• Heather Schacht Reisinger, Associate Director and Professor

    "What’s unique about anthropology at Luther is that despite being a very small program, it does a fantastic job of providing a solid four-field approach to the discipline."

Heather Schacht Reisinger ’96

An Early Interest in Anthropology

When Heather was considering her college options, she looked primarily at Lutheran colleges in the Midwest. Luther was the only one on her list that offered both majors (anthropology and art) she was interested in. “When I was in high school I took an anthropology class and became passionate about the subject,” she says. “I didn’t think I was going to major in it, but I wanted to go to a place where I could explore the subject further.”

Pursuing Higher Degrees

After graduation, Heather decided she wanted to use anthropology for solving real-world problems. “I started a master's program in applied anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park,” she says. “There I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Michael Agar, who is a renowned anthropologist and ethnographer. I worked with him on research about drug use and misuse.” Their collaboration led to a number of publications pertaining to a socioeconomic understanding of heroin use and epidemics, among other themes. 

Agar was a generous mentor who encouraged Heather to continue her education and pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology (although this was not part of her original plan). She followed his advice and earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from American University, Washington, D.C., in 2004. 

“While living out East, I continued on the path of drug research for eight years, including a post-doctoral fellowship in drug dependency epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,” she says. “My family and I had always contemplated moving back to the Midwest at some point to be close to extended family. My husband was offered the position of Athletic Director at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I looked for a research position in the area. I was fortunate to find one at the Iowa City Veterans Administration and the University of Iowa.”

Cherished Learning Experiences

One of Heather’s most valued experiences at Luther was working closely with Lori Stanley on the professor’s research and being exposed to the research process. “Another great experience was being able to work with the ethnographic collection that was packed away in the Preus Library basement,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoyed the process of opening up the boxes, cataloguing the material, learning the stories of the donors, and the ways in which they were connected to Luther. It was fascinating.”

Heather found it easy to do that kind of work at Luther because she could establish close relationships with faculty and staff, felt a sense of community, and felt it was a safe space for learning. “After leaving Luther, I appreciated the privilege of intimacy in learning,” she says. “When I went to the University of Maryland, I was overwhelmed by the 35,000-plus students milling around. I couldn’t imagine what undergraduate life would have been like in a place like that.”

Major Provides Stepping Stone for Opportunities

Heather found anthropology to be a great fit for her. “Ultimately, when you decide to study anthropology, you want to learn about humans and you’re curious,” she says. “What’s unique about anthropology at Luther is that despite being a very small program, it does a fantastic job of providing a solid four-field approach to the discipline. It provides a great foundation that I have used as a researcher for my whole career.”

A very meaningful part of my education came through a study abroad course in Nepal taught by Dr. Stanley. I was with my fellow anthropology majors/minors and it was an extremely memorable shared experience.

—Heather Schacht Reisinger


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