Updated: Aug 25
Welcome back, Xplorers!
This women’s history month, we want to give credit to the incredible women who are making history … by preserving history. TerraX has a team full of women doing incredible work every day to recover and preserve our shared cultural history. We thought it was high time they got some love here on Dig Deeper, don’t you?
Some of them you’ve met before. We introduced you to the fabulous Briane Shane and learned a little more about her work in the architectural history department just a few weeks ago. Or maybe you remember Raychel, our most excellent lab director? (Spoiler Alert: She’s getting ready for a pretty big career shift!) She, Joanna, Julia, and Kelsey (and Mike, of course!) make a fabulous lab staff.
But these women are just the tip of the iceberg. TerraX is full of amazing women out here. So, Xplorers, in this post, we’re digging deeper and getting to know just a few of the TerraX women. Their stories are inspiring, entertaining, and wholly unique. We’re proud of the women on our team, and we’re excited to celebrate with them this Women’s History Month! Are you ready to dig deeper?
Okay, we mentioned Briane and Raychel a minute ago, but we still need to check in with them! They’ve both been working incredibly hard lately, and we could not be more proud of their work!
Briane, for her part, has been working particularly hard on a cemetery project. She’s had a pretty large and complicated family tree to put together, but it’s all worth it. Her work is critical to protecting and maintaining proper respect for interred human remains. It’s not easy, but it’s very important, and we’re grateful for Briane’s keen attention to detail.
Raychel, meanwhile (and in addition to getting married — Congratulations to her!), has been moving toward a whole new career. She’s saying goodbye to the lab and saying hello to the field — that’s right, your girl got a promotion! Now, Raychel will serve as one of our Principal Investigators, managing projects from beginning to end. She’ll still have a hand in the lab, of course — all projects do! — but she’ll also be in the field and in the office kicking butt and taking names … or, rather, publishing reports.
And now, it’s time to introduce you to a few more of our brilliant women. From history to GIS mapping, from field work to lab analysis, we have women in every department. The women on our team come from a wide range of backgrounds and bring a whole variety of skills, passions, and unique talents to the table. Are you ready to meet them?
Emma Jackson Pepperman, PI
Emma Jackson Pepperman is one of our incredible Principal Investigators, but in her case, “PI” also stands for Private Investigator. For her, the fun of historical research comes from the opportunity to piece together small pieces of evidence and assemble a larger story.
“I have always loved mysteries and detective work, but I am also way too emotional to be involved in any kind of active crime work. … When I was introduced to the Equal Justice Initiative and their mission to name hundreds of lynching victims who had been lost to history, I really felt a calling.” - Emma Jackson Pepperman
Emma participated in research with the University of Alabama in partnership with EJI while she pursued her Bachelor's degree, but the detective work didn’t need to stop on graduation day. Ever since, Emma has been using her skills to grow our understanding of the everyday lives of the people who lived before us, and therein lies the unique nature of her work at a CRM firm in particular.
“Working with a CRM firm that collects physical evidence and processes and analyzes that evidence and then pairing that with historical research and data allows me to solve mysteries every day, and I love it!” - Emma Jackson Pepperman
Most historians look at written documents and lean on historical research to piece together the stories of the past, but Emma does things a little differently. As a professional historical detective, she likes to use all the clues at her disposal, including the material evidence of the people whose stories she recreates.
Margaret Schultz: Variety Is the Spice of Life
Emma’s partner in crime (not really — we do not do actual crime here) is Margaret Schultz, historian, researcher, writer, professional genius. From Margaret’s perspective, the fun of historical research is all about the variety.
“I get to research a wide variety of subjects, and for me, the variety is a fun challenge.” - Margaret Schultz
CRM firms all over the country perform historical research every single day, but that research can vary as wide as spacious skies and as high as purple mountain majesties. One day you’re looking up the history of school integration in urban Atlanta, the next you’re learning about the sugar milling process in the Louisiana swamps of the nineteenth century. You’re constantly growing our collective knowledge of how people and events and industries and the environment and ingenuity and religion and politics and everything else you can think of have come together over time to create the world as it is today. That knowledge is priceless, and it takes people like Margaret — people who have a passion for research and historical learning — to gather it for us.
Julie Waters: From Art to Anthropology
When Julie Waters started out… she actually wasn’t thinking about archaeology at all. Nope, in college, she started out as an Art major. She sought a career in graphic design, and in another life, she might have loved it! But after taking a world religions class to satisfy a general education requirement, Julie found herself bitten by the anthropology bug.
“Anthropology/archaeology’s holistic, interdisciplinary, and collaborative approach to understanding human history and the world around us caught my attention.” - Julie Waters
Julie immediately switched majors and started exploring the wide world of anthropology. She looked into forensic anthropology (the study of human remains in a present-day legal context) and bioarchaeology (the study of human remains in an older, archaeological context) and realized that archaeology was truly the career path for her. She enrolled at the archaeology field school at Gamble Plantation at the University of South Florida in 2017, and a legendary career began.
Julie went on to do her thesis research on African American cemeteries across her county — specifically how and why those cemeteries have been erased and forgotten. She worked with the local community, performed a ton of research, and ultimately produced a model that local researchers, activists, descendant families, and anyone else interested can use to learn more about the historic African American cemeteries in their area.
Julie’s work has helped us collectively remember those who have been forgotten. Her work is essential, and we could not be more proud to have her on our team.
Alexis Muschal: Protecting the Deceased
Julie has done incredible work recovering lost cemeteries, but the recovery and protection of our cemeteries is an enormous job and an even more enormous responsibility we all share. Alexis Muschal — Badass Bioarchaeologist, Whip-Smart Writer, and TerraX Legend — takes that responsibility very seriously.
Ally actually started out in anthropology, and at first, she thought she wanted to use her education to go into criminal justice. In fact, she even did an internship with the Milwaukee Police Cold Case Homicide Unit in college! That got her interested in forensic anthropology, and she was convinced, for a while, that she would build a career around solving cold cases, and she went on to earn her Master’s degree in Forensic Anthropology from the Boston University School of Medicine. But in all of this exploration and studying and pursuing a career in analyzing human remains, Ally made an important discovery.
“During my Master’s program, I learned that there is a great need for bone specialists (osteologists) to assist with things like cemetery removals and the protection of buried Indigenous people. CRM is an important way that we can accomplish these goals respectfully.” - Alexis Muschal
Ally was right. The truth is, cemeteries, by their nature, shift and move. Grave markers are broken or lost, and, especially in the cases of older and even ancient burials, we sometimes find burials in places we don’t expect them to be. It’s the responsibility of archaeologists — and especially specialized osteologists like Ally — to ensure those graves are properly cared for. Her work ensures projects can proceed and burials can be protected.
“It’s a rare and unique thing to work in the field you studied in and feel like you are making a difference.” - Alexis Muschal
Ally makes a big difference every day!
Heather Lash: A Born Archaeologist
When Heather Lash was in the second grade, she dressed up as the cutest paleontologist you ever did see for career day. She wore her girl scout vest and a brimmed hat, some sunglasses and cargo shorts, and she even carried a little pretend dinosaur digging kit! She spent the day showing everyone her little briefcase with all the toy dinosaurs she’d “excavated” and had a great time doing it. But then, as happens sometimes, Heather started to grow up, and for a little while at least, she left the brimmed hat and play excavation kit behind.
“I actually did not remember this memory of me in second grade until after I had already declared my major in anthropology at my undergraduate school. … If I had, things might be a bit different.” - Heather Lash
When it came time to go to college, Heather actually started out — can you believe it? — in theater. Anthropology was sort of secondary — really more of a career back-up in case theater didn’t work out. Very quickly though, that little girl who loved literally digging for history started to re-emerge.
Heather started to dive deeper into anthropology and its four subdisciplines, archaeology, bioarchaeology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics, and she very quickly realized she was a born archaeologist! Her worldview and perspective on history and culture already aligned with archaeology, and suddenly, her career path started to unfold. She leaned in hard, and she loved every minute of it. In the summer of 2015, she volunteered at James Madison’s Montpelier, and it was some of the most satisfying work of her life.
“It was hands-on, in-the-ground, sweaty, hot, and demanding work, but my god I found it incredibly rewarding.” - Heather Lash
Graduate school followed, and by now Heather had remembered her little second-grade self playing dress-up as a paleontologist. Although she had sidestepped and chosen to go down the archaeology route instead of the paleontology route, Heather moved along to paleontology’s cousin in the archaeology world: zooarchaeology, the study of animal remains! She has fallen in love with her work, and she still brings that passion and child-like fire to her job.
“I get to live out a dream job every day, and that’s pretty dang cool.” - Heather Lash
Rachel Smith: A Queen in Her Own Right
Rachel’s interest in archaeology started with a movie. When she was just a little girl in elementary school, she watched the 1963 absolute classic Cleopatra, and it sparked her young imagination — what wonders of Egypt might she discover?!
“This led to me wanting to know everything about ancient Egypt. I have so many books on this subject that it is not even funny.” - Rachel Smith
Rachel went on to pursue a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology with an emphasis in Anthropology and later a Master’s in History. She took courses in archaeology and even GIS mapping, and by the time she was all finished and graduated, she had a pretty well-rounded set of skills and expertise. Today, Rachel uses those skills at TerraX as both a mapper and a report writer. That means that Rachel works on both the front end and the back end of all of her projects, and seriously, she is excellent at all of it. Cleopatra may have ruled Egypt, but Rachel is the queen of the CRM world.
How does she do it, you ask? By embracing the variety.
“I like that the field of archaeology is constantly changing and pursuing new ways to study the past.” - Rachel Smith
Rachel has such wide-ranging expertise, and she draws on all of it in her work. She understands how to think visually and create accurate maps for our field crews. She’s excellent at historical research, which is not easy, can we tell you? Rachel can look at history through the lenses of archaeology, sociology, anthropology… basically a lot of -ologies. It’s an inspiration to watch.
Joanna Klein: A Little Bit of Everything
When Joanna Klein was just a kid, any time an adult asked her what she wanted to be when she was a grown up, her answer varied by the day.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer, psychologist, dolphin trainer, children’s counselor, and a history teacher.” - Joanna Klein
When she chose her first major in college, Joanna initially went with psychology, but the fit just didn’t feel quite right. She shifted to sociology, and that was a little bit closer, but then, she took an anthropology class with her favorite professor, and all of a sudden, it seemed like the world burst open.
“It was everything I ever wanted to be all in one. There were so many different topics and fields within anthropology.” - Joanna Klein
Joanna had found her calling — all of them. She found herself in a world where she could explore a little bit of everything she loved! Eventually, she found her way into a focus in bioarchaeology and a job in our laboratory where she gets to interact with real artifacts.
“We see new things every day in the lab, requiring us to research artifacts to find out as much as possible about the assemblages we have. … Learning about people and how they lived while seeing the cultural material I am reading about is what makes this job so amazing.” - Joanna Klein
Sharlene O’Donnell: Letting the Path of Life Lead
For about as long as she can remember, Sharlene O’Donnell, TerraX’s Lead Writer and Proposal Coordinator, has known two things:
“I love history, and I love nature.” - Sharlene O’Donnell
The problem, however, was that as a little girl growing up in a very rural area, she couldn’t see how one career could unite those two loves. As a teenager, she volunteered at the Florida Forestry Service, but the way forward still wasn’t entirely clear.
Eventually, Sharlene decided to pursue a career as a veterinarian. It made sense, right? She loved animals, and a career as a vet would allow her to take care of them and spend at least some of her time working outside. It seemed like a good option. But as a community college student, Sharlene took elective courses in History and Anthropology, and her professors took notice of her passion.
“My professors started to ask me what my major was and why I wasn’t going into a Social Science/Humanities career. They could see that my real passion was for history and anthropology. So, after some soul searching, I decided to overhaul my whole idea of what I was going to do in my life and instead chose Archaeology as my path.” - Sharlene O’Donnell
Sharlene shifted her educational focus, and along the way, she met incredible mentors who encouraged her, nurtured her passion, and opened doors to new opportunities for fascinating projects. Eventually, she earned not one but two Master’s degrees — one in History and one in Anthropology — and worked as a zooarchaeologist, technical report writer, and environmental historian. Not only that, but today, she’s become a mentor herself — younger archaeologists and writers look to Sharlene for guidance on a daily basis, and though sometimes it seems everyone needs her all at the same time, Sharlene still manages to blow us away with her expertise, professionalism, passion, and kindness every day.
Where Is Your Life Leading You?
“I never actually knew where I wanted to end up, I just let the path of my life lead me here. I’m happy I did.” - Sharlene O’Donnell
These women are all inspirations in their own right. Each one has her own unique passions and interests that drew her into archaeology, but no two are exactly alike, and none of their career journeys have been straight lines from Point A to Point B. Ally thought she’d work in criminal justice, Heather wanted to pursue theater, Sharlene imagined a life as a veterinarian, and Joanna wanted to do a little bit of everything! What unites these women is the quiet undercurrents that we can trace throughout their lives. Each, on looking back, can see the roots of their love for anthropology or archaeology or history or zooarchaeology or some other facet of the work they do now. Their paths forward haven’t always been totally clear, but they’ve followed their passions with dedication and perseverance, and just look where life has led them.
Today, each one of these women has achieved the dream — a rewarding career. They’re out here managing our cultural resources like nobody’s business, and words like “proud,” “excited,” and “inspired” just don’t do them justice.
In light of the stories we’ve shared today, Xpolorers, we invite you to consider. Do you have a passion for archaeology or history or anthropology? Are you looking for the right career path to unite your wide-ranging love of culture?
And think about the young women and girls in your lives — do you know an aspiring archaeologist? Do you see that fire in the eyes of your daughters, nieces, sisters, neighbors kids when they dig plastic bones out of the dirt or read books about ancient Egypt or visit a history museum or learn about all the various cultures of the world and the Americas at school? If so, you may know the next great woman in CRM just like the women we’ve talked about today.
If we could offer any advice to you or the women you know, let it be this — Let the path of your life lead you. Go after your interests, whether that means volunteering at a local historical society or taking a class in anthropology. Seek mentors, and listen to them. Keep knocking on doors, and the right opportunities will present themselves. If you love the world of Cultural Resource Management and any of its many facets, follow that love as far as you can. You’ll be happy you did.
Thanks for reading, everybody. We’ll catch you later.
— The TerraX Team