Introducing the Nolan Award for Academic Excellence and Service for Graduate Students

Debbie Cutler
Lee Johns

Lee Johns


Two 2022 Graduate Students Win New Anthropology Award

Two Anthropology graduate students finished their academic year with a welcome surprise. PhD student Lee Johns and master’s student Emma Tinker-Fortel both received the first-ever Nolan Award for Academic Excellence and Service.

The award is named after Justin Nolan, an alum who earned a master’s in 1996 and a PhD in 2000, both in Anthropology. Nolan continued on to have a successful career until his untimely death of a heart attack at age 48 in May 2020. The Nolan Award is funded from a substantial gift he bequeathed to the department in his last will and testament.

“Justin’s only specification is it (his gift) be used for graduate education,” said Lisa Sattenspiel, department chair and Anthropology Professor. “Our department’s faculty decided to use his generous gift to create a meaningful award that allows us to honor our most successful graduate students who are in the middle of the PhD or master’s program.”


Photo of Emma Tinker-Fortel

Emma Tinker-Fortel

Sattenspiel says she fondly remembers Justin as one of the “friendliest, most fun people” around the department. “He was just like sunshine that would come into the room,” she recalls. “I had him in at least one class, and he was just a joy to have – smart and creative­ – and treated everyone equally.”

“I remember one staff appreciation day, after he had moved back to the University of Arkansas where he was faculty, I walked into the department office and there was this huge bouquet of flowers that he sent to the staff. He was just like that, unbelievably generous.”

Lee Johns, one of the award recipients, thought he was attending a year-end department ceremony to present his research on Florida’s prehistoric Mill Cove Complex stone tool technology. Receiving this new graduate-level award left him quite surprised.

“My first thought was I want to make sure I’m worthy,” Johns said. “I will intentionally use it in a way Dr. Nolan would have appreciated. He was always interested in mentoring others, and I think at my level it’s time for me to mentor people as well.”

Tinker-Fortel said she was equally surprised.

I'm honored to receive the Nolan Award, especially after learning about Justin Nolan's legacy of scholarship, generosity, and kindness. I'm grateful to the Nolan family for their support, as well as the anthropology faculty who selected me for this award. - Emma Tinker-Fortel

The Nolan Award will become an annual Anthropology Department graduate-level award, creating a lasting legacy in his remembrance. Recipients will receive a plaque and a one-time stipend.