Native Explorers travel to Oklahoma panhandle to dig for dinosaurs and other fossil vertebrates.
In June 2011, ten Native college students from Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas were selected to participate in the Native Explorers Program (NEP) at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSU-CHS). Kent Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology and colleague Nicholas Czaplewski, Ph.D., Associate Staff Curator at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History lead a scientific excursion to the Oklahoma panhandle to prospect and collect Cenozoic and Mesozoic fossil vertebrates, which exposed participants to the science of Vertebrate Paleontology.
This year, the Native Explorer participants began their adventure on the campus of OSU-CHS where they learned about field techniques used by vertebrate paleontologists, Osteopathic Medicine (Robin Dyer, D.O.), healthful lifestyles, and traditional ways and culture. In addition, the participants and student mentors (medical and graduate students) were graciously presented IPADS by the Whitten Newman Foundation with the hopes it would help inspire them to “do science”. On the second day of the program, the participants traveled to Beaver and Cimarron counties to prospect and collect fossil vertebrates from the Cenozoic and Mesozoic Eras.
Hope Harjo, a Native Explorer Program participant in 2011, stated “I appreciate everything Native Explorers program has done. It was a great opportunity and I’m glad I was able to go!” Another 2011 participant, Jena Fox, expressed her desire to return for 2012’s expedition, “to help pass on a culturally rich and informative experience!”
NE collected many fossils in 2011. From the Miocene rock formations, the students collected plant fossils, molluscs (snails and clam shells), fish (gar and sun fish), frog, turtle, bird, lizard, snake, horse (2 different three-toed species), peccary, gomphothere (a tusked, mastodonlike mammal), and rhinoceros.
From the Triassic rock formations, NE students discovered phytosaur and labyrinthodont amphibian fossils. In addition, crocodylian, turtle and fish fossils were collected from the exposed Jurassic rock formations.
Currently, the NEP is primarily funded by the Whitten-Newman Foundation (WNF) and Native Explorers. The WNF provided funds to the Oklahoma State University Foundation, which directly supports the NEP. Native Explorers was co-created by Kent, a member of the Comanche Nation, and Whitten Burrage Law partners, Reggie Whitten and Michael Burrage.
Native Explorers provides mentors, internships, summer programs, networking, scholarships, and an opportunity to experience science to support academic achievement. Summer programs include scientific expeditions to remote areas giving participants an opportunity to experience science outside the classroom. With a paucity of Natives in science and medicine, NEF strives to recruit, train, and educate Native youth in the earth sciences, natural sciences, and biomedical sciences as well as medicine. To date, NE has touched about 1600 students.
Native American students interested in science, medicine and/or paleontology are encourage to apply today.