Earthwatch Co-PI Amelia Villaseñor, Ph.D.

Amelia Villaseñor, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Anthropology
The University of Arkansas

Amelia is an ecologist who studies the past. She focuses on two main areas of study that investigate living ecosystems and help researchers predict how ecosystems will respond to a future of climate and human induced changes: 1) the environments that influenced early human evolution and 2) the effects of humans on ecosystems in the past.

Why are you interested in your research focus?

I grew up in Phoenix, AZ. Deserts are still my favorite ecosystem. Many of my formative memories are set in the backseat of a car on long road trips, watching craggy mountains fade into the distance or light filter through the piñon forests of the Southwest. I was 21 when I had the opportunity to take my first international plane trip to Ethiopia. With ASU’s Hadar field school, I found my first hominin (a human ancestor’s) tooth in the same region where the famous “Lucy” fossils were found. Ever since, I’ve been working to combine my love of nature with my desire to understand our human story.

What is one of your favorite moments in the field?

My favorite part of field work is getting to know my (often distinguished) colleagues in an informal setting. One day, I was heading to a field site in Arizona’s petrified forest with my much older and very distinguished graduate advisor. We made a pit stop by the side of the road and because I was dithering and enjoying the beauty of the bright red and orange hills, everyone was already back in the car by the time I decided to do my business. I quickly did what I needed to behind the car and jumped back in the front seat by my advisor. She said, very dryly, “you gave the phrase, ‘rear view mirror’ a whole new meaning.”

  • 2017—Ph.D., Hominid Paleobiology, The George Washington University
  • 2014—MPhil, Hominid Paleobiology, The George Washington University
  • 2008—B.A. Anthropology, Barrett Honors College, Arizona State University
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