Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Students Need Your Help

I'm going to cut right to the point here (in case the title didn't give it away). My students need your help. I know I am the goofy tooth blogger who writes about "Indominus rex" and little tiny teeth from the Triassic but the plain fact is that those little tiny teeth don't find themselves. In fact they like to stay hidden, the sneaky little fellows. My high school students in my paleontology program find the majority of them.

In case you didn't read my introduction post, I teach at Mission Heights Preparatory High School and run the nation's only paleontology program at a public high school. I am pretty dang proud of it and my students. We have been doing this since March of 2014 and we already have one publication with one of my students, another pre-print ready to go to review with student lead authors, and a student-led abstract accepted for presentation at the 75th Annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in Dallas this year. All very exciting stuff and it has all been predicated on the field work we have been doing in the Late Triassic Chinle Formation at Comb Ridge, Utah.

In order to do this fieldwork, we have been relying on two things: rented vehicles, paid for by student fees and my personal truck. These two elements have allowed us to access field sites and bring back fossils to MHP but they have their drawbacks. Student fees create a burden on our students, especially in our low-income, rural community that we serve. Some of these students are classified as homeless. Most of our students are on free-and-reduced lunch, meaning that their annual family income qualifies them for government-provided school lunches. These are generally not kids who can afford a $75 fee to rent vehicles, get gas, and buy food. Several promising young scientists had to miss out on trips (and have since moved on from science all together) because their family lacked the means to support them in pursuing our fieldwork. This is a huge concern for me! I have trimmed by budget as much as possible but with the huge cost of renting vehicles for multiple days I cannot get my per-person cost down any lower for our regular spring fieldwork trips. If we care about having scientists accurately represent our society we should be concerned that low income students are dropping out of science because they feel they cannot participate.

The second drawback is in relation to my personal vehicle. It is a 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. It is a great vehicle and has served me well but it has 186,000 miles on it. I was working at a quarry in Utah with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County last week and my truck malfunctioned. Now the fix was easy and relatively inexpensive, and since the crew had multiple vehicles they were not out of work while my truck was in the shop. My truck, however, was out of commission for a day and a half. On a multi-week trip this is not a huge deal but when we are working at Comb Ridge we are typically out for only two days. That is a huge blow! I was lucky enough to have my truck break down in Moab - that would certainly not happen with our Comb Ridge work since we rarely go into town. The nearest town, Bluff, also does not have a full-service auto repair facility and parts stores. In addition the NHMLA had multiple field vehicles available to get in and out of locations and haul gear. For our program we use my truck to haul all the gear and rented vehicles to haul all the students. If we had a breakdown with my truck in the field with students it could be a real disaster with no easy fix.

That is why I am asking for help. I am trying to raise $8,000 for a field vehicle for MHP. We have raised a bit over 1/8th of the total goal but we have a long way to go. I am hoping that if you care about students, paleontology, getting students involved in paleontology, or just creating a more science-literate society you will consider donating to our fundraiser. All money raised will go directly to the cost of a field vehicle or, if we are unable to purchase one, into renting field vehicles until the funds are depleted.

If you like learning about teeth, that is where the teeth come from. And I have more tooth posts coming up soon!

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