The Ardi story is simply too much fun not to comment on, even for someone with no professional experience in the archaeology at all. I do work in some of the same parts of East African valleys and plains, however. That was just meant as context; no serious connection to discovery of Ardi.
Kevin Padian raises some really great points, however. Before teaching at Berkeley I was at Princeton, famous for the quality of the teaching - and much of it was exceptional. At Berkeley however, I do consistently see a neat added feature: from classroom to research internship for a wonderful diversity of not only students, but student-professor partnerships.
What do I mean by that?
Here at Cal I am delighted several times a week by stories of how really neat and fascinating faculty and research projects got connected with students from very different backgrounds because so many well-known faculty teach and interact with undergraduates. 'Something in the water' here then liberates students even relatively new to certain fields to ask about and gain research positions all over campus -- from working on Ardi in Ethiopia, to working with discoveries of new planets around other stars, to students from comparative literature taking courses on renewable energy and jumping into advanced physics because it is something they just decided they should know to pursue a career in energy ... which had nothing to do with their major or the bulk of their current classes ... but may become their future field of study.
It is great to see, and no matter what -- at least so far (...) -- the funding situation, this intellectual curiosity and 'dive in' spirit is truly a delight here at Cal.