2013 Albert E. Wood Award


Sara ElShafie

My interest in paleontology evolved from a childhood fascination with the natural world. I grew up in Chicago, frequenting its zoos and museum institutions. Initially intent on becoming a marine biologist, I went to the University of Chicago to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology. I was a complete novice to the field of Paleontology when I chanced to meet Dr. Paul Sereno at UChicago. I began volunteering in his fossil lab on campus, and I spent my first summer of college working as a fossil preparator. My interest in the field grew rapidly.

        


I continued working in the fossil lab for the next three years, taking on the additional roles of Student Volunteer Coordinator, Teaching Assistant, Field Assistant, and Tour Guide. Under the guidance of Dr. Sereno, I also completed a thesis project describing a new araripemyid turtle, Laganemys tenerensis, from mid-Cretaceous Niger. I co-authored a manuscript and presented my research in poster and oral presentations at annual SVP meetings, as well as multiple student research symposiums at the University of Chicago.


In addition to my lab work and research, I got involved with Project Exploration, a non-profit science outreach organization affiliated with the University of Chicago Fossil Lab. I discovered a passion for teaching and outreach. Inspired by my experience with Project Exploration, I worked with undergraduate peers to start a student-run science outreach program, Paradigm Shift, to connect student mentors from the University of Chicago with students at a local middle school. After a successful pilot season in 2012, the program continues to run.


After graduating from the University of Chicago, I entered a Masters program in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to work with Dr. Jason Head. My thesis research examines the evolution of body size in anguid lizards as a proxy for paleoclimate of Paleogene North America. In the future, I plan to continue my studies of climate change through fossil research while pursuing a PhD and a career as a scientist and educator.


I am honored to receive the Albert E. Wood award, and I thank the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology for the opportunity it affords. This award will allow me to travel to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh to study its collection of fossil and extant anguid lizards and gather data for my thesis research. I thank my current and former advisors, my mentors, and my department for their guidance, assistance, and encouragement. I am also grateful to the entire SVP community for supporting student involvement and for creating a wonderful environment and network for students.