See How One HC Student-Athlete Studied Abroad to Refine Her Direction

By Avi Mehta |

Eriel Santagado: Evolutionary Anthropology and Dance

Being a student-athlete means learning to work with others with different perspectives. For senior gymnast Eriel Santagado, she took that one step further and traveled across the globe with Rutgers students, who shared the common goal of learning more about primatology. That adventure has enriched her in many ways and helped her focus more on what her future path may be.

A Celebration, Florida, native, Santagado has earned the Big Ten Distinguished Scholar status multiple times and posted a perfect 4.0 GPA six-straight semesters.

Santagado is majoring in evolutionary anthropology and interested in primatology. "I really love animals so that is why I think I want to focus on primatology, just studying our closest living relatives like the chimps and all of that stuff."

This past summer, Santagado chose to go on this adventure to try and dissect further what direction she would go in after she graduates this May. Would that be research and a doctorate in primatology, become a professor, or simply go work in a zoo and keep learning what path she would take to work with animals?

"Primarily, I went to study orangutans in the forest," Santagado said. "The first leg of the trip we went to Twanan, which is what the Rutgers research site is called, and we spent the first five days there following orangutans in the forest. While I loved this experience, I started to see that studying on this level took many years of commitment and extreme patience and I wasn't sure that was something I was cut out for."

The conditions in Indonesia were quite different than what Santagado is used to in the United States. We aren't talking about the difference in having cable TV or not, but things like no running water, no resources, things that we just can't imagine living in the states.

"The first place that we went to there was a little village that was like a 30-minute walk outside of the research site. We had to get there by a boat, it was very remote. Let's just say it took 48 hours to get from Rutgers to the first location. I didn't think I could do it until I did it."

Santagado says that she learned many of things from this trip. "Just the dedication that goes into scientific research." Something that she didn't realize she would learn was the level of poverty. She came back grateful and with a little more ability to not take life so seriously when we have so much here and how lucky we are.

Towards the end of the trip, Santagado's class helped improve the living conditions of the natives. "On the last day that we were at Twanan, we installed water pumps, the water was not clean, and now they are at least not showering in the same unsanitary water, it is a way better system in place. So we did that, and that was really nice."

Along with studying orangutans, the class also learned about other species. "We also did coral reefs at the end, and learned about the programs in place for keeping the sea turtle population alive."

"I guess the takeaway is that Indonesia is a super, colorful, diverse place with animals and plants and because of the poverty, it is really hard," said Santagado. "That is the main takeaway I have. If we keep doing what we are doing, a lot of the stuff is not going to be left, but people also have to look out for themselves, so it is a hard thing."

Santagado credits the curriculum at Rutgers for pointing her in the direction of primatology. "My academic advisor Gilah Rosenberg really helped me pick apart what I was interested in and helped me make the decision of what I wanted to major in.

"The reason why I think I want to go the route of primatology is because my sophomore year, second semester in the spring, I took "Life of Primates" and we just learned about a bunch of different primates. That is probably been my favorite class that I have taken with my major."

After graduating from Rutgers next year, Santagado has many opportunities open. "I really want to work with animals but I'm not sure exactly, I'd rather be more hands on. The whole point of a PhD is to step back and see what they do naturally, and have your research question and just observe. Which, maybe in the future, might be something I want to do."

Eriel has an older sister, Charly who is a former gymnast at Rutgers and the two have formed their own dance company, which has become their passion project. "I want to pursue my dance career with my sister and the company we just started, called We have had several performances, but being a student athlete has not allowed me to give it 100 percent. Upon graduation I will be making that my immediate focus."

Santagado says she is not done with academics, but her top priority is dancing. "I mean obviously at some point I'll probably go back and at least get a Master's degree because I do like school. But there's a very limited time window to make it in the dance world."

"I'm definitely going to take a gap year, at least one. To really try and make our dance company a real thing, it is a real thing, but more well-known."

Whichever path Santagado takes, there is no doubt she will be successful.

FULL SOURCE: Eriel Santagado: Evolutionary Anthropology and Dance |

Students interested in study abroad, can apply for an Honors College scholarship. Learn more