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Paleontologist, Dr. Mairin Balisi, Joins Alf Museum as New Curator

Filipina woman holding a Smilodon skull in an aisle of museum cabinets

Paleontologist Mairin Balisi, an expert in fossil mammal carnivorans – such as dogs and cats – has joined the Alf Museum as the new Augustyn Family Curator of Paleontology.

Balisi earned a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA. She earned her Master of Science in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan. She attended UC Berkeley as an undergrad, earning a Bachelor of Arts in both integrative biology and comparative literature.

Most recently, she has worked as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, and concurrently as a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Merced.

She specializes in small to mid-sized mammals from 40 million to 40,000 years ago – including some that remain part of our world today.

“I really view the present as an extension of the past and as an early sign of the future. What we see in the fossil record are the roots of the present,” Balisi said. “What I hope to bring to the Alf Museum is this perspective of continuity between the past, present and future.”

Balisi succeeds Dr. Andrew Farke in the role of Augustyn Curator, a post created by the Augustyn family in 2011. Farke, who focuses largely on dinosaur paleontology, became director of the Alf Museum in 2021, succeeding Dr. Don Lofgren. Like Balisi, Lofgren specialized in mammal paleontology.

“Dr. Balisi’s outreach and publication records are impressive, as is her deep connection with the Southern California paleontological community,” Farke said. “She has conducted fieldwork throughout the western United States and Mexico, in addition to her work at the Tar Pits. Furthermore, she has a significant track record of mentoring students – including high school students. She’s an extraordinary addition to our team at the Alf Museum.”

Balisi will join Farke and Webb students on her first Peccary Trip, a sojourn to Wyoming from July 23 to August 6 to explore a site rich in mammals and dinosaur fossils.

During the academic year, Balisi will also teach paleontology courses within The Webb Schools Science Department, assist with after-school museum volunteering and mentor students in advanced research courses. 

Announcing the ACCESS Paleo SoCAL Internship

The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology is excited to announce the launch of the ACCESS Paleo SoCal Internship developed in collaboration with the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

The Advancing Community College Education and Student Success in paleontology project, or ACCESS, is a collaborative project created at the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) to build collaborations with local community colleges to increase access to STEM fields like geosciences & paleontology for students from historically excluded groups and communities.

The ACCESS Paleo SoCal internship is intended to recruit students from historically excluded and underrepresented groups or communities currently enrolled at a two-year institution who seek to transfer to four-year institutions in pursuit of a degree in paleontology, museum science, and other related fields.

During this 7-week internship, students will be introduced to the fields of paleontology, geosciences, museum science, and science communication. Students will work with staff of the Alf Museum and mentors to learn basic skills and best practices in fossil preparation, curation, research, and science communication. Students will also be provided opportunities to begin to begin composing their transfer applications with staff and mentors. In addition, weekly field trips to other science institutions and universities where students will meet and learn about careers paths from other professionals in the field.

Following the end of the program, alumni of the program will be offered continued support through check-ins and other networking opportunities. Additional travel funds may be available for alumni of the program to attend professional conferences.

Funding for this internship was generously provided by the David B. Jones Foundation.

For more information about the ACCESS SoCal Paleo Internship or to apply, please visit: https://www.alfmuseum.org/about-us/internships/ 

 

 

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.

New Director Appointed at Alf Museum, Current Director Transitions to Emeritus

Andrew Farke, Ph.D., has been appointed the next director of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, only the fourth individual to hold this position since the museum’s founding in the late 1930s. Farke is currently the Augustyn Family Curator and director of research and collections at the Alf Museum. Farke succeeds Don Lofgren, Ph.D., who leaves the position in July 2021 to become director emeritus.

Picture of Andy Farke and Don Lofgren
Dr. Andy Farke (left) and Dr. Don Lofgren

“Andy Farke is extremely intelligent and ambitious and brings a host of talents to the table. He has had a major positive impact on all operations and programs at the museum. He’s internationally known for his paleontological expertise and research. Andy will be a terrific director and take the museum to even greater success in educational and scientific endeavors,” Lofgren says.

Farke joined the Alf Museum in 2008. He completed his undergraduate work in geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and his Ph.D. in anatomical sciences at Stony Brook University.

Farke is excited about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“A major priority is to continue our positive momentum with the museum collection and its care,” Farke says. “I’m excited by the budding partnerships developed by the outreach and collections staff, which really challenge past assumptions about what a museum is, what a museum should be, and who the “typical” museum visitor might be.”

Chair of the Board Larry Ashton looks forward to Farke in his new role, “Every new museum director brings their own list of ideas, goals and objectives. Andy has the right mix of these, and the staff to take the Alf Museum to the next level. We all look forward to his long tenure.

The Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology, located on the campus of The Webb Schools in Claremont, California, is the only nationally accredited museum in the USA on a high school campus. The museum is a center for paleontological education and research by maintaining and continually expanding its outstanding collection of over 195,000 specimens. The fossil collections consist of vertebrate, invertebrate, plant, and track way specimens, as well as many other miscellaneous specimens. The museum’s fossil track way collection is widely recognized as one of the largest and most diverse in the nation. Also, the Alf Museum provides a unique research program for Webb students where they study fossils they find on collecting trips and publish the results of their research in collaboration with museum staff, a unique program for secondary school students only offered at Webb.

Asked about Farke’s appointment, Head of School Taylor Stockdale shared his excitement about what the future holds for Webb and the Alf Museum.

“Without a doubt, Andrew Farke is the educator and leader we need to carry the extraordinary legacy of the Alf Museum at The Webb Schools into the future,” Stockdale says.

For more information, see this article from The Webb Schools.

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