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Young Alumna’s Undergraduate Research at UC Carries into Her Graduate Studies and Ongoing Work in Ukraine this Summer

As an undergraduate at UC, Betty Hensellek participated in research that she has continued in her current doctoral studies at Cornell University, which includes ongoing work this June in Ukraine.

Date: 6/26/2014
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided
The language, art history and fine arts studies and research that Betty Hensellek pursued while an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati are now serving as the foundation for her current work and research as a doctoral student at Cornell University.

Currently, Hensellek, 26, is in Kiev, Ukraine, on a research grant while working at two museums throughout the month of June.
Betty Hensellek in front of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev.
Betty Hensellek in front of the St. Sophia Cathedral Complex in Kiev.

In terms of her research and her Ukrainian friends and colleagues, Hensellek states, “Most of my peers that I’m talking with are very hopeful for the nation’s continuing unity. We’re continuing with our work and research, and I’m incredibly proud to know the people I’ve met here and to have this connection to this country, a connection I hope will continue for the rest of my life.”

After she finishes her work in Ukraine at the end of June, Hensellek will participate in an archaeological excavation in Uzbekistan for the remainder of the summer. In her work in Ukraine, she is documenting first millennium Eurasian metallic body adornment. In Uzbekistan, she will be part of an excavation of first millennium fortifications. In both of these projects, Hensellek is using the Russian language skills she began studying as an undergraduate at UC, where she majored in art history and fine arts in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), while also pursuing a minor in German.

And in the coming academic year, Hensellek, originally from Dayton, Ohio, will complete her second year of doctoral coursework at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, having earned a prestigious 10-month graduate study scholarship to support her in these studies, which will be conducted in German.

Hensellek says that her undergraduate foundation at UC prepared her well for her ongoing studies and her eventual goal of teaching Eurasian art and archaeology or curating an ancient Eurasian museum collection: “At UC, I was able to study German, French and Russian, study abroad, conduct research at the undergraduate level, earn scholarships and research grants and find the support I needed to prepare for graduate school. UC definitely taught me the importance of working hard, going beyond the requirements and standing out. I found a network of professors who helped me to grow and encouraged me in my efforts.”

In fact, states Hensellek, having her UC professors believe in her helped her believe in herself: “I would wonder in my undergraduate studies if I was good enough, but once you obtain that first recognition, scholarship or responsibility, you build on it. I realized at UC that my professors and employers (at the Cincinnati Art Museum) believed in me, and I began to believe a lot more in myself. Overall, I gained a lot of confidence. It allowed me to trust in myself and get where I am today.”

After graduating from UC, Hensellek next earned her master’s from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where she participated in excavations in Turkey and Egypt and visited Russia as part of her master’s thesis work, in addition to traveling to Mongolia and China.
Betty Hensellek in Ukraine
Betty Hensellek in Lviv, Ukraine.

She studies body adornment in the context of ancient burials, specifically the first millennium in Eurasia (specifically present-day Ukraine, Russia and the Central Asian Republics), merging art history and archaeology.

Henselleck explains, “I became interested in body adornment – dress, jewelry and other accoutrements – not only because I love cotemporary fashion, making my own jewelry and sewing, but these types of objects can tell us so much about ancient communities. In the funerary context, these objects worn by the individual tell us a lot about that individual and that community. Dress can tells us so much about not just an individual but also a collective community or state. Fashion and dress are about not only personal identity but can help to illuminate what is locally produced vs. an imported trend. Sometimes, these choices – depending on things like the materiality or a product technique – can signal political, social or economic messages.”

Because of her travels and research, Hensellek says she’s fallen in love not only with her work and research subject area but also with the cultures, languages and people in the Eurasian areas where she’s traveled: “The most-rewarding part is the people you meet. It is talking to and listening to everyone you meet that can be the most important and interesting and fun too! Everything you learn is definitely not just from the books.”