Christy Martnison is a non-traditional student majoring in anthropology.

Christy Martinson is a non-traditional student majoring in anthropology.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Five classes. Three teenage children. And one year until graduation.

This is 37-year-old Christy Martinson’s life.

It’s a busy life with little free time, but she said she prefers it that way. She doesn’t mind sacrificing sleep due to balancing a full class schedule and work. For years since dropping out of high school due to unforeseen family circumstances and completing her G.E.D., she’s had the desire to go on to college.

Martinson has since unearthed her dormant love of archeology at Clemson University. Through her time as a student in Clemson’s sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department, she’s had multiple opportunities to show her kids just how valuable a college education can be. A comment from one of her children pushed her to pursue her dream, and also teach them a lesson.

“We were sitting around the dinner table talking about school,” Martinson said. “I told them not going to college was not an option. Then, my kids said, ‘Well, you’ve never been.’ I always knew I wanted to go back, but that was just the driving push. Kids learn by what you do, not what you say. It’s something I want for them, and I want them to understand the importance of school.”

Martinson enrolled at Greenville Technical College in 2013 and fell in love with anthropology. But before she declared it her major, she decided to see what anthropology was all about.

“I searched on the internet for places that would accept volunteers and students who aren’t necessarily experienced,” she said. “So, I went to Italy for a human osteology boot camp and that was all she wrote. I was hooked!”

She traveled to Italy to work on the Apolline project, and studied skeletal remains. Later that year, she also did a dig at Walnut Grove Plantation with Archaeological Society of South Carolina, Upstate Chapter, and a year later went to Romania with a friend she had met in Italy.

The field work solidified Martinson’s decision.

While at Greenville Tech, she immersed herself in college, from classes to leadership roles within Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and the Honors Program at the school. She was also chosen to partner with Continuing Education, a CMT initiative promoting secondary education.

“I was interviewed, and I told my story,” Martinson said. “I was supposed to go to a conference and participate on a student panel in Washington, D.C., but we got snowed in.”

After two years at Greenville Tech, she transferred to Clemson after researching the professors. However she first became aware of Clemson’s anthropology major after joining the anthropology club’s Facebook group while at Greenville Tech. She fell in love with the Clemson during her tour and decided to continue on her path of studying anthropology. She picked her minor in geology after taking a geology class.

“Dr. Coulson took the time to talk with me after class and told me about the Geology Museum,” Martinson said. “I met with Dr. Adam Smith at the museum and offered to volunteer. Working in the fossil prep lab is what initially got me engaged.”

She is now working as an employee of the Clemson University Bob Campbell Geology Museum, and keeps herself busy with various projects.

“I wanted hands-on experience dealing with paleo artifacts. For me, I’m all about hands-on experiences that I can afford,” she said with a laugh. “It’s the hands-on experiences that really set you apart in the field.”

Once she graduates from Clemson, she has big plans.

“My goal is to pay off student debt, get my kids into college and then move abroad for my masters,” she said.

Christy Martinson works on her project of excavating animal bones at the Clemson University Geology Museum.

Christy Martinson works on her project of excavating modern ungulate bones at the Clemson University Bob Campbell Geology Museum.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

She plans to study osteoarchaeology, the study of bones within an archaeological context, along with artifacts and grave sites.

After years of fieldwork, she eventually plans to teach and inspire students like she’s been inspired by her anthropology professors.

“It’s the teachers that really help you learn to carve your way out in the world,” Martinson said.

One such teacher is anthropology professor Melissa Vogel, who finds Martinson inspiring.

“It’s really been a joy to have her in class. She’s so interested and asks really good questions. Despite the fact that she has the added responsibilities, she has really gone out of her way to keep her grades up,” Vogel said. “She’s impressed me with how she’s able to meet our high academic standards.”

Because of her Norwegian ancestry, Martinson also hopes to locate more Viking settlements in North America, since there is very little information known about their occupation in the New World. She would love to rewrite history.

But for now, her goal is graduation. Between school, home life and work, she wears many hats. How does she juggle all of it?

Her answer is simple.

“Determination,” she said. “Failure isn’t an option. I have three people depending on me. Failure is not an option. It’s just that simple.”

And the naysayers make her push harder to accomplish everything and succeed in college.

“I come from a very long line of strong Viking women. I’ve never believed someone when they’ve told me I can’t do something. I will show them that I can, and I will dazzle it,” she said. “I’m a Viking. I can do this. This is the biggest thing I can do for my children. I’m showing them that college is worth it.”