by Joyce Drakeford
We were honored to have Dr. Lisa White as the fourth and final webinar speaker for the Women in Paleontology series by myFOSSIL. If you missed this webinar or would like to view it again you can visit the myFOSSIL.org website and click on ‘From Microfossils to Museums’ under the Videos & Tutorials section.
Dr. White started out by explaining her background and how she came to paleontology. The education course Lisa originally took wasn’t something you would think would lead you to Paleontology. She began studies in art. She grew up in San Francisco and attended San Francisco State University. As an undergrad, she enrolled in a geology course. It was the same year that Mount St. Helens erupted. That year she interned at the USGS. This is when Lisa became interested in science. She graduated with a BA in Geology and a minor in Photography and Art. She attended University of California Santa Cruz for her Ph.D. in Earth Science and upon graduation in 1990 returned to San Francisco State as a member of the faculty. In 2012, Lisa was appointed Director of Education and Outreach for the Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley.
Lisa’s primary research focuses on diatoms and diatomites of the Monterey formation. This material is Miocene in age and runs along the coastline of California and around areas of the Pacific Rim. With high resolution paleo-environmental indicators, she is able to research what was going on in the environment at that time. It explains what was happening with the climate. Diatoms and other fossils are proxies for understanding geological history. To help with her research, she had the opportunity to go out on the research vessel, JOIDES Resolution, with the International Ocean Discovery Program. She has also done field research studies in Alaska, Japan, China, Korea, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Russia.
Among Lisa’s outreach efforts are SF ROCKS (Reaching Out to Community and Kids with Science) and METALS (Minority Education through Traveling and Learning Sciences), both of which she started. The goals of both programs are to bring kids back to learning in nature and the outdoors and to create environmentally and culturally meaningful experiences for the students.
Lisa’s current role as at UC Berkeley is to shape data into information useful for educators and others. Examples of this are the “Understanding Evolution” and “How Science Works” online exhibits at UCMP. A new exhibit, “Understanding Global Change,” will go live in 2018. Lisa is also part of the team receiving grant funding to help digitize fossils of the Eastern Pacific invertebrate communities of the Cenozoic (EPICC TCN). Nine natural history museums will unite to help with the digitization. This will make 1.6 million specimen records available online. She is additionally helping to make the “Virtual Field Experience” a reality.
Lisa recently participated in the Bearded Lady Project, a documentary film and photographic project highlighting the challenges and obstacles women in the field of earth science. Lisa has also been honored by receiving the Geological Society of America Bromery Award for Diversity in the Geosciences.
Lisa’s current path finds her continuing to partner with diverse urban and youth populations to raise awareness of our natural world and changing environments. Also, Lisa plans on joining expeditions at sea for additional fossil studies in the future.