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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2018 Awardees 2018 (Gregory Award) Blaire van valkenburgh

 

Born and raised in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, I was lucky to be taken on many field trips to the Smithsonian Institution Natural History Museum.  Undoubtedly, the skeletons of dinosaurs, giant Pleistocene beavers, and the massive elephant in the rotunda influenced my decision to become a vertebrate paleobiologist. In college (Stockton State College, New Jersey), I majored in Environmental Science, largely because I could not narrow myself to one of the natural sciences, but instead wanted to take courses in geology, biology and astronomy.  Two of the classes that affected me most were taught by Roger Wood, “Vertebrate Paleontology” and a non-majors class on dinosaurs in which I fulfilled an assignment by designing and printing t-shirts with “accurate” illustrations of dinosaurs.  After graduating in 1970 with a B.S., I established my own t-shirt silkscreen business named Cretaceous Creations, achieving a (very) minor reputation as one of the first creators of dinosaur t-shirts.  However, t-shirt design was not enough, and I soon applied to graduate programs in paleontology. Paleontology appealed to me because it demands an understanding of multiple fields, including geology, anatomy, biomechanics, and ecology. I was accepted into an exceptional program in ecology and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University where I completed a dissertation on the evolutionary ecology and ecomorphology of living and fossil carnivorous mammals, such as sabertooth cats, dire wolves, and hyenas. My advising committee included Jeremy Jackson, Robert Bakker, Steven Stanley, and John Eisenberg. My graduate studies were followed by a post-doctoral position with Alan Walker at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. As a postdoc, I had a chance to visit Africa in 1984 as a field assistant to Alan on a fossil dig in western Kenya. Seeing the African megafauna was amazing and had to go back. I returned to Africa multiple times over the next decade to study carnivore behavior and ecology, following jackals, wild dogs, hyenas, cheetahs, and lions to document their feeding behavior.

I arrived at UCLA as an assistant professor in 1986, a bit daunted by Los Angeles, but entranced by the fact that coyotes were part of the urban fauna and the fact that the La Brea tar pits were 30 minutes from the campus. I have been here ever since, and am currently a full professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  I served as department chair for six years (1998-2004), during an exciting time of turnover and intellectual growth among the faculty. I have been honored with three UCLA teaching awards, appointed an honorary fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 1997, and served as president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, from 2008-2010. In 2011, I became Associate Dean for Educational Innovations in the Life Sciences at UCLA, and have been heavily involved in revolutionizing the way we teach quantitative skills to our majors as well as moving the campus towards student-centered classrooms. I was elected a fellow of the Paleontological Society in 2013 and served as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar in 2013-2014. In 2016, I was awarded the inaugural Donald R. Dickey Chair in Vertebrate Biology, and am currently the curator of the D.R. Dickey Bird and Mammal collection at UCLA.

On a personal note, I am married to Robert Wayne, professor in EEB at UCLA, currently have two cats (Jua, Zuni) and one horse (Mia Bella), and live in a 1959 mid-century modern house in the Santa Monica Mountains, surrounded by coyotes, bobcats and the occasional mountain lion.