For the Chronicle
Seven years after doctoral student Michelle Sivilich first met Gary Ellis, she was living in Virginia and had completed her dissertation study for the University of South Florida on the Second Seminole war. Ellis invited her to return to work at Gulf Archaeology Research Institute (GARI) with the intent that she would eventually take over his leadership role there.
In November, Sivilich was named executive director of the institute, and she has already created a five-year plan.
“My goal is to raise our visibility to national, if not international awareness,” she said.
Based on her own interest in Indian wars in Florida and her experience in a number of archaeological settings, including Revolutionary War sites throughout the northeast United States and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Sivilich is interested in creating a forum for discussion of asymmetrical warfare.
“I want to bring in scholars from different fields, a collaborative research center, that includes historians or military strategists and tribal people whose voices are not always heard in this,” she explained. “What I want to see in five years is a global hub for scholarship.”
Sivilich will write grants and develop fundraising and donor activities to make that happen. Currently, she says, the institute’s specialty is Florida archaeology, with a staff of researchers writing grants every year to find funding for projects, including studies on climate change and rising sea levels, what can be done to protect the coastlines and historical sites in those areas.
At the celebration, she noted “Florida is in a heritage emergency. We are losing our archaeological sites and historic places at an alarming rate to sea level rise, development, looting and a general lack of awareness of how important these places are.”
She added that by raising awareness, something could be done to help prevent that from happening.
“We do public engagements, library talks, and radio interviews on who we are and what we do,” she said, adding that the simplest way to help is to sign up for their newsletter and share their Facebook posts across social networks.
While Sivilich will still study Seminole Wars, she is now juggling that with administrative responsibilities and managerial functions.
“It’s been fun. Gary has been amazing giving me latitude,” she said. “When you design something, it is your baby, and it can be hard to pass it off. But he has given me free rein, and he is excited to see what we’re going to do.”
Ellis supports the new leader, unequivocally, and noted, “Her skill sets are well-rounded, broad and diversified, and for that reason, she is the ideal person to bring the institute into the rest of the 21st century.”