Graduate School

Jeremy Borrelli: Diving Deep to Uncover History


Hometown: Vestal, NY

Age: 23

Major: Maritime Studies, MA

Undergraduate Education: BA Anthropology, SUNY New Platz, 2012

When it comes to research, Jeremy Borrelli doesn't often come up for air. He's just returned from South Africa, where he was engaged in fieldwork on a 300-year-old shipwreck. Each day presents a different adventure for him from diving on a wreck to sitting in the archives pouring through musty books and records. Borrelli finds all of it exciting and challenging, and even though it's a world away, it's part of his ECU Graduate School experience!

How did you choose your area of graduate study?

It was a logical extension of my own love of the oceans and my interest in history. I studied archaeology during my undergraduate career and learned about maritime archaeology during that time. I have always been interested in how humans have interacted with the water. This field of study is my way of discovering more about that fascinating history.

What do you find most challenging/rewarding about your graduate school experience?

Every day, on every project, we experience some sort of adversity. Whether it be poor weather conditions, poor diving conditions such as zero visibility, temperamental equipment, mistakes, etc., each project that I have been a part of has taught me to deal with these inherent challenges in different ways and carry on despite them. It is very rewarding to look at a final site plan of a shipwreck that you and your colleagues were able to map despite not being able to see one foot ahead of you!

What is cool about your area of study and why should people care about it?

Before we had planes and other forms of transportation, the ship was the vehicle in which people travelled the globe. As a result, remains of human maritime activity exist worldwide. This includes not only the wrecks of those ships lost at sea, but also the ports and harbors, lighthouses, fortifications, and other historic and prehistoric cultural remains in addition to the other intangible values people place on water. Maritime archaeology is the study of all these important features of our collective past that have only begun to be tapped into. Plus, the ocean is a relatively new arena of exploration, whereby new technology and methods are constantly being developed and utilized within the field to look into the new depths of human history.

Tell us about any academic awards/recognitions/publications you may have achieved:

In my undergraduate studies I was awarded the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, and SUNY New Paltz Anthropology Department Outstanding Graduate Award, graduating Summa Cum Laude with Anthropology Honors. I was also given the Donald Bishko Scholar-Athlete Award for obtaining the highest GPA among male student-athletes. Upon coming to ECU, I was also awarded the Janette M. Boyette Fellowship Award and a graduate assistantship at the Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Conservation Laboratory.

What recognition are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of the assistantship I was awarded at the QAR Lab because when I first learned about maritime archaeology, I read about the QAR Dive Down Program and my interest in the project was piqued. From then on, I aspired to get involved in some form with the excavation of the wreck, so getting to work with the artifacts in the lab was an exciting opportunity for me.

How do you think your ECU graduate education has helped you?

My graduate education through the Maritime Program has helped me in more ways than I can mention. Mainly it has given me the hands-on experience working in the field and in real-life situations where I have been given the opportunity to make mistakes in a controlled setting and then learn from them so that in the future I know what works and what doesn't. It is the practical knowledge that has helped me most with my own research and internship work, which is invaluable for someone looking to make the transition from student to professional.

What would you say to someone considering ECU as a potential graduate school?

ECU, like most schools, is what you make of it. There are plenty of great opportunities through the graduate school to accomplish whatever your goals are, whether it’s funding for research, travel, attending conferences, or working locally. It is up to the student to come arrive knowing what they want to get out of their graduate experience and make it happen through those opportunities. Plus, the campus vibe is saturated with school pride. On game day, the whole town wears purple and gold to show the community's support of the Pirates!

Hobbies: I have been a competitive swimmer for eight years. I continue swimming as often as I can. I have recently begun to surf since moving to North Carolina and hope to continue with that sport as well. I am always looking to challenge myself physically and so every year I make it a point to sign up for obstacle courses such as the Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. Other than that I enjoy shooting and editing movies and hope to incorporate that in my future work.

6:00 am Check the weather report to determine if diving conditions are favorable
7:30 am-
8:00 am
Meet team members at the Museum to load dive gear and SCUBA cylinders into the truck
8:30 am-
9:00 am
Meet at the launch with the rest of the dive team. Gear up for the dive and load additional gear such as survey equipment, dredge pumps and hoses, cameras, onto the boat.
9:30am Review the day's tentative dive plan with the team and determine goals. Head to the site.
10:00am Arrive on the site and assess the conditions. 
10:00am-3:00pm If the conditions are okay, we proceed with dive operations. The better the conditions, the more an individual diver can accomplish in a single dive. Some dives can take up to or over an hour. Each diver does 1-3 dives per day.
3:30pm Return to the dock, unload the boat and put on trailer. Put gear back into the trucks and return to the Museum.
4:00pm Unload the gear at the Museum and thoroughly clean SCUBA gear.
4:30pm Check the next day's weather report. If it looks good, we fill SCUBA cylinders for the next day's dive. 
5:00pm-6:00pm Catalogue the maps drawn that day and transcribe field notes. Each diver's notes are used so that everyone involved has a voice in the interpretation process for the shipwreck or site. 
8:00pm Go home and have beer with colleagues and celebrate a good day of diving!


College & Dept.: Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, History

Year: Second

Clubs & Organizations: Maritime Studies Association, SCUBA Club 

Favorite class: Any Maritime Studies Field School

Professor who has influenced you the most: Dr. Lynn Harris has been instrumental in helping me determine the best avenue for my research abroad and set me up with the opportunity to travel overseas and work for the IZIKO Museum of South Africa. Her guidance has been very helpful, and I am very fortunate for the chance to work with her on my thesis.

Dream job: I will be happy with any job that allows me to engage in diving. My dream job would be working for the State of North Carolina's Underwater Archaeology Branch helping to look at the many wrecks that are so close to home. I would also like the chance to work with an NGO in South Africa to help further facilitate maritime archaeology in the country whose maritime history is so abundant and diverse.

Your words to live by: "When life hands you lemons, just forget the lemons and bail."

Significant life lesson you’ve learned while at ECU: "Embrace the suck." Something that has been in the program for a while, basically telling us that we often work in less than ideal conditions on a variety of different sites and we might as well embrace it and carry on because the work still needs to get done.