Iliana Rosa Pacheco

Iliana Rosa Pacheco

Iliana Rosa Pacheco (ΦΒΚ, University of Arizona) is a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, English, and History summa cum laude with honors. She was awarded the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award by College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her honors thesis, “Boneless as I Am: The Memory of Aberrancy in the Ragnars Saga Loðbrókar,” analyzes the role of impairment and disability in the late Viking age. After graduation, she will continue her work in anthropology.


As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

As a child, I had an unbridled love for strawberry ice cream, mythology books, and Indiana Jones. Maybe the love of Indie was too great, but I decided to ditch dreams of becoming a pastry cook after a field trip to Pima Community College to explore career options. I was once apprehensive in pursuing my degrees due to job availability, but faculty at the University of Arizona were helpful in exploring career options that I did not know were viable options for a history and anthropology major. For example, completing an internship at the Arizona State Museum was instrumental in understanding museum collections and cultural resource management. I am excited to pursue my childhood love of cultures. As the saying goes, where there is a will, there’s a way!

What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?

I had the pleasure of taking courses with a number of inspirational teachers. Of them all, one of the most transformative courses of my undergraduate career was Introduction to History and Honors Capstone with Dr. Kevin Gosner. Introduction to History explored historiography in depth while my honors capstone explored the construction of a honors thesis. Dr. Gosner, through his use of Stephen Pyne’s Voice & Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction, engaged students on a variety of concerns such as voice, point of view, and editing. As a student, I have found that there is much ado about the content of a paper, but not enough in engaging the reader and the structure of a research paper. Dr. Gosner’s courses were transformative for the fact that they widened my field of vision and married together my love of English with historical writing.

As a student at the University of Arizona, you triple majored in history, anthropology, and English. Why do you think a well-rounded arts and sciences education are important in today’s society?

I have been teased for “taking all the majors” by friends and family. It might be, but I believe that interdisciplinary research was of vital importance to my journey. Anthropology, English, and history all are wonderful fields with well-developed bodies of research. It was not enough for me to be adept in just one field; I wanted to know more and more. I truly believed I would be negligent of the depth of knowledge in other fields. This is particularly important in the maturation of an arts and sciences education to understand limitations and opportunities of growth of a given field. If we cut ourselves off from the arts and sciences, we will only stunt our growth as lovers of knowledge.

Your honors thesis was titled “Boneless as I Am: The Memory of Aberrancy in the Ragnars Saga Loðbrókar,” and analyzes of the role of impairment and disability in the Norse Viking age. How did your liberal arts and sciences studies guide you to this thesis topic?

I have always been interested in impairment and disability. From a young age, one of my favorite Disney films was The Hunchback of Notre Dame, from Quasimodo’s resilient strength to Esmeralda's refusal to be complacent. A huge issue in approaching my thesis was how to approach the lives of those who are traditionally left out of history. Ultimately, it is my belief that my multidisciplinary education enabled me to unpack my thesis more fully though a combination of close reading historical and anthropological sources. My education with thoughtful and empathetic teachers also imbued me with consideration for how we write about our subjects. As a scholar, I am interested in pursuing "hard topics" and rejecting the label of "untraceable." Rather than suggest that they are "untraceable," we might work harder to uncover the lives of the past.

You came to the University of Arizona as a junior community-college transfer student. What advice would you give other community-college transfer students looking to study the arts and sciences?

Broaden your horizons, trust yourself, and commit to your decisions. Often times, we can feel limiting thoughts. The thoughts that "if only..." and "maybe if..." keep us committed to failure. As a terrible optimist, I see no point in using words that are not conducive to growth. I have particularly felt these self-limiting thoughts as a woman of color in traditionally male-dominated areas of study. Yet, those very same men have been the greatest support in studying arts and sciences like my thesis advisor, Dr. Paul Milliman, who supported me in the midst of my doubts about my thesis topic. He has also been incredible in informing my next steps in options for graduate school. By shaking limiting thoughts from our minds and hearts, students can commit to any decision they make. Go for it!

As a new graduate, what next steps in your career are you looking forward to pursuing?

I am intent on gaining experience in field work and laboratory methods with the goal of attending graduate school. I would like to attend graduate school in the field of archaeology to specialize in human osteology. I believe that understanding pathology is essential to documenting impairment and may be informative of disability. I also look forward to the opportunity to become familiar in cultural resource management before applying to graduate school. This not only helps to inform osteology, but also supports a necessary level of empathy for descendant communities. As I look forward in my career, it is full of the hope of learning for myself and love for the community I so admire here in the Southwest.

Phi Beta Kappa’s motto is “the love of learning is the guide of life,” and we are dedicated to life-long learning. What do you want to learn next?

Moving forward with Phi Beta Kappa’s motto in mind, I would like to develop my language skills. Language is an arena I have always been drawn to as it draws connections across cultures. As it stands, I am confident in English, Spanish, and Latin. I began learning Japanese during my senior year and found that I really enjoyed it! Apart from my work in Viking Age Scandinavia, I have concentrated much of my studies in Early Modern Japan. It is my hope to one day visit Kyoto, Tokyo, and Hokkaido. Other than language skills, I am also interested in developing skills in baking cakes and sewing clothes as hobbies to do with my daughter. Really, there is so much learning to be done, so prioritizing what I want to learn first is the crux of the matter!

What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?

My mother has always told me, “Just do it, all they can say is no.” I’ve always taken two important lessons from her advice. One is that we should try to reach out to seize that what we want even at the risk of discomfort. Two is that failure and rejection are not to be feared, but what we should fear is not trying at all. In the space of self-doubt, what we really stand to lose is our dreams, however short or long-term they might be. I don’t take her advice to mean that all dreams are immediately attainable. As a single mother, I have had to do a lot of reconfiguring in my life. Rather, her advice serves as an encouragement to go out and do what is necessary to attain your goals. As Sylvia Plath once said, "...everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

What book(s) are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend? 

Do I ever! I am currently reading The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. As far as historical reading goes, my English teacher Dr. Ragini Srinivasan once assigned the book Lose Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman. The book provides provocative narrative of the legacy of African slavery through historical accounts and her first-person experience of her visit to Ghana. The book levels not only with the history of slavery, but also concepts of belonging and not-belonging, to be the metaphorical fugitive. Apart from books, I love the following podcasts: In Hindzsight, which focuses on reflection, renewal, and mental expansion, and The Korean Vegan Podcast, which offers a warm but stern story-telling that unabashedly deals with hard topics. I find both particularly grounding. I hope you will consider one of these works worthy of your time.

Published on January 11, 2023.