University of South Florida

College of Arts & Sciences


Anthropology PhD candidate Jonathan Rodriguez. (Photo by Ari Herrera)

Anthropology PhD candidate Jonathan Rodriguez. (Photo by Ari Herrera)

Anthropology doctoral candidate selected as USF’s first student veteran recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program

USF College of Arts and Sciences doctoral candidate Jonathan Rodriguez started his academic career in history at another USF – the University of Sioux Falls, in South Dakota. However, after leaving his bachelor’s program to enlist in the U.S. Army and spending two tours of duty in Afghanistan, he decided to return to Tampa, where he had lived previously, to complete his undergraduate degree at this USF – the University of South Florida. Now, as a PhD candidate in anthropology, Jonathan has been named a recipient of a 2023-2024 Fulbright U.S. Student Program Research Grant to Dominica.  

Rodriguez is one of six USF students selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for the 2023-2024 academic year and one of 2,200 students nationwide selected for this prestigious award focusing on international education, exchange, and mutual understanding. He is the first USF student veteran selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.  

Starting this fall, Rodriguez will spend 10 months on the Caribbean Island of Dominica, researching the archaeological evidence which characterizes the dynamic nature of a Maroon settlement in the country. In the early 1800s, Maroons escaped slavery, self-emancipated themselves and formed autonomous communities within the mountainous interior in Dominica. Rodriguez’s Fulbright research project will be the first archaeological investigation of a Maroon site in Dominica and is important for the field of archeology and for Dominicans who are interested in learning more about Maroon history and anti-slavery resistance in the Lesser Antilles. 

After serving in the U.S. Army for six years, Rodriguez chose to attend USF to be closer to family and for USF’s veteran-friendly status. Before being discharged from the military, he completed his associate of science degree and sought out a university to complete his bachelor’s degree. USF was at the top of his list.  

“It was known that USF was good with their veteran programs and veteran students, and that is one of the reasons why I came here,” Rodriguez said.  

USF is one of the top veteran-friendly campuses in the country and was ranked 3rd in Florida and 21st among all U.S. institutions in the 2021 Military Times Best: Colleges.  

He credits his military service and training for the academic achievements during his degree programs. Rodriguez received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in history and PhD in anthropology fully funded through the GI Bill and the McKnight Doctoral Fellowship Program, which is designed to address the underrepresentation of African American and Hispanic faculty at colleges and universities in the state of Florida.  

Rodriguez’s experience serving in the Army set him up for success at USF and in applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program through the university’s Office of National Scholars (ONS). The skills that he learned and implemented during his tours of duty in Afghanistan, such as professional management and team building, have been translated to his PhD program, the research to be undertaken in Dominica, and beyond in his future role as a professor, teaching anthropology. 

Rodriguez’s research interests include anti-slavery and anti-colonial resistance movements, as well as Afro-Caribbean religions in colonial Cuba and Ybor City.  

It was during his M.A. program at USF that he was introduced to Caribbean archaeology and Maroon studies. When he enrolled into the doctoral program in applied anthropology at USF, his research plan was to study marronage in the Caribbean.  

As a first-generation Puerto Rican doctoral student, Rodriguez believes more Caribbean people should study “our history, heritage, and culture.”  

His major advisor, Dr. Diane Wallman, informed him about her ongoing archaeological project on the Caribbean island of Dominica.  

Over the past decade, there have been numerous publications on the history of marronage in Dominica, but none of the Maroon encampments on the island have been studied using archaeological research methods.  

Wallman built rapport with a local scholar, Dr. Schuyler Espirit, who will be working with Rodriguez on this community-based research project.  

Espirit is of Maroon descent and her family are proprietors of the Chief Jacko site, where Rodriguez will be primarily doing his Fulbright research project. Espirit is also the founder and director of the Create Caribbean Research Institute at Dominica State College.  

Rodriguez has completed several digital heritage projects while interning at the USF Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEx) including The Digitization of Gambling Devices from Ybor City and the Applied Heritage and Sustainability Research Project on Egmont Key.  

His knowledge of digital photogrammetry will enhance the capacity of the digital heritage program that Espirit has started. In exchange, Espirit will allow Rodriguez to perform the archaeological research with community participants at the Jacko site and teach digital workshops to Dominica State College students and interns at the Create Caribbean Research Institute. 

In reflecting on his time applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Rodriguez encourages all USF students to consider applying for the Fulbright and to utilize the resources of ONS and USF’s Fulbright Program Advisor, Lauren Chambers.  

“You have just got to go with it. Don’t worry about the acceptance rate – put in all your effort and trust the process. It is a long application process, but it is worth it,” Rodriguez said. 

“We are so proud of Jonathan and his status of being named a recipient for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. We are confident in the necessity of his research project for Dominica and look forward to the many collaborations that will be built as a result. As a student veteran continuing to work towards academic success, he truly embodies the spirit of USF and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program,” Chambers said.  

For more information about applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program through ONS, please visit the Office of National Scholars website.

Story by Office of National Scholars (ONS).

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The College of Arts and Sciences is the intellectual heart of the University of South Florida. We are a community of teachers and scholars united in the belief that broadly educated people are the basis of a just, free, and prosperous society. By focusing on the big questions facing all of humanity, we prepare students for successful, socially responsible personal and professional lives. By conducting innovative, interdisciplinary research and scholarship, we advance knowledge in ways that prepare us to address complex social and scientific problems and enhance the quality of life for people and communities.