May 19-25, 2000
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Sullivan Award winners show deep commitment to caring
Here's the youngest 'Hoo
Wagner exemplifies value of mentoring

Rector unearths love for human evolution

Dyslexia forced graduate to create own path for success
Boiler passes a special test
Already a pioneering online journalist, graduate plans to take on TV reporting
Student's mentoring program takes root
Medical student with passion for public health earns second master's degree
Groundskeeper has watched U.Va. and its landscape grow
Help wanted: not just for high-tech fields, but for teaching jobs, too
BUCKS' vision to give back to community will continue
Watson discovers teaching and takes history to the Web
Seeing double
Heard's degree painted with broad strokes
May graduate's dream shows how education transforms lives
Amy Lynn Rector
Stephanie Gross
Amy Lynn Rector

Rector unearths love for human evolution

By Ida Lee Wootten

Although she'll only be 19 when she graduates from U.Va. May 21, Amy Lynn Rector is already engaged in world-class research that will likely shed insights on the origins of humans.

At 18 she was accepted by the Institute for Human Origins to participate in a field study in South Africa, where a team of top scholars is attempting to reconstruct the environment that existed 3 million years ago when hominids, the human-like species from which humans likely evolved, roamed the area. Team members camped for six weeks near an old hyena den, searched for fossils and identified bones and animals in an effort to understand the ecology that supported the early hominids.

Fascinated by evolution because it encompasses so many disciplines, such as geology, biology, philosophy and religion, Rector may be one of the youngest people to work at such an excavation site. Rising at dawn with the research team, she thrived on the hard work at the South African site, such as breaking rocks with sledge hammers to look for fossils and excavating a mountaintop site.

Photo Courtesy of Amy Rector
Amy Rector, who, at 19, is graduating from U.Va., worked at this Institute for Human Origins field study site in South Africa last year. Team members camped here for six weeks, searched for fossils and identified bones in an effort to unearth the ecology that supported human ancestors 3 million years ago.

In recognition of such pioneering work, the institute has awarded Rector a six-year fellowship to pursue a master's and doctorate in paleoecology, the study of ancient environments, at Arizona State University. It appears she will be a standout in the small, highly competitive field of human evolution, her adviser, Jeffrey Hantman said.

From her experience, Rector wrote a distinguished-major thesis on the basic methods of environmental reconstruction. "Ten years from now I think Amy will have contributed tremendous field work and publications on our human ancestors in Ethiopia and South Africa," predicts Hantman, director of U.Va.'s archaeology program.

Rector's love of archaeology began in the third grade after reading Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear -- a novel that Hantman assigns in his U.Va. class. "After reading that book, there was no turning back. I've wanted to study human evolution ever since," Rector remembers.

A native of Richmond, she enrolled in Mary Baldwin College's Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at 15. She transferred as a second-year student to U.Va. a year later at 16.

"Those in the orientation session for transfer students teased me when they found out how old I was, but it's never been a problem since. I think they've forgotten how old I am," Rector said, noting that they have been her roommates and best friends.

Rector also pursued other interests at U.Va. She has been active in the Honor Society and in club sports. She has served as president of Phi Eta Sigma sorority, and she is a member of the Golden Key and the National Society for Collegiate Scholars.

Despite her many accomplishments, Rector is modest. If pressed to offer advice to other young, gifted students, she suggests, "Never be arrogant. Just do the work."

See press release on Graduate Unearths Truths About Human Evolution


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