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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.

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.

Paleontologist and Educator Alexis Mychajliw Honored by Alf Museum

Dr. Alexis Mychajliw

The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology recognized Dr. Alexis Mychajliw with the Alf Award for Excellence in Paleontological Research and Education at the annual Peccary Society event, on October 16. The award honors a paleontologist who demonstrates exceptional achievement both in original scientific research, as well as in education and outreach at the primary and secondary school (K–12) levels.

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Update: Museum Resources for Colleges

Although the Alf Museum remains closed to the public, we have developed many virtual experiences to be used by college-level educators and students from home. This page summarizes currently available options.

Virtual Museum:

The Alf Museum has a fully virtual, interactive museum available on our website (https://www.alfmuseum.org/about-us/exhibits/). Students can take self-guided tours of the Alf Museum and can be used with previously made assignments as an alternative to in-person visits. Please be advised that some portions of signage are not legible in the virtual museum. We encourage educators to test compatibility of the virtual museum with assignments and make adjustments as needed.

Virtual Experiences:

The Alf Museum also offers virtual group tours utilizing the virtual museum guided by Alf Museum educators. These are currently being offered at no-cost to educators and registration in open for the Fall. Visit us online to see more information or to register: https://www.alfmuseum.org/schools-and-educators/virtual-experiences/

Fossil Friday Chats:

Looking to add more engagement with scientists to your class? Every Friday, you can join the Alf Museum and the Western Science Center for Fossil Friday Chats. Each week, we invite a guest scientist to chat about their research and take questions from a live audience online. Past episodes are available on our Facebook page and upcoming episodes are Facebook Live. (Live episodes coming to YouTube soon)

Upcoming episodes: https://www.facebook.com/AlfMuseum/live_videos/

Recorded episodes: https://www.facebook.com/watch/198373920530/529748157617840/

 

The Alf Museum remains dedicated to serving our community as an educational resource during this difficult time. Please let us know how we can be of service to you as an educator, and we will do our best to provide assistance!


For virtual tours, please contact our Tours Manager, Monique Reyes: mreyes@webb.org

For other inquiries regarding educational content, please contact me, Gabriel Santos: gsantos@webb.org

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