By Elizabeth Labiner
Dr. Danielle Adams earned her PhD in summer 2018 from the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, with a minor in Cultural Anthropology from the School of Anthropology. Initially it might seem somewhat surprising, then, that during her time at the U of A, Adams won the NASA Space Grant Graduate Fellowship. This fellowship was one of several exciting doors that would be opened due to her dissertation research on the development of Arabian astronomy from pre-Islam into the first centuries of the Abbasid Period, and a major step in the progress toward her eventual role as Deputy Director for Marketing and Communications at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.
As Deputy Director for Marketing and Communications, Adams is responsible for the strategic marketing of Lowell Observatory, including its ongoing astronomical research and its many opportunities for education and visitation by the general public. She enthusiastically recounts the myriad benefits of her doctoral work in preparing her for her current role:
My academic program at UA was highly interdisciplinary, combining fields of MENA area studies, Arabic literature, cultural anthropology and astronomy. My advisors and mentors in both the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies and the School of Anthropology supported my unique program of study and dissertation topic in cultural astronomy. Travel grants from these departments and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies allowed me to interface with diverse scholars at academic conferences around the world. I also earned a NASA Space Grant Graduate Fellowship, through which I was able to disseminate my cultural astronomy research to the general public (including a website I built at onesky.arizona.edu). Disseminating astronomical research to the public is also now one of my objectives at Lowell Observatory. This interdisciplinarity culminated in designing my dissertation defense as a public planetarium program at UA's Flandrau Planetarium and Science Center, the first time a defense had been held under the dome at Flandrau.
Interdisciplinary success was vital when Adams was contacted via LinkedIn by a recruiter who had been tasked with finding a candidate who had both experience in strategic marketing and a background in astronomy. Lowell Observatory wanted to fill the role with a marketer who could speak the language of astronomy, and Adams was one of few candidates who possessed strong skills in both areas.
“I view marketing as applied anthropology, as both endeavors must begin with the ability to see the world through the eyes of other people,” she explains. “There is great emphasis on the customer experience in many companies today, and skills like participant-observation and ethnography make anthropologists well-suited to filling these kinds of roles in customer-centric organizations. Furthermore, the ability to work effectively across departmental boundaries in a company stems from having an interdisciplinary perspective in school, allowing me to connect the dots in patterns that sometimes others cannot see.”
Adams looks forward to a long, fruitful career at Lowell Observatory. “I get to spend every day operating from my strengths in marketing, anthropology, and astronomy, and I do this at one of America's great observatories. My marketing efforts help astronomers disseminate their research and offer people of all ages ways to experience the awe and wonder of the night sky. On top of all this, I get to deploy my own cultural astronomy research to enrich the public programs at Lowell Observatory and beyond. It's a perfect fit.”
Adams’ continuing work bridges cultures and communities, bringing us all a little closer to the stars -- and to each other.
Photo: Adams alongside the 122-year-old 24" Alvin Clark telescope at Lowell Observatory.