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A tale of two (doctoral-candidate) siblings

It’s rare enough that McNary High School graduates choose to pursue doctorate-level degrees. Rarer still when two of them happen to be siblings at the same university, but Aundrea and Grant Snitker are doing just that and both are making waves in their chosen fields.

Mars and Venus swap duties

Aundrea Snitker (submitted photo)

Aundrea Snitker was in a class at George Fox University when she discovered the question she’s spent the past couple of years investigating.

“There was a man who was saying it was his job to always open the door for women and always walk them home. It made me wonder why he felt that way and if he thought there was something he felt we needed protection from,” Snitker said.

On a broader scale, it made her question many of the assumptions that were made about gender roles, especially those held by classmates and fellow students in the Christianc college setting.

“I think going to a Christian university helped me see the questions a bit clearer because we talked about those traditional roles a lot,” she said.

She’s now pursuing the topic as a gender studies doctoral student at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Snitker graduated from McNary High School in 2004 and received her bachelor’s degree in sociology at George Fox followed by a master’s degree in gender studies at Portland State University.

The question that’s dogged her lately is how gender roles have reversed in modern families as stay-at-home fathers become more common.

“I had a friend whose husband stayed at home. I was interested in seeing if they were taking on all of the roles [that are] typically the purview of women,” she said. What she found was surprising in several ways.

“I had one father who would take his kids to the park and the women would come up to him and ask him if he was divorced. It was almost more socially acceptable to be a single dad than a stay-at-home dad,” she said.

She also discovered that the phenomenon led to isolation on the part of such fathers because they rarely had a support system of other fathers in similar situations.

There are some natural barriers between her and the subject she’s chosen, but Snitker feels her gender both helps and hinders her pursuit.

“I am a woman without children and I can’t talk about those experiences. It might stop some of the men from about talking about certain experiences. There are also times when I think it’s probably easier because I’m not judging them,” she said. “I don’t get certain things, but in other ways they’re willing to talk to me more.”

She’s presented her finding as several regional gatherings of sociology researchers and will take part in in a roundtable discussion at the convention of the American Sociological Association later this year.

Her research is part of a small but growing focus on masculinity within the field of gender studies.

“There needs to be more discussion of masculinity in gender studies. Females are hugely important, but it’s important to have this other side of it, too,” she said.

Given the tone of recent conversations about feminism, Snitker is not alone is feeling somewhat disaffected concerning topics like female reproductive rights. With peers being slandered by some of the most vocal opponents, it leaves her a bit flummoxed as to how to pursue the social justice aspects of feminine studies.

“I’m not sure where I fit in that mix, yet,” she said.


Down in the dirt

Grant Snitker (far right) with his team of students at Paisley Caves. Snitker is pursuing his PhD in archaeology. (Submitted photo)

It’s not hard to find a young boy who wants to study archaeology when he grows up, most men lived through that phase at one point or another. The desire to be the ones uncovering the bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex crumbles under interests in girls or gives way to other seemingly more practical careers.The lucky ones stick with it, though, and Grant Snitker is one of them.

“It’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” Snitker said. “I get to spend my summers out in really remote places digging in the dirt and doing hard physical labor and then I come back for nine months and analyze what I’ve done.”

Snitker is just beginning his doctorate work at Arizona State University in Tempe. In itself, that would be a huge milestone, but Snitker is also a recent recipient of a National Science Foundation Fellowship. A program designed to reward the best and brightest young researchers in the country and make sure they live into their potential.

The fellowship covers his tuition for three years, supplies travel funds for field work and a stipend so he can keep his focus on doing what he does best – thinking big thoughts about our past and what it means for the present.

“It’s really, really great because it gives me time to figure out exactly what I want to focus on,” Snitker said.

That’s a rather modest take on the achievement. More than 20,000 students apply for the fellowships every year, about 2,000 are awarded. Snitker was one of a dozen archaeology students selected for the honor.

Snitker, 23, is no stranger to success in science fields, as a junior in high school he and another classmate received honors at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair. After graduation, he took a post at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington where he did research on existing collections and prepared them for long-term curation.

He studied anthropology at the University of Oregon where he earned his bachelor’s degree and took part in the university’s field school, which provides boots-on-the-ground experience at an excavation site, at the Paisley Caves in Paisley, Ore.

It’s tedious work, but Snitker was somewhat prepared for the endeavor by summers spent conducting rock art surveys during high school.

“We actually take down the dirt in five-centimeter increments,” he said. “We also plot with three dimensions of coordinates so we know exactly where we find something is and how it’s associated with everything else we find.”

A summer’s worth of work, might mean the removal of a meter of dirt and rock.

“At Paisley, we initially started out finding things that were associated with the mega fauna like mammoths and mastodons and Pleistocene camels. From there, the dates just kept getting pushed back and back and back because of DNA testing on the coprolites we found there.” Snitker said. Coprolites are dried human feces and DNA testing can reveal when the people lived, where they came from and what they were eating.

“That was a big deal. It rescrambled the theory on when people came to North America and what they were doing here,” Snitker said.

His success in the field led to Duck professor Dennis Jenkins taking him out as a team leader for the next few summers until he graduated.

If everything went exactly according to plan, Snitker might be able to complete his doctoral work in seven years, but it will likely take longer. Many of his classmates in the program are approaching 10 years and longer in pursuit of their degrees.

The upshot is it leaves Snitker with a bit of room to decide which questions he truly wants to pursue. He enjoyed working in the caves, but he’s finding interest in other areas – sustainable archaeology, for example.

“A lot of time we don’t have the long-term view of how systems have been sustained over time,” Snitker said. “I like the idea of looking at vulnerabilities created by societal elements and by natural disasters and how people have adapted to accommodate and become resilient to them.”

The goal, he hopes, is create something more than another book gathering dust on a shelf.

“I want there to be some sort of utility,” Snitker said. “Something that has purpose for other people.”