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UW Student Goes from Tiny Wyoming Town to Harvard Grad Studies

April 27, 2017
woman sitting at table examining bones
UW student Dalyn Grindle, of Pavillion, takes measurements of human bones in a UW Department of Anthropology lab. Grindle has earned a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship to study at Harvard University this fall. (UW Photo)

When Dalyn Grindle was deciding on a career, she was encouraged to go into a professional track, such as becoming a teacher or a nurse, because those are solid, always-in-demand employment opportunities for Wyoming students. But, she woke up one day and decided she wanted to be an archaeologist and see the world -- which, in a sense, was terrifying to her.

“Because no one I knew of -- family and friends -- had done something like that,” Grindle says. “But, people from Wyoming are a special breed, and it reflects in the way that we approach our work.”

That work ethic has led Grindle from the tiny Fremont County community of Pavillion (about 230 residents) to UW, where she graduated last December with a joint bachelor’s degree in anthropology, and environment and natural resources, with a minor in drawing.

But, her story doesn’t end there. The first-generation college student has earned a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to begin independent research, conducting a zooarchaeological study on reindeer domestication this fall at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Out of more than 250 applicants, Grindle, an honors student and McNair Scholar, was among 10 students accepted to Harvard’s anthropology Ph.D. program. The Graduate Research Fellowship is one of the nation’s most competitive awards for graduate studies. About 2,000 students received fellowships from among more than 13,000 applicants this year. It offers a three-year annual $34,000 stipend, as well as international research and professional development opportunities. Grindle received additional funding from Harvard University.

“I think success is the result of a whole lot of hard work, which sounds cliché, but I sincerely think that anyone can achieve anything if they put in the work for it,” she says. “I certainly wasn’t handed anything once I came to UW; I sought out and took advantage of anything that I thought would be a good experience for me. And I think another kind of key for success is to allow yourself to dream big and to think that you can do it.”

The 2012 Wind River High School graduate, the daughter of Nora and David Grindle, is the first member of her family to receive a college degree. She received the Trustees’ Scholar Award to attend UW but really didn’t know what she wanted to study.

Luckily, for her, Grindle sort of stumbled upon UW’s archaeology program. She says the department’s professors are relatively well-rounded, and their work is important to the field. The department also allowed for several extracurricular opportunities, including employment with the UW Archaeological Repository, conducting research at archaeological field schools and conducting undergraduate research through the McNair Scholars Program.

man and woman examining trays of items on table
Dalyn Grindle interned at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History last summer. Here, she works with her mentor Torbin Smith, head of the museum’s anthropology department. (Smithsonian Institution Photo)

“I also sought out volunteer lab experience. These opportunities were good both because they are experience within my field for graduate school, and because they provided ways to learn hands on, which is something that I really value,” Grindle says.

Her interest in traveling also was honed during study-abroad programs in New Zealand, Australia, the Canary Islands (Spain) and Croatia, because she learned how to deal with challenging and new situations. Also, participating in UW’s McNair Undergraduate Research Program was a major boost in her career choices. The program for first-generation college students encourages students to attend graduate school.

“McNair also was a super amazing opportunity that I was able to take advantage of at UW. Research experience as an undergraduate is invaluable for grad school, because it makes one more experienced and less of a greenhorn in the lab,” she says. “It’s also great to pair with coursework, because it provides a space where the theories and practices that I was learning from books in class were applicable to a real-life, meaningful project.”

During her UW career, Grindle was selected from a highly competitive applicant pool for an internship at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History last summer. Her project involved indigenous uses of sturgeon in the Pacific Northwest. She also completed a McNair summer internship in 2015 led by UW Department of Anthropology professors James Ahern and Rick Weathermon. Grindle examined the stable isotopes and bone diagenesis of 15th century human remains from Baraceva Cave, Croatia.

Thinking of where she came from and where her career is now headed, Grindle never thought in her wildest dreams that she would attend a prestigious Ivy League school, especially coming from a small Wyoming agricultural community.

“I think one of the biggest obstacles facing rural students is the general lack of anyone around them doing something like this,” she says. “But, Wyoming applicants are strong applicants because we are different from what Ivy League schools usually get, and diversity on university campuses is really important in order to generate thought.”

Her career goals are to become a professional archaeologist and research scientist studying the domestication of large-bodied ungulates such as horses, cattle and reindeer. And she would “absolutely love working for a museum.”

“The wealth and prestige of Harvard is really intimidating, but it is a cool feeling to know that I come from an everyday, hard-working Wyoming ranching and mining background, and I’ll be rubbing elbows with people from a much different upbringing,” Grindle says. “It goes without saying that my parents are incredibly proud of me and that none of us expected something this big to happen, but, I can’t thank my family enough; the support they showed has made my achievements possible. That they supported my pursuit of a field like archaeology rather than a more economically sound option is crazy, and I really appreciate them for it.”

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