CSU Voices and Views

Identifying Those Left Behind, a Search for Closure

Kristyna Pfluger conducting the first part of her thesis for Humboldt State’;s Master’s in Applied Anthropology program.

Kristyna Pfluger conducting the first part of her thesis for Humboldt State’;s Master’s in Applied Anthropology program.

By Kristyna Pfluger
Student, Humboldt State
Alumna, Chico State

I was in seventh grade when I found out one of my closest friends was murdered. To this day, I’m still bothered that her family and friends don’t have closure. This experience is what initially inspired my drive to pursue a career that helps give people closure when they suffer the loss of those they love.

When you think of biology, I don’t think anthropology and forensics are usually the first two words that come to mind. But they do for me. I graduated from Chico State with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, minor in biology and certificate in forensics identification, and in July of 2014 I started the master’s in applied anthropology program at Humboldt State.

When I receive my degree from Humboldt State, I want to be able to help identify the remains of people who have died at war so that they can be returned home to their families. My goal is to give closure to our heroes’ families and friends. The type of closure that I wish I would have gotten with the passing of my friend.

As part of Humboldt State’s inaugural cohort of the master’s in applied anthropology program, I’m one of the first people to do my research in the university’s new stable isotope preparation lab. I am currently researching the effects of fire on the stable isotopes in human remains. What’s great about the program is its flexibility.  It began with an on-campus Summer Institute, but now I’m able to take courses online so I have more time to focus on my research without worrying about relocating to complete my degree. The innovative hybrid structure gives me the ability to go out into the field to conduct the research I need for my thesis, but also gives me access to the campus and to utilize the resources in the lab that I need to analyze my findings from the field.

As you might imagine, the research I conduct and my career goal are not for the faint of heart. Between my studies at Chico and Humboldt State, I’ve had opportunities to intern in a Human Identification Lab and go out into the field to gain invaluable hands-on experience. Over the summer I travelled to Poland through HSU’s bioarchaeology field program to excavate remains from a medieval cemetery dating back to the 13th century. This gave me a first-hand opportunity to not only work on a large scale excavation, but also to fully immerse myself in a different culture, as I may often be required to do for my career.

I don’t know if it is the fact that I am determined to return lost soldiers back to their families or because I am on a mission to provide closure to as many people as possible, but I know I am in the right field. This is exactly where I need to be.

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