Skip to Main Content

Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

Student Voices

Freshman Carlyn Grace Osborn, whose passion for paleontology began on the shores of Lake Michigan, will explore human history and archaeology in her studies at Johns Hopkins.

Photo: Jefferson Jackson Steele


Carlyn Grace Osborn ’14 penned the following essay in response to a question on her college application that asked what she wanted to major in and why. The Ann Arbor, Mich., resident had long found inspiration in her family’s annual summer trips to Lake Michigan.

“Every year my favorite part was walking up and down the shoreline picking up rocks until my pants were sagging with them,” she says. “That’s the one thing I’ve done consistently every year of my life, and that has really helped foster my interest in history.”

It fostered a love of paleontology, as well, and what Osborn figured would be a major in the scientific side of history. But she was also intrigued by the humanities. “I was first attracted to Hopkins because of its wonderful humanities departments, which are really strong, but also small,” she says. The school’s relatively new archaeology major was especially appealing.

Then, over the summer, Osborn interned at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. Her love of Earth’s history and old rocks soon evolved into a love of human history and archaeology.

Osborn arrived here as the university opens its new Archaeological Museum in Gilman Hall, and she is getting a good start with courses in elementary Greek and Latin, an introduction to archaeology, and others. “I can’t imagine that things could be any better,” she says.


Paleontology Rocks

By Carlyn Grace Osborn

Plunging my hand into the Lake Michigan shoreline, I seize a handful of soaked zebra mussels, stones, and sand. Water licks at my once-dry denim capris as I clutch my artifacts, letting a few waves sort the sand out through my fingers. I pull my hand from the water and hold it close to my face, palm up, so as to examine my loot. Empty zebra mussel shells drop one by one back into the high tide as I squint in the after-dusk light. A few pebbles of plain, black granite join the discarded shells and other stones I deem unworthy of my pants pockets. Only a piece of grey limestone with a pattern of striking white indentations survives this sifting. My denim capris now pull at my waist as I drop another rock into my heavily laden pockets. However, the burden of my find seems to only push me further along the shore in hopes of finding a truly spectacular specimen.

This sand-sifting scientific dig is not the puttering of a 5-year-old looking for an adventure, but rather a 17-year-old in search of any bit of fossil evidence. Instead of sitting by the campfire with
my family as the sun slowly sinks beneath the horizon I choose to escape the crowd and sneak to the water’s edge. The swishing of the tide accompanies my sandy footsteps until I am far enough away that I can no longer hear the fireside chatter. Here, by myself, is where I begin my work.

I find the hunt for fossils so fascinating because searching gives me a very real sense of history. The entire story of our planet is right beneath our feet just waiting to be told, and I want to tell this story by becoming a paleontologist. I want to find the missing pieces of our Earth’s timeline and study what plants and animals lived where and when. If I could be involved in the discovery of a skull or leaf or rock that brings us one step closer to completing this planet’s story, then I would know I had impacted the scientific community in the best possible way. Every paleontologist has to start somewhere, and I started on the shores of northern Lake Michigan in the summertime.