Amanda Curtin Soydan, Ph.D.

Amanda Soydan

Academic Dean for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Director of the SPIRE Fellows Program

I was born and raised in South Africa, and with my father being a wildlife artist and musician, I fell in love with both music and the natural world. I am very much a “water sprite”, having spent most of my youth in and around Cape Town where I had the ocean and mountains in my back yard. I always loved learning and although I had my heart set on attending college, I felt a yearning to explore the world outside my small country so after high school, I worked to fund my travels around the globe for a couple years.

I was the first in my family to attend university and being 1GLI, it was not an easy path to travel! I had loved immersing myself in the language, culture and history of the countries I lived in, so I actually started out studying languages/linguistics and archaeology. Near the end of my first year in college, I had a “pivot moment” and realized that my heart lay in the natural sciences. I earned a B.S. in Zoology and Geology, along with an Honors degree in Palaeontology and a Master’s in Zoology from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. I was able to get a scholarship to complete my Ph.D. in Biological Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia and came to the US as an international graduate student. I loved my time working in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts on threatened desert tortoises, and got to explore the extreme nature and beauty of this unique ecosystem.

I was interested in revisiting my paleobiology roots, so proposed a postdoctoral research project around the evolution of dwarfism in large mammals, e.g. elephantids (mammoths and elephants), which brought me to Duke to work with the amazing Dr. V. Louise Roth. My main interest was exploring and developing techniques to capture virtual images of bone microstructure, particularly from large vertebrate skeletons, without having to take living samples, destroying precious fossils or damaging endangered species skeletons. I’ve been lucky enough to teach at a few amazing institutions where my research has been centered around analyzing bone physiology through synchrotron radiation microtomography and how climate change impacts microevolution in vertebrates.

Through my own experiences as a student and exploring the scholarship of teaching and learning as an instructor, I developed an interest in higher education, particularly the fields of student development and learning sciences. This lead me to the Academic Resource Center (ARC) at Duke, where I worked as a STEM Learning Specialist, helped create the SAGE program and led the ARC learning consultant team. I was also a Researcher in the Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE) Research unit since 2020. I moved into my new role as an Academic Dean and Director of Spire in March, 2022. Working with and supporting students as they navigate their own academic journeys and find their intellectual passion, is a source of real joy and a driving force for me!

In my free time I enjoy traveling with my husband Ben, going on long hikes with our dog Bodie and love the nature, music and foodie vibe in Durham! Some fun facts about me, I have lived on 5 of the six continents, I know 4 languages and can hold a conversation in a couple more, I play the drums (and my husband does too) and love working on creative and artistic projects!