I Chose ISU: Kyra Stull – forensic anthropologist finds she can make a difference

Written by Scarlett Osborn, CPI intern, ISU Office of Marketing and Communications

POCATELLO – World-renowned forensic anthropologist Kyra Stull, a new assistant professor at Idaho State University, is already making a powerful impact in the Department of Anthropology.

Prior to Stull’s arrival during the 2014-15 academic year, she said there was a lack of biological anthropology in the department.

“This gave me the opportunity to make a difference and build a curriculum, that doesn’t happen to much first-year faculty members,” Stull said. “The decision to come here was actually a bit of a surprise to me, but the department was in a perfect situation for me to come.”

Kyra Stull, ISU associate professor of anthropology

Kyra Stull, ISU associate professor of anthropology

The potential creative opportunities that ISU presented was one of the main reasons she chose to teach here.

“I saw an opportunity where I could make an impact, which is important to me. I’ve had a great time teaching so far, connecting with the students and getting them excited and interested in a topic you love is really rewarding,” she said.

When Stull began school in Knoxville, Tennessee, she always thought she was going to be a forensic pathologist – she dreamed she would work on autopsies and become a doctor. Her family teased her about going into this field because, “I talk so much I was finally going to a crowd that I wouldn’t have to compete to speak,” joked Stull.

As a freshman, Stull received the opportunity to volunteer at the first outdoor decomposition facility, which is colloquially known as the “body farm.” Until recently, the body farm was one of the only facilities like this in the world. After a semester into her volunteer work she decided that her interest was in the bones and skeletal system. Stull’s research is now centered on age and sex estimation standards for children.

“My dissertation was on long bones,” she said. “I’m expanding that to other age indicators in the skeleton.”

Kyra Stull in the field working on a forensic anthropology case in the Civil Defense caves near Dubois, Idaho.

Kyra Stull in the field working on a forensic anthropology case in the Civil Defense caves near Dubois, Idaho.

She has continued her research at ISU and helps run the forensic anthropology lab in Gravely Hall. She is a faculty advisor for the student anthropology society, which she said “has been a great way to get to know the students, and have fun with them.”

Stull also participates in community service projects. Stull used her expertise to help investigate a 36-year-old cold case that was recently reopened. ISU was contacted by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to help look into a cold case that began in 1979 when a human torso was discovered in Civil Defense caves north of Dubois near the Montana border. In 1991, the arms and legs were discovered, but the head and identity of the victim remain missing. By participating in this case it allowed Stull to make connections with the Boise Medical Examiner’s Office. Stull wishes to start up workshops for law enforcements and some students in the area.

“These workshops could range from to two- five day intensive workshops, focusing mainly on anthropological laboratory methods and archaeological excavation techniques,” she said.

Stull in her lab. leading a forensic anthropology investigation in the hopes of helping to solve a Clarke County cold case from 1979. She will use new 3D scanning technology and other methods to search for remains of a body in Civil Defense Caves north of Dubois, Idaho.

Stull in her lab.

Other work that Stull does is looking at modern human variation in South Africa.

“One of the most genetically mixed populations in the world, they have a complex colonization history, so a lot of my research is on cranial size and shape sexed-based differences,” she said.

This past summer Stull traveled to South Africa to teach a workshop. She worked on developing a software program from her dissertation research.

This software program allows researchers to enter all of the measurements Stull collected, and with a push of a button it will compute the statistics.

“I provided that to the community for the first time, it’s called Kids- Stats, it makes me very happy,” Stull said.

ISU has been a good fit for Stull.

“It’s been really an amazing community coming here,” she said, “normally academia can feel fairly isolating, but the academic community at ISU has been phenomenal and very welcoming.”