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Under the Sea: Juniata Student Plunges into Internship

(Posted September 12, 2011)

Maggie Burkett, a Juniata sophomore, spent a summer internship diving on a submerged shipwreck.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- For the vast majority of college students a summer internship is spent in an office doing important but fairly unflashy projects. On the other hand, Maggie Burkett, a sophomore at Juniata College, spent this past summer 30 feet below the Atlantic recovering artifacts from a 18th century shipwreck.

Burkett, a resident of Granville, Ohio who learned to scuba dive at 15, was an intern at the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program based in St. Augustine, Fla. and typically spent 12 hours a day either diving as part of an archeology team, photographing recovery operations, or working on the dive boat.

Juniata wishes it can take credit for discovering the opportunity for Maggie, but: "My parents and I were Googling 'maritime archeology' and the Lighthouse program popped up," she says. "I've always known I was going to do some career that had to do with water. I love being on a boat."

So this summer she spent more time underwater than a Las Vegas real estate investor. She spent the entire internship diving on an unidentified 18th century shipwreck off the Florida coast. Among her personal discoveries? An intact silver spoon. A tea kettle. A love for doing anything underwater. "We would carry tools down -- like zip ties, screwdrivers, rebar -- and I really liked fixing things underwater,"

She found her spoon by dredging sand and because the utensil was silver there was no concretions (barnacle buildup, etc.) disguising what it was. After all, life underwater is obscure enough. "Visibility was about zero to four feet, sometimes you couldn't see your hand in from of your face," she says.

"I've always known I was going to do some career that had to do with water. I love being on a boat."
Maggie Burkett, Juniata College spohomore

The highlight of her summer was helping recover two massive cannons from the shipwreck. One weighed 1,500 pounds and the other weighed in at 1,000 pounds. Burkett helped excavate the cannons and photographed recovery efforts. She saw sting rays, stone crabs and dolphins. Oh yes, she also was bitten on the ear by a grouper, a sharp-toothed fish.

"The ear was bleeding and it was sore for about two weeks," she says stoically.

Although Juniata is hundreds of miles away from glamorous underwater shipwrecks, Burkett is not going to forsake her college to head off to a specialized program. "In maritime archeology you need to know chemistry for conservation, physics for scuba, history and Juniata has courses in all these that can help in some way," she explains.

She also plans to study abroad next year, either in India or the Galapagos Islands, where Juniata has programs where scuba opportunities are available. Next summer? She's heading back beneath the waves to dive the same wreck. "I was the youngest person at the field school and I think this is a huge jumpstart for the career I want in maritime archeology," she says.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.