UM Doctoral Student in Anthropology Receives Three Prestigious Awards

September 10, 2019

UM News Service

MISSOULA – A University of Montana doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology is the recipient of three prestigious awards and fellowships, including the Philanthropic Educational Organization Sisterhood Scholar Award for $15,000.

Michaela Shifley is among 150 doctoral students in the U.S. and Canada who received the P.E.O. Sisterhood award this year. It provides merit-based awards for women who are pursuing a doctoral-level degree at an accredited college or university.

Shifley also received the Bertha Morton Award for $3,000. Morton worked for the IRS in Helena but did not attend any university. She worked hard to save her money, and when she died in 1977, she left a significant portion of her estate to the UM Foundation to encourage serious students to obtain their education at UM.

Michaela Shifley, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montana, works with a pair of moccasins in the National Museum of Natural History’s Anthropological Collections during a Smithsonian Graduate Student Fellowship in 2018. Much like Morton, Shifley has worked hard throughout her life, saving money and building experiences to get where she is today: earning a Ph.D. at UM.

Shifley was born and raised in Laurel, as were her parents. Her grandparents on both sides were Montana farmers and ranchers and her great-grandparents on both sides homesteaded in Montana.

Shifley also received the Dave Walter Research Fellowship for $1,250 from the Montana Historical Society. She will use the award to conduct research at the collections and archives of the Montana Historical Society in Helena.

Recognition from these organizations follows Shifley's work over the past two years connecting the needs of cultural collections at UM with descent communities like the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) and the long-term goals of the Smithsonian Institution. She interned at UM's Anthropological Collections Facility, as well as at the Smithsonian. Her doctoral research investigates the complex roles footwear played – and still plays – in the life of indigenous people of the North American Plains, with an emphasis on moccasin production and use in historic and contemporary Niitsitapi society.

“My research underscores the relevance of cultural knowledge and understanding fostered by projects that provide tangible bridges connecting life under the Big Sky from past to present,” Shifley said.

UM anthropology Professor Kelly Dixon works closely with Shifley as co-chair of her dissertation committee.

“We are fortunate to have students of Michaela’s caliber in our graduate program here at UM, and we admire her commitment to respectful cultural heritage stewardship,” Dixon said. “Our future is in good hands with citizens-scholars like Michaela.”


Contact: Kelly Dixon, professor, UM Department of Anthropology, 612-247-6414,