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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2018 Awardees 2018 (Dawson 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 received an opportunity to work in the UChicago Fossil Lab as a preparator. I was drawn to the integration of hands-on science and imagination that paleontology entails. I continued working in the lab for the next three years, taking on the additional roles of Student Volunteer Coordinator, Teaching Assistant, Field Assistant, and Tour Guide. I also completed a thesis project with Dr. Paul Sereno describing a new araripemyid turtle, Laganemys tenerensis, from mid-Cretaceous Niger.

In addition to my lab work and research, I discovered a passion for outreach through working with Project Exploration (PE), a non-profit science outreach organization affiliated with the UChicago Fossil Lab. I instructed and mentored inner-city teens in summer and after-school programs. I also led a team of peers to launch a new student-run science outreach program, Paradigm Shift, to connect student mentors from UChicago with students at a local middle school.

I continued my paleontological training through a Masters Degree in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Working with Dr. Jason Head, my Masters research reconstructed temperature through the Paleogene in interior of North American based on body size change in anguid lizards.

After completing my Masters in 2014, I entered the doctoral program in Integrative Biology (IB) at the University of California, Berkeley. There, I have been able to integrate my interests in paleontology, herpetology, ecology, climate change, and conservation. Under the guidance of Dr. Kevin Padian, my dissertation research uses fossil and extant data to examine responses in North American reptile assemblages to climate transitions through the Paleogene. The Dawson Award will help me to complete this research.

I also continue to explore and develop new approaches to science outreach and communication. I developed a series of workshops on story training for science communication in collaboration with artists at major film studios and educators at the UC Museum of Paleontology. I have been running these workshops at university campuses, museums, conference venues, and even theme parks across the continent over the last two years. I also organized a recent symposium, Science Through Narrative: Engaging Broad Audiences, with speakers from the scientific community as well as arts and entertainment industries at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology.

In the future, I plan to pursue a leadership position in a major science museum. I am excited to explore career options that can lead me to that goal, and that will allow me to continue to integrate my passion for paleontological research and science education.

I thank my current and former advisors, mentors, and peers for their guidance, assistance, and encouragement. I am also grateful to the entire SVP community for creating such a supportive community for students.