Sarah Peelo named 2022 Social Sciences Division Distinguished Graduate Student Alumna

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Sarah Peelo (Ph.D. Anthropology ’09) has been named UC Santa Cruz's Social Sciences Division Distinguished Graduate Alumna.

Each year, UC Santa Cruz's five academic divisions—Arts, Baskin School of Engineering, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Physical and Biological Sciences—selects one graduate student alumnus/a/i as their Distinguished Graduate Student honoree. The awards ceremony for the 2022 cohort will take place on April 23 of Alumni Weekend.

Sarah Peelo (Ph.D. Anthropology ’09) has been named UC Santa Cruz's Social Sciences Division Distinguished Graduate Alumna.

Peelo was constantly surrounded by natural and human history at a young age. Her family spent nearly every family vacation at a museum, national park, or heritage site. When she started her undergraduate education at Santa Clara University—which sits beside a 1777 consecrated Roman Catholic church—Peelo was once again surrounded by the field she grew up around.

Peelo graduated from Santa Clara University in 1999 and received her B.A. in combined sciences with a minor in anthropology, and went on to pursue her M.A. in anthropology from Colorado State University in 2002. When it was time for Peelo to pursue her Ph.D., she looked to UC Santa Cruz as an institution beaming with inspirational women in leadership. 

“I was inspired by the fact that all of the senior faculty in the anthropology department were women,” Peelo said. “It was Judith [Habicht Mauche], Diane [Gifford-Gonzalez], Adrienne [L. Zihlman], Alison [Galloway], and that was inspiring to me. It felt like it was really rare to have the entire faculty that I'd be taking classes from in the anthropology department all women.” 

Peelo is now a woman in leadership herself. She serves as co-owner and president of Albion —a women-owned cultural resource management and consulting firm in California. In 2017, Peelo and five other women in Albion partnered together to purchase the company's shares from the previous owners moving into retirement. 

“There was an opportunity, and a group of very capable women already here working at Albion stepped up to take on the responsibility and seize that opportunity,” Peelo said.

As a company president, Peelo oversees projects that impact colonial and postcolonial archaeological sites. Some of Albion's clientele include the City of Santa Cruz, Caltrans, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and her alma mater Santa Clara University. Peelo helps clients understand and protect cultural and natural resources that might be on their properties within areas they want to develop.

While pursuing her Ph.D. in anthropology at UCSC, Peelo focused on ceramics produced in California missions. She examined the technological style of the pottery from missions to understand its cultural origins and how Native peoples made it their own. Peelo worked closely with Judith Habicht Mauche, a significant factor in Peelo's decision to pursue her Ph.D. at UCSC. 

Peelo said that the critical thinking skills she honed at UCSC, along with Habicht Mauche's emphasis on continued learning, still impact her today. 

“Judith is a world-renowned archaeologist and a very well-known expert in her specialty and her field, but she's very interested in the world and interested in all the things about archaeology,” Peelo said. “Her perspective on continued learning in the field, even when you have those degrees, has really influenced me and allowed me to do the job that I'm doing because I am still learning every single day.”

Peelo has taught a number of classes at UCSC since graduating. In particular, she is instrumental in organizing the archeological field methods class, which provides students with hands-on experience in cultural resource management, a skill they can take with them into the professional field.

“It's been really fulfilling to continue my relationships with the folks at UCSC,” Peelo said. “And I hope to continue to do so in the future.”