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Alf Museum Paleontologist Named to National Geographic Fellowship

Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology Outreach Coordinator Gabriel-Philip Santos was named a 2021 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions on Feb. 9 for his work as an informal science educator, including his creative use of cosplay and pop-up museums to engage diverse communities in science education.

Photo of Gabriel Santos (Filipino Male) posing next to a brick wall. The Alf Museum, based at The Webb Schools of California in Claremont, is the nation’s only accredited paleontology museum on a high school campus.

The prestigious fellowship is named for Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman emeritus of the National Geographic Society. Santos is one of 50 pre-K-12 educators from across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico selected for the fellowship’s 14th cohort – an announcement delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship selects exemplary educators to embark on a life-changing voyage to one of the many remote and extraordinary environments the Lindblad fleet explores around the world. Given the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions, field-based experiences are currently on hold.

Once conditions allow, Santos and his peers will embark on a Lindblad Expeditions’ voyage to experience natural wonders alongside an expedition team that will include marine biologists, geologists, historians, scientists, undersea specialists and National Geographic photographers. They will return home to incorporate discoveries into re-imagined curriculum, as well as to serve as program ambassadors for two years.

“I’m just tremendously honored by this selection,” said Santos, who also serves as the Alf’s collections manager. “The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship will allow me to grow as an educator and help me to expand my efforts to connect the sciences to people of all backgrounds and to show students that there’s a place for everyone in the sciences.”

In his six years with the Alf Museum, Santos has focused outreach efforts on expanding understanding of equity and access to the sciences, including the Alf’s Discovery Days program that invites guests to meet paleontologists at the museum.

Santos is a cofounder of Cosplay for Science, a group of scientists and educators that brings science to the community at such events as Los Angeles Comic Con, where he built a program inspired by the science of Star Wars. He creates pop-up museums at community events, recognizing that not everyone can travel to a museum.

“A lot of what I do is really based in storytelling,” said Santos, who holds a Master of Science in geology. “Storytelling is a powerful tool for education that allows us to go beyond conveying facts. With storytelling, we inspire people to use critical thinking to question the world around them. Science, politics, pop culture – it all connects.”

Santos’ passion for science education is evident in his drive to pursue outreach even after the pandemic closed the Alf Museum to visitors in March 2020. Since then, he has hosted more than 1,000 virtual school tours and launched a talk show entitled Fossil Friday Chats in collaboration with the Western Science Center.

The show – now celebrating more than 40 episodes – invites paleontologists from diverse backgrounds often underrepresented in scientific fields to share stories about themselves and their research.

In the National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions announcement, Santos was singled out for receiving a grant from the COVID-19 Remote Learning Fund for Educators, which provides educations with funding for devising innovative instructional resources that assist other educations in teaching via remote and hybrid learning environments.

Alf Museum Director Dr. Don Lofgren said the grant and fellowship both recognize what museum operators have long known: Santos is a powerful educator who elevates those with whom he works.

“It all goes back to museum founder Ray Alf’s challenge for us to make the most of our moment in time,” Lofgren said. “Gabe Santos is using his moment to make a difference in so many lives, inspiring the next generation of scientists.”

National Geographic has not announced where the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows will travel as it awaits the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

“No matter where I get to go, I’m very excited,” Santos said.