March 28, 2013
Mesalands Community College offers many unique opportunities for its students and one being, the fact that their students conduct undergraduate research.
Paleontology students Garrett LeMons, 17, Matthew Roper, 20, and Stephen Smith, 21, were selected to present their research at the first annual Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative on March 22-24, 2013 in Bethesda, MD. This conference funded by the National Science Foundation, was used to collect data from community college’s faculty who conduct research, in order to identify the barriers that makes it difficult to implement and sustain an undergraduate research program.
During the conference, the three Mesalands students gave presentations on their findings of three ischia bones (part of the hip) that represent possibly a new species of poposauroid pseudosuchian. These bones are from the Upper Triassic period, and are approximately 200-210 million years old. They were discovered in Quay County during a summer paleontology field research class at Mesalands. Poposauroids were reptile-like animals that walked on two legs and were about eight feet long (head to tail). The reptile lacked teeth, which indicates that they were probably plant-eaters. Bones of these animals have only been found in northern New Mexico and west Texas.
Mesalands was one of 31 community colleges that were represented at this conference. Other colleges presented research involving DNA testing, mosquito patterns, hibernation patterns of bears, and many other topics.
“This was a good experience for us to meet other students from around the country, at the same community college level and hear their presentations on their research,” said Smith. “I feel lucky to be in this program.”
Mesalands staff members, Dr. Axel Hungerbuehler, Natural Sciences Faculty/Museum Curator and Gretchen Gurtler, Director of the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum also attended the national conference for faculty development and to assist in the conference’s initiative.
“Conducting undergraduate research and presenting at a national conference is a huge opportunity for our students,” Gretchen said. “We are very fortunate that we have support from faculty, staff, and the Board of Trustees to do undergraduate research. I hope we can expand to other disciplines.”
Gurtler said their supplies, equipment, and technology to perform their research is made possible through the funds provided by the Mesalands Community College Foundation, Inc, the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) grant, the National Science Foundation, and the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative.
Paleontology field research classes at Mesalands Community will be offered this summer on June 10-14, June 24-28 and July 8-12, 2013. This class provides a week-long experience of excavating fossils and processing them in the Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum and Natural Science Laboratory. For more information, contact (575) 461-4413, ext. 252.
Illustration courtesy of Jeff Martz.