Wide-Ranging Research

Allison Curley, who minors in Italian, in Rome, Italy.

Allison Curley ’19

By the close of her third year at Dickinson, Allison Curley ’19 had already taken on three research projects—including one that took her to the Canadian Arctic, through the Alpine Climate Change Research Experience program—and presented original research at a major professional conference. Now in her senior year, she discusses those experiences, as well as her fascination with GIS, how she selected her majors and the importance of identifying a personal definition of “success.”


Cranford, New Jersey.

Majors: Earth sciences, with minors in archaeology and Italian.

Clubs and organizations:

Geology Club (president), Italian Club (president), Dickinson Science Magazine (executive copy editor), Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (watershed coordinator), Multilingual Writing Center (tutor), peer tutor program, Montgomery Service Leaders and Learning Community Coordinator.


John Montgomery Scholarship, Alpha Lambda Delta, Kenderdine Student Travel Award, William W. Vernon Research Prize in Geology, Robert Allan Jansen Memorial Student-Faculty Research Grant, Stephen G. Pollock Undergraduate Research Grant and Isabelle and Arthur Watres Student Research Award.

Favorite book:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Favorite movie:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

On choosing a major:

I participated in the Change the World: Leadership and Service Pre-O my freshman year, and through that, I learned about Montgomery Service Leaders (MSL). Upon being accepted to MSL, I started working for ALLARM and began to think that the natural sciences would be a good path for me. When I was looking through the various department web pages, the course descriptions and department mission for earth sciences really struck a chord in me. I decided to take both of the department's intro courses in my second semester. I declared my major in early March, and I have never looked back!

Favorite place on campus:

The GIS lab.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Sriracha chicken.

How I define “useful”:

To me, a "useful" education is one that furnishes ample opportunity to build transferrable "hard" and "soft" skills that students can apply to any number of paths they may take post-graduation. It is also one that allows room for exploration of yourself and the world around you to help you come to a more complete understanding of your place in some bigger picture, and the contributions you can make in different areas. 

Favorite class:

I really liked Surface Processes, taught by [Associate Professor of Earth Sciences] Peter Sak. Geomorphology is something that I was curious about since I first declared my major, so I was glad to be able to take the class. There were only six students, so the environment was very intimate and personal. I got the opportunity to build more of my GIS skills, which I’ve used in several work and research projects. We also did a lot of scientific writing in many different styles/formats, which I have found incredibly valuable. 

Most important thing I’ve learned so far:  

It is important to determine independently how you define "success" and to focus on that as your goal. Other people's metrics for evaluating success don't necessarily mesh with your own priorities, strengths, and values, so that self-reflection will ultimately lead to a more personally satisfying experience than constantly measuring yourself against what others are doing. 

On studying abroad:

In summer 2017 I went independently to the University for Foreigners of Perugia (central Italy) to take an intensive language course with the support of the Italian department faculty. The highlights of that month for me were the art history field trips led by Maria R. Silvestrelli. We walked around new parts of Perugia every Friday afternoon, while Professor Silvestrelli lectured about local history, and we practiced using the artistic analysis skills we were learning in our History of Italian Art and Artistic Terminology and Techniques classes. It was a great way to get to know the local area, and a great way for me to exercise the more creative part of my brain. 

Proudest accomplishment so far:  

Giving a talk about my research at the Society for American Archaeology and being so well-received by the professionals in the audience

Biggest influence:  

Julie Vastine, director of ALLARM, has taught me so much since first semester. Through her friendship and personal support I've learned about community, self-care, evaluating my priorities and valuing my contributions and insights. She and the ALLARM staff have always pushed me to be my best, grow and keep faith in myself. 

About my research:

In my first project with [Assistant Professor of Earth Sciences] Alyson Thibodeau, I used lead isotopes to try to understand changes in the geological source of lead white pigments used to decorate Andean ritual drinking vessels during the colonial period (c. 1530-1830). Professor Thibodeau approached me with the opportunity in spring '17 and I thought it sounded like an amazing chance to meld my interests in geochemistry and archaeology. This experience prepared me well for my next projects, because it allowed me to become deeply involved in the process from background research to analysis to writing and presenting at professional conferences. 

For my thesis research, which I started in spring '18 with Professor Thibodeau, I am analyzing a sediment core from Lake Giles (Pike County, Pennsylvania) for lead isotopes and trace metals to reconstruct the history of particulate lead pollution in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. This is in fulfillment of my senior capstone requirement for my earth sciences major, and I was attracted to this project because I wanted to apply isotope geochemistry to a question of environmental and historical significance. Continuing geochemistry research for my thesis is an opportunity to build on my skillsets by doing more lab work and some field work as well.

My third research experience was in the Canadian high Arctic during summer '18 with the Arctic and Alpine Climate Change Research Experience (AACCRE) program led by Professor [of Earth Sciences] Benjamin Edwards. We went to Alexandra Fiord (central Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada) to do field research on retreating glaciers, water and soil chemistry, bedrock geology and landscape evolution. This was a rewarding experience, because it gave me a taste of performing physically and intellectually demanding fieldwork in a remote and dynamic part of the world. I learned a lot about working in that type of setting and the studies we did are giving me a chance to learn new ways to analyze spatial data. 

Read more Student Snapshots.


Published November 8, 2018