Charting her own course: Rising senior Teddy Jablonski's love of maps leads to summer research, job lead

Cutright PS 1The versatility of Centre College’s approach to liberal arts higher education means that students have the freedom and encouragement to explore multiple academic disciplines and fields of study. Consequently, it is not unusual for students like Teddy Jablonski ’15 (pictured above, right) to take courses or engage in research that may not be directly related to their declared majors. In Jablonski’s case, she is an economics major and environmental studies minor who is currently completing archaeological research with Assistant Professor of Anthropology Robyn Cutright (pictured above, left).
Cutright is utilizing Jablonski’s skills in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to assist with data analysis from an archaeological dig Cutright’s mentor, Dr. Carol Mackey, professor emeritus at California State University, Northridge, carried out in the Moche Valley of Peru in the 1960s and 70s. GIS is a computer system that stores, integrates and analyzes countless forms of geographical data, and Cutright needed a student proficient with this technology to assist her with survey maps. Centre’s flexible curriculum allowed Jablonski to take a class last spring titled “GIS and the Environment,” while continuing to pursue her degree in economics.
“Once the class began, I fell in love with GIS,” says Jablonski. “It was so much fun and there were so many interesting possibilities.”
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Cutright visited the class, which was taught by Professor of Anthropology Endre Nyerges, in order to find a student capable of handling the GIS work she needed done.
“Teddy was the first and most enthusiastic student to contact me,” explains Cutright. “I needed somebody who was going to be motivated and independent, and could bring that knowledge from the class and apply it to this case.”
Jablonski fit the bill on all counts and was offered the position. The research began in late July and her primary task has been to digitize original, hand-drawn maps that specify all of the locations archaeologists found evidence of the Chimu culture, a Peruvian empire that reigned from about 900 C.E. until they fell to Inca in 1470. Little is known for certain about the origins of the Chimu Empire and Cutright believes that the empirical data charted by the maps could provide clues to the past.
“My mentor and other archaeologists surveyed and mapped the location of ancient communities, based on pieces of evidence such as fragments of ceramics, foundations of buildings or pyramids, and old irrigated fields and canals,” says Cutright. “So the idea is that if we look at how people were living on the landscape, especially in the period leading up to rise of the Chimu, that might indicate which of the proposed origin theories is supported empirically.”
For instance, if the archaeological evidence suggests people were living in small, widely separated villages up until the emergence of a large capital city, this would support the theory that the Chimu Empire had its roots in factional competition from which one group ultimately prevailed.
Jablonski’s contribution to the project is critical to filling in this gap in the historical record; the digital maps she is creating will be easier to analyze and will eventually be linked to a huge database of additional field data.
Moreover, Jablonski found this research experience to be so fulfilling that she now plans to pursue a career in GIS. In fact, this particular research opportunity is already opening doors for her.
“Because of the research experience I now have and how much I’ve learned, I actually already have a lead on a job at an engineering company to do GIS work.
“I am also looking into GIS graduate school programs,” she adds. “So this is absolutely what I want to do.”
by Caitlan Cole