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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. 

Remembering Life Trustee Hugh Rose

Hugh Rose (third from left) in the Gobi Desert, with paleontologist Wann Langston, Hugh’s spouse Mary Rose, and Alf Museum director Don Lofgren

On July 4, 2017, the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology lost Hugh Rose, one of its most cherished leaders and supporters. At age 90, Hugh passed away from natural causes, surrounded by his family at their Tucson home.

While building a career as a successful business executive, Hugh and his wife Mary amassed a spectacular collection of fossils and began teaching paleontology out of their Illinois home. In the 1970s, Hugh was asked to evaluate the value of the Alf Museum’s collections, and he ended up becoming a founding member of the board of trustees in 1979, later enrolling his son Matthew ’82 in Webb School of California.

Early on, Hugh recognized the great educational and research potential of the Museum. He and Mary donated most of their personal collection of fossils in 1985 and also established the Hugh & Mary Rose Endowed Fund to provide a permanent source of revenue for the Museum’s operations. If one were to ask who was the creative force behind the Peccary Society Dinner, those memorable peccary glasses, and the peccary trips to Mongolia, that would be Hugh Rose.

Without Hugh’s foresight and pragmatism, the Museum could not have experienced the tremendous growth it did over the last four decades. As Board Chairman Larry Ashton recalls, “Hugh Rose was a good friend and giant supporter of the Alf Museum in every sense of the word. It is largely because of Hugh’s efforts, at a time when the then fledgling museum was in question, that we have the museum today. He helped to organize the first trip to Mongolia in 1995 and was an active member at our board meetings. Hugh rightfully earned his place as a Life Trustee after having served on our board for almost 40 years. He was always interested in what was going on at the museum. When he could no longer travel due to his declining health, Don Lofgren and I would visit him in Tucson. I used to love to sit in his home office and listen to him talk about our museum, his life and his wonderful family, who have become so involved with our museum as well. He would often say to me, ‘I just love that museum.’ His passing is a big loss for me and our museum. I am glad that we have his daughter Mary Rose on our board to continue in the Rose tradition.”

The appreciation for Hugh was echoed in the words of Museum Director Don Lofgren. “Hugh was an amazing supporter of the Museum and a close friend. What really struck me about Hugh, was for a man who had accomplished so much in the business world, he was incredibly humble. This was evident in his leadership of the board of trustees which was critical to the Museum’s growth. For example, he started the Peccary Society Dinners and international peccary trips, but would not take any credit, always quickly deflecting praise to others. For me personally, Hugh helped guide the Museum through some major growing pains when I was new to Webb in the 1990s, and I was able to gain a lot of confidence knowing that I could always count on him. A more enthusiastic, dedicated, and visionary leader is hard to imagine.”

As we honor the legacy that Hugh Rose left at the Alf Museum, we are filled with gratitude and admiration for his passion, generosity, and dedication. We extend our condolences to Hugh’s wife, Mary, to his children Nancy, Greg, Matt ’82 and Mary, and his grandchildren.