On Geological Dig, First Time's the Charm for Firstie

Monday, June 16, 2014 - 12:45pm
Rose Minichiello ’16

One of the first things Rose Minichiello ’16 learned at Mount Holyoke is that fortune does indeed favor the bold.

A 2013 spring admit, Minichiello decided in her first semester to take up Professor of Geology Mark McMenamin’s offer to volunteer on a geological dig in Nevada’s Shoshone Mountains. And what she found on her first day in the field has cemented her name in the annals of crustacean biology.

Minichiello uncovered a specimen of amphipod that scientists had never before seen, and her discovery extended the known geological range of the Amphipoda order by 170 million years.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the species also bears her name: Rosagammarus minichiellus.

"It’s kind of crazy that it happened like that,” said Minichiello, a psychology and education major from Collinsville, Connecticut. “It’s kind of surreal.”

She wasn’t the only one who was pleasantly surprised. McMenamin, who specializes in evolution and the history of life, said he was similarly taken aback when Minichiello brought the fossil to him.

“My first impression when Rose brought me the specimen was, ‘Wow, what an interesting fossil,’ ” McMenamin said. “In all my years of field paleontology, my group has never before found a fossil where it was so immediately apparent that it was something new, rare, and paleontologically important.”

While her aspirations are in teaching, Minichiello said geology has been an ongoing interest for her since childhood, which is why she decided to take McMenamin’s first-year seminar on the subject.

So when McMenamin discussed his own research with students and invited them to come along, Minichiello said she was intrigued and a little disbelieving.

“I’d never done anything like that before,” she said. “So after he asked us, I was like, ‘Was that a real offer? Could I go with you?’ ”

And of course, go she did.

The experience, Minichiello said, has emboldened her to try new things.

“I definitely think that students at our school are really driven to do things out of their comfort zones,” she added. “I’d only been at Mount Holyoke one semester, and I only took one geology class, but I learned that if you show initiative, you can do it. At Mount Holyoke, you have the opportunities to do it.”

By John Martins