Meet our recent undergraduate alumni Martha Popescu

This year, Martha earned multiple prestigious awards, namely: a) The Best Senior Honors Thesis in the Social Sciences for her project entitled Interpreting San Cecilio: Ritual and Discourse in a Granadan Celebration, b) the Boren Scholarship, and c) a departmental Peteet Award for Excellence in Anthropological Scholarship. As a recipient of the Boren Scholarship, she plans to embark on a 9-month intensive language study excursion in Kraków, Poland in Fall 2023.


1. Please give us a brief overview of your undergraduate academic experience at UofL; specifically, how did you learn about Anthropology and what did you initially wish to achieve or discover by joining our department?

I began my undergraduate career at UofL in the Fall of 2019, choosing to take Intro to Cultural Anthropology with Dr. Lisa Markowitz as my first anthropology class. I learned about UofL’s Anthropology department while looking through potential undergraduate majors in the course catalog; after reading a bit about the discipline online, I knew I wanted to learn more for myself. I thought anthropology provided an excellent complement to the pre-med track, providing a crucially needed perspective into the human experience that other traditional pre-med majors might not provide. Dr. Markowitz hooked me into the department fully with that first Intro class. Now, four years later, I have worked with multiple research projects with the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health, and an individually-led senior thesis project, studied abroad twice in Granada, Spain, and began work at the Backside Learning Center, a local non-profit on the backside of the Churchill Downs racetrack. I can safely say that anthropology has informed my work and experience deeply during these undergrad experiences.

2. Congratulations on receiving multiple awards and recognitions this semester; what aspects of your training best prepared you to accomplish all the things for which you won those awards and recognitions?

I think the most important aspect of building these experiences was my willingness to take advantage of opportunities, whether it be reaching out to professors for advice, networking, or project ideas, or applying to as many project grants as I knew about. Having a background in anthropology allowed me to bring a unique, relevant, and culturally informed perspective to a wide range of work as well. Furthermore, I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without a large pool of support. I want to give much of the credit for my awards and recognitions to my mentors and professors throughout my undergraduate career: Dr. Lisa Markowitz, Dr. Shawn Parkhurst, Dr. Emily Noonan, Dr. Laura Weingartner, Dr. Greg Hutcheson, Dr. Karimi Sayed, Dr. Bethany Smith, and Dr. Clare Sullivan.

 3. Tell us about memorable moments/events during your academic journey at UofL.

Perhaps the most memorable time during my academic career was my fall semester spent abroad in Granada, Spain in 2022. I had traveled to Granada on a UofL scholarship for a month that July prior, and became enthralled with the expressions of Andalusian popular piety in the form of Catholic celebration. Having decided to perform my senior honors thesis on the topic, I was able to use another scholarship to fund two months abroad to conduct exploratory research in Granada during the fall. This time abroad was incredibly formative, not only due to the linguistic and cultural learning experience in a city with a complex and rich history, but also due to the personal connections and self-discoveries I made during my time there. That is to say, I can’t wait to return abroad, to Granada and beyond, in the future.

4.  Any advice to anthropology students at UofL?

Don’t be afraid to take risks! If an opportunity comes your way, dive headfirst into it. Even if it might not make sense for your academic or professional narrative, you learn something from every experience. Take advantage of the way your anthropological background can serve you in every academic and professional setting—use the discipline as a foundation to stand up for ethics, equity, and the rights of others. Travel as much as you can, whether it’s across the state, the country, or the world. The best way to learn about something is to be there.

 5.  Tell is about your next chapter- what is on your plate?

This summer, I am continuing to work at the Backside Learning Center as a Youth Programs Assistant delivering summer camp and other enrichment opportunities to the community of the backside workers and their families. Come fall, I’ll be traveling abroad to Krakow, Poland for nine months to attend Jagiellonian University’s School of Polish Language and Culture on a Boren Scholarship. After that, I’ll return to the States to fulfill my Boren service requirement. I’m excited to see what’s on the horizon for the future beyond!

Martha during her trip to Alhambra in Granada, Spain