The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is pleased to announce the winner of the first annual Futures Award, Sun Tun. Sun is a rising senior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA majoring in Geology and working with Professors Kristi Curry Rogers and Ray Rogers. He was first exposed to and fell in love with geology and paleontology when he took courses on these topics early in his undergraduate degree program, and he credits the professors who taught these courses with showing him that he could have a career in these fields. Through his work, he hopes to make paleontology more accessible to people from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds like himself. In addition to geoscience, he is passionate about improving education systems and does paleoart in his free time.
The Futures Award will allow Sun to work full time on the research that will form the basis of his senior honors thesis at Macalester College. More specifically, Sun is investigating diversity in an ancient Cretaceous community preserved in 75 million-year-old rocks from Montana through an analysis of preserved eggshell fragments. So far, he has recovered and studied hundreds of miniscule sub-millimeter-scale pieces of eggshell that preserve a remarkable diversity of egg-laying animals. Capturing this sort of hidden diversity allows him and his collaborators to reconstruct the inner workings of ancient terrestrial ecosystems, and documents the presence of huge egg-laying dinosaurs (including birds), in addition to crocodiles, turtles, and lizards. This work helps to contextualize the nature of terrestrial communities prior to the global mass extinction that ended the Cretaceous Period.
Sun was part of a highly competitive inaugural cohort of Futures Award applicants. The committee decided to award Honorable Mentions to two other applicants, Ana Velasquez at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA and Derek Mena Godoy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA. SVP is providing free student memberships and free meeting registration to Ana and Derek. In honor of the first year of the Futures Award, two anonymous donors have supported free student memberships for all other applicants from this year’s cycle.
Support the SVP Futures Award!
The Futures Award represents an investment in the future of SVP, and it would not be possible without the support of the many donors who contributed to the initial launch of this award in 2020 and to the Extending the Hammer fundraising campaign in 2019. This campaign is ongoing as we raise funds to fully support this award in perpetuity and expand it to support more undergraduate researchers in future years. Please consider donating to this important new program, which supports summer undergraduate research projects in vertebrate paleontology by students who identify as members of an underrepresented ethnic minority or people of color. Funds provide a competitive stipend and research costs, including travel for fieldwork. The impressive applicant pool for this first year of the Futures Award demonstrates the great need for funding promising student researchers. We were able to fund only one award this year, but with your support, we will be able to expand this award to offer multiple awards in future years. Please donate generously to help us reach our goal of raising $50,000 in 2021 so that we can continue to support and grow this new program, inspire new student researchers, and make our international society more diverse and inclusive.