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Before and after the Spanish conquest, indigenous Andean people used Andean khipus, — knotted, colored cords — to record various types of information. Farah Arabe ’04 (Lima, Peru) is working as an EXCEL Scholar this summer to help Galen Brokaw, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures, unlock their meanings.

“There are over 500 khipus that have survived in private and public collections around the world,” says Brokaw, “but we don’t know how to read them because that knowledge was lost through the process of the conquest and subsequent colonization of the Andes.”

One of Arabe’s main tasks is to create a database to record the myriad knots, colors, and patterns of the khipus in hopes of cracking the code.

“The Inca khipus were a system of communication in which knotted ropes dyed of different colors recorded amounts and measurements and facilitated mathematical calculations for accountability and construction purposes in the Inca Empire,” says Arabe, a mechanical engineering major with a minor in economics and business. “Finding statistical patterns that reveal the exact content and appropriate reading of the khipus is the main objective of this project.”

As a native Spanish speaker and resident of Peru, Arabe was intrigued about making a contribution to the topic. She was also interested in tackling a subject far from her major. Despite the departure from engineering, Arabe has gleaned many benefits from the project.

“The skills acquired through this research can be applied to any career,” she says. “Meticulous analysis, applying mathematical concepts and critical use of computer software together with the ability to relate and work with experts are all skills that I will definitely use in my career later on.”

Arabe cites this EXCEL experience as one of many positive experiences she has had at Lafayette.

“I think Lafayette gives great academic and extracurricular opportunities to its students, encouraging their complete and personal development,” she says. “Lafayette not only forges competitive professionals, but human beings of high caliber.”

When choosing a college, Arabe used specific criteria: “I was looking for a college that would have a small population, a wide array of extracurricular activities, and high academic performance. Lafayette not only seemed to fulfill these expectations outstandingly, but showed a special interest in international students.

“Lafayette exceeded my expectations. It showed the academic competitiveness and extracurricular activity that I was looking for and, furthermore, welcomed me with great programs for international students, such as the Host Parent Program or the International Students’ Association. Moreover, Lafayette surprised me with the variety of opportunities it offers to develop such potential — EXCEL research, tutoring services, easy access to professors, personal interaction with faculty, and Career Services, to name a few.”

Superior research facilities have been another attractive feature. “Lafayette offers the technology and instrumentation necessary for students to have an active and interactive learning process,” she says. “For example, as a first-year engineering student, I had the opportunity of using sophisticated machinery to design and manufacture a strain gauge. Having this kind of hands-on participation enhances any student’s ability and willingness to learn. Additionally, Lafayette has programs that let you further explore the field of your interest or new ones. The EXCEL Scholar program, for example, gives me the opportunity to learn about a topic that is not covered in my major, and helps me develop skills that cannot be easily developed in class.”

Arabe believes Lafayette provides a warm reception for international students as well.

“It was not hard adjusting to such a welcoming college,” she explains. “Resident advisors, our host parents, and the other international students made me feel at home.
All these people made my adjustment to Lafayette an enjoyable learning experience, rich in personal relations, cultural interaction, and social events.”

For incoming international students, she offers the following advice: “Be willing to try new activities and explore fields you thought might not be of your interest. Be very interactive and open to the American culture. Take advantage of the fact that Lafayette is a small school that will give you the opportunity to establish long-lasting relationships with students and faculty. Lafayette offers great academic, financial and job opportunities. Look for them!”

Farah Arabe is an ESL Writing Associate, a residence advisor, a prison tutor, and public relations officer for the Hispanic Society of Lafayette. She is also a member of the a capella singing group Cadence, the Newman Association, and the International Students Association.

Categorized in: Academic News