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The Webb Schools

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. 

Discovering the Alf Museum – Video Highlights

Imagine being a teenager, and learning about the history of life with actual fossils at your fingertips; or the thrill of discovering a species new to science; or publishing a research project in an internationally-recognized scientific journal. These aren’t just hypotheticals at the Alf Museum. They are at the core of an innovative and unique high school program.

The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools is the only nationally accredited museum in the United States located on a high school campus and the only museum in the world that engages secondary school students in all aspects of it program, particularly fossil collecting and research—an opportunity unique to The Webb Schools. The museum is active in the international scientific community and also provides educational programming for the public.

Webb biology teacher Ray Alf’s early interest in fossils led him to conduct a student expedition to the Mojave Desert in 1936. Fortuitously, Alf and Bill Webb ’39 found a mammal skull belonging to a new, 15 million year-old species of fossil peccary, or pig, a discovery that inspired Alf to undertake a life-long quest to study the history of life. Over the next thirty years Alf led numerous fossil collecting trip or “Peccary trips” where he and his students amassed a large collection of scientifically significant specimens. In 1968, the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology was constructed to house and exhibit Alf’s collections and public tours began. Over the next three decades, there was a drive to bring the museums programs and operations up to professional standards, and in 1998, the Alf Museum was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums—a distinction earned by less than 5% of museums nationwide.

*Federal specimens shown were collected under permit from the Bureau of Land Management and US Fish and Wildlife Service.