Retired faculty member provides gifts for new campus archaeological laboratory


Rob Tolley

Rob Tolley can look up with satisfaction from his home on historic land in Wyoming toward a mountain range where he once did his archaeological field training.

The retired Indiana University East instructor knows the critical importance to budding anthropologists – and college students in many other fields – of hands-on experiences, of multidimensional training.

He also knows it’s a great time to help provide those opportunities to students on the campus in Richmond.

So, Tolley and his wife, Nancy, have stepped up to help fund a lab at IU East that will allow students to be trained in archaeological methodology.

“We just really wanted to see this thing happen,” he said by phone from Wyoming, where it takes him a 45-minute trip to get the mail. “Without that tool, (the student) doesn’t get that true experience, that hands-on experience. Online simulation doesn’t quite get it.”

During his decades at IU East, the energetic Tolley took students on field trips to do surface surveys in Utah and taught prehistory and literatures of the Southwest while camping in southeastern Utah. They could not do digs there, because they lacked a lab to properly process and evaluate artifacts.

IU East Chancellor Kathryn Cruz-Uribe said, “We are deeply appreciative of Rob and Nancy’s generosity and commitment to engage students in learning. While a faculty member at IU East, Rob motivated students in the classroom and during trips to Utah to explore, research, and to expand their knowledge. Rob is a longtime supporter of IU East, inspiring others to give and support the success of our students. We thank Rob and Nancy for their gift.”

The Tolleys’ total gift to the Archaeology Lab will be $50,000. They have already given $25,000 and have pledged $5,000 a year for each of the next five years. This support will bring endless amounts of worth for students, said Katherine Miller Wolf, assistant professor of anthropology.

She is shepherding the lab-building project, which has been in the process since fall 2015. “It has a lot of potential. It’s pretty exciting,” Miller Wolf said. “Their donation is very generous.”

The outdoor facility where students will be able to perform digs will be located in the woods east of campus and will consist of four separate areas. “It’s exciting because this will provide experiences currently unavailable to our students,” Miller Wolf said.

Those hands-on experiences will include:

• The study of forensics, using pig skeletons.
• Excavating into sod mounds.
• Creating a wigwam similar to ones from hundreds of years ago that will be burned down, covered over and then excavated.
• Building stone structures that will be buried and then excavated.

“It’s ambitions, but I am confident we can do it,” Miller Wolf said.

The lab can be used to teach history, sociology and other behavioral and social sciences. “The way to do that is set up simulation for the analysis for artifacts,” Tolley said.

Students using the lab will learn how to do active excavation and site explorations.

“Last year, we took students to two archaeological sites,” Miller Wolf said. “The students really responded well. What it showed us is that students are actually liking this and wanting this.”

The new lab, like anthropology itself, contains multidisciplinary elements.

For example, IU East’s ceramics department will create many of the ceramics from art that will be buried and then excavated.

Another multidisciplinary example is the study of forensics in the criminal justice program. “A crime scene is just a fresh archaeological site,” Tolley said, who started working at IU East in 1979 and became full-time in 1990. “My academic position was multidimensional.”

He said the lab is critical for the future of the university and the field of anthropology. “Archaeological training can loop back into history, accounting and business. You don’t know where those connections will come.”

Tolley’s career loop included earning a master’s in anthropology and working as an aerospace engineer for General Electric. He is also a pilot and co-owned a business that designed and made mountaineering and rescue equipment.

The IU East lab will save students and instructors tremendous amounts of time and money. “They can’t always leave for two months because of other commitments,” Miller Wolf said about students. “I’ll be able to offer field schools right here. Students can get the technical aspects without spending $2,000 or $3,000 to do it.”

Once fully established, it’s anticipated the lab will be self-supporting. One reason is that it will be unique. That’s because it will be available to schools, community organizations and other regional institutions.

It’s envisioned that college students from other campuses will attend field schools at IU East, too. The lab will allow hands-on summer classes for area schoolchildren, educational visits by community clubs such as Girls Inc. and places to experiment for high school classes.

“Miami University has a strong archaeological program, but doesn’t have this type of a lab,” Tolley said, who received his M.A. in Anthropology from the university in Oxford, Ohio, which is just a half-hour south of Richmond. He also served many years as an instructor there. The Ohio native has family connections that reach back for generations in Preble County, Ohio.

In addition to their support of the archaeology lab, the Tolleys also have given financial support for the new Student Events and Activities Center.

Tolley says these gifts are a way of showing appreciation for the support they were given. “We were significantly supported in our degrees,” Tolley said. “We needed to give back as soon as we possibly could … in recognition of what we received.”

Their gift-giving – and the timing – also was enhanced by the fact that their son and daughter have received help in their educational pursuits.

“We had money set aside for their education,” he said. “What a way to use that – to open up opportunities for other students.”

IU East’s campaign goal is $7 million which will help fund a variety of campus initiatives, student scholarships and strategic projects. Find out more about IU East and ways to assist the campus at

This gift counts toward the $2.5 billion campaign, For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign.

For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign is taking place on all IU-administered campuses including IU Bloomington, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, IU East, IU Kokomo, IU Northwest, IU South Bend, and IU Southeast. The campaign will conclude in December 2019 to coincide with IU’s bicentennial year celebration in 2020. To learn more about the campaign, its impact, and how to participate, please visit

Founded in 1936, the Indiana University Foundation maximizes private support for Indiana University by fostering lifelong relationships with key stakeholders and providing advancement leadership and fundraising services for campuses and units across the university. Today, the IU Foundation oversees one of the largest public university endowments in the country, with a market value of approximately $1.9 billion. In fiscal year 2015, IU received $359.3 million in support from the private sector. IU is consistently ranked among the top four of Big Ten universities in annual voluntary support.