Fictional Adventure in Egypt To Become Reality for Top UC Davis Graduate

In a white lab coat and goggles, Brooke Morey works in a research lab
Brooke Morey, to be recognized as the top graduating senior at UC Davis, has worked in the Archaeometry Lab on campus. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

One of the books in the “Magic Tree House” series for children takes a brother and sister to the Egyptian pyramids.

Brooke Morey of Redwood City, California, was 8 when she joined the characters on that adventure and read the book’s nonfiction companion about the pyramids and mummies. “I was just hooked.”

Then and there she resolved to become an Egyptologist. “Every decision I’ve made in regard to my academic career has been with that in mind.”

Morey will be recognized as the top graduating senior at UC Davis when thousands celebrate earning a bachelor’s degree at five commencements at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center June 14 to 16. She will be awarded the University Medal — for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service, and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society — and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology at the 2 p.m. ceremony on Friday.

“In her scholarly achievements, her ethical outlook and her personal story, she truly represents the best of UC Davis undergraduates,” Beth E. Levy, associate professor of music, wrote on behalf of the College of Letters and Science honors committee that nominated Morey for the medal. “She is a stellar student, ambitious and cutting-edge researcher and empathetic citizen of our community and the world.”

‘Passionate and stubbornly focused’

As she grew up, there were many outside of her family who questioned her ability to find a good-paying career in Egyptology. It didn’t bother her. “I’ve always been passionate and a stubbornly focused person,” she said.

Morey said she chose to attend UC Davis not only because the warm and sunny climate lifts her mood, but more for the opportunities of a large research university, including being involved in lab research.

She dug into anthropology and archaeology; studied the Arabic language; conducted, presented and published scientific research; and explored human rights including that of cultural heritage.

Earning nothing less than an A, she took courses in human evolutionary biology, archaeology, urban anthropology, mythology, mummies, dinosaurs, museum practices, statistics, business writing and more.

Fusing human rights with Egyptology

Morey refined her goal after taking an introductory course in human rights to fulfill a general education requirement and eventually pursuing a minor in the field. Long aiming to be a professor, she now wants to spearhead a change in Egyptology from a colonial discipline that involved looting to one that protects cultural heritage.

“I am here to push the culture forward and transform Egyptology into a modern, just and human rights-oriented field,” she said.

Language study

To demonstrate respect for future Egyptian colleagues and better forge personal and professional relationships, Morey wants to become fluent in Arabic. She studied the language for two years, participated in voluntary classes in the colloquial Egyptian dialect and even learned to cook the national dish of Egypt, koshari, as a member of the Arabic Language Club.

“It’s important to value not just the past of a country but to appreciate the people and culture of the now,” she said.

Building research skills

In the Archaeometry Lab, Morey helped analyze the remains of ancient deer from archaeological sites in California to reconstruct the diet and migratory behaviors of deer and the ancient people with whom they interacted. She gained skills in laboratory procedure and techniques in faunal identification, chemical processing and data analysis. She published and presented her research at the annual conference of the Society of California Archaeology.

More recently, she has been analyzing data from human teeth to investigate early childhood diet from a Roman period site in southern Egypt.

Her research has received support from the Provost’s Undergraduate Fellowship, the Hanson Family Undergraduate Research Publication Award, an Undergraduate Research Center Travel Award and the Sacramento Archeological Society.

Up close with artifacts

Over three summers, she was an intern at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, home to the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on exhibit in western North America. In 2021-22, she was a student assistant at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art on campus.

During her study of fantasy literature at Oxford University in the summer of 2022, Morey was a frequent visitor to the six galleries dedicated to ancient Egypt at the university’s Ashmolean University. At the British Museum in London, she saw the Rosetta Stone, important to Egyptology because its decree in three scripts was the key to deciphering hieroglyphs.

Brooke Morey wears a keffiyeh against a background of trees.
Brooke Morey, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, wears a kaffiyeh to school every day to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people and draw attention to their plight. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Impact on campus and beyond

As director of special projects for the Interdepartmental Program in Human Rights Studies, Morey conducted research and interviews to support the establishment of a UNESCO chair in human rights and the humanities on campus. For the California History-Social Science Project, she helped draft curriculum on human rights now being taught in public schools in the Fresno area.

“I didn’t think that at age 22 I could write curriculum and meet with UNESCO officials to advance human rights,” she said. “It’s been very interesting and very fulfilling.”

Extracurricular activities

A member of the Women’s Club Volleyball team, Morey served as team captain for two seasons, vice president in 2023 and alumni coordinator. In 2022, she was honored with the Coach’s Award for dedication to the program and her positive attitude.

Becoming friends with students of Middle Eastern and North African descent, Morey said she learned more about human rights abuses in the region. She got involved with Students for Justice in Palestine more than a year ago. Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, she said, “I have attended protests, walk-outs and sit-ins decrying the genocide in Gaza.”

She wears a kaffiyeh as a shawl to school every day “to demonstrate solidarity and draw attention to the plight of the Palestinian people.”

Master’s program and trip to Egypt

In August, Morey will begin a two-year master’s program in Egyptology and continue her studies in the Arabic language at Indiana University Bloomington. She is receiving coverage of her tuition as well as $20,000 in annual support through the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship Program.

Morey will travel to Egypt for the first time next summer for her initial field work in archaeology in the Valley of the Kings, the burial site of many pharaohs.

The Magic Tree House adventure in Egypt is fiction, but education is making Morey’s a reality.

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Press kit for UC Davis Commencement with photos of Brooke Morey

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