From Rock Collecting to Research

Amanda Santilli '17

Amanda Santilli ’17 

As a kid, Amanda Santilli ’17 spent many days looking for dinosaur bones in her backyard. With recent trips all over the world to study topography as a Dickinson earth sciences major, she’s making those childhood dreams come true. Below, she talks about her favorite class, her recent research and more.


Earth sciences.

Clubs and organizations:

Geology Club, Dickinson Christian Fellowship, Dickinson Dog House, Astronomy Club, Physics Club.


Henry Hanson Research Prize and Glatzel Scholarship.

Favorite book:

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Favorite movies:

Any Marvel movie and also The Martian.

Favorite place on campus:

Kaufman Hall.

Favorite Dining Hall food:


On choosing a major:

I decided to become an earth sciences major before I even came to Dickinson. As long as I can remember, I have had a rock collection of some kind, and a strong earth sciences department was one criterion I used when looking at colleges. During my first year at Dickinson, I took the Volcanic Planet seminar with Professor [of Earth Sciences] Ben Edwards. That class sealed my decision to be an earth sciences major, and Ben is still my advisor.

Favorite class so far:

My favorite class is actually a class I’m taking this semester, Volcanology. Ever since my First-Year Seminar on volcanoes, I have wanted to dive deeper (not literally) into the subject. We have done so many amazing experiments that really put what we are learning right in front of us in a really visual way.

As a kid, I wanted to be …

… a paleontologist. I would spend an entire afternoon carefully picking out the plastic dinosaur bones from the brick of sand that they sell as kids’ toys. I would also try to break apart rocks in my backyard, looking for bones. I still remember when in first-grade my teacher asked me what I wanted to be, and she was amazed that I knew how to say and spell “paleontologist,” and even knew what it meant.

On traveling abroad:

I did not spend a semester abroad, but I have traveled abroad with the earth sciences department and alumni. I have traveled to Greenland, Iceland, Costa Rica, and, most recently, Arizona and New Mexico, over spring break.

One experience that stands out occurred while on the trip to Greenland. We got kicked off an island by a mother polar bear and her two cubs. We were kayaking around different islands and stopped on an island for lunch. Turns out, they smelled our lunch and decided to come to the island to investigate. We quickly packed everything up and got off the island, but one of our guides ended up having to spray the mother with bear spray, since she kept coming closer. We were safe, but it was an incredible experience.

Little-known hobby:

I did martial arts for eight years before coming to Dickinson, and I ended up achieving a second-degree black belt in Kempo karate. Slightly less surprising is that I greatly enjoy collecting rocks, minerals and sands.

On research:

I have spent this past year doing student-faculty research with [Assistant] Professor [of Archaeology] Maria Bruno, manipulating data that we took this summer in Bolivia. In Bolivia, we mapped areas around archaeological sites to understand the overall topography of the area. I am now using the data points we collected to make maps of the areas and features in the areas.

Professor Bruno was looking for a student who had taken both the intro and advanced GIS classes to come to Bolivia with her and [GIS Specialist] Jim Ciarrocca. I had taken the classes as well as a class in the archaeology department with her, so she asked if I would be interested. I saw it as an opportunity to push myself by being in the field in a very different place for five weeks and an opportunity to see if I would like to pursue GIS in the future.

I learned so many valuable field skills, such as using a specific GPS and what life is like at about a 12,000-feet elevation. I also learned general life skills, such as what I wanted to look for after graduation, whether that be fieldwork, research or something different. I also had the opportunity to present the research I have been working on.

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Published May 5, 2017