in a different world. You’re in the presence of God. And it transforms you. I always tried to see my time at K-State this way. Learning was like a religious experience for me, especially anthropology. I learned such mind-altering things. Unless you have some reason to do it differently than that, my advice is just enjoy it.

 

 

Here, I only included some of the most relevant parts of the interview. Aside from learning bits of wisdom and many things that we had in common, I left the conversation with an emboldened passion for my journey through anthropology. In him I see someone that did, and still does, passionately embrace anthropology and its thinking as a way of life. Adam Bohannon will be the keynote speaker at the Sapiens Symposium at the end of this semester. That said, if there is opportunity to ask questions or talk, I would highly suggest taking it.

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