By Antony Stark
This past summer, one of Oak Hall’s Lower School science teachers, Ginny Switt, fulfilled a life-long dream: to go on a dinosaur excursion and find fossils. In 102-degree weather in rural Montana, Switt joined several graduate students, and experienced paleontologists from the University of Washington. Switt helped dig up the Jurassic-era fossils in an area known as Hell’s Creek, which is located incredibly far from modern civilization. Not only did Switt get to participate in a dig for fossils, she also experienced camping for the first time. According to Switt, this experience was a “harsh way” to be introduced to camping! The campground terrain was “dry and sandy, with a large freshwater river flowing beside us,” she said. The trip lasted one week, but finding a Tyrannosaurus Rex hip bone, and the skull of Triceratops, made the work under the intense heat well worth it.
On the first day of the excavation, the team searched for the rocks that were under the dinosaurs when they became extinct. The rocks contained “little shiny water-like particles”, which were scattered over the surface of the rocks. The particles turned out to be the substance that fell onto the dinosaurs when they met their demise.
For the remainder of the trip, the team learned to develop essential skills with help from the professional paleontologists, so the group could spread what had been learned in a better and more accurate way when they returned home. Switt said the best part of the trip was “[being] able to work with real paleontologists and see how they do their job and see how hard it is.” Most of the paleontologists were students, and were brought to teach the visitors, like Switt, so they can learn how to teach others in their field. The leader of the paleontologists was more experienced and had been going to Hell’s Creek with undergraduate paleontology students for a long time. In the 90’s, he was on the same expedition in Hell’s Creek, but one of the guests was Steven Spielberg, the director of one of the most popular dinosaur movies, Jurassic Park. Spielberg used the team as a reference, not only to display accuracy with the dinosaurs in the movie, but also to replicate the personalities of the group he worked with in Hell’s Creek, into the movie.
Paleontology, specifically dinosaurs, has been in Switt’s life ever since the second grade. She would base school projects on dinosaurs and paleontologists. The topic has always fascinated her, which has carried into her daily job at Oak Hall. While paleontology is a very exciting and interesting field to enter, there is a lack of students wanting to pursue it as a profession. From what she has learned from this experience, Switt plans on taking the information and knowledge she gained and bring it to Oak Hall. “One thing that is kind of a push is getting students interested in science so that they can think about this as a career…to pursue paleontology and to pursue animal sciences,” she said. Switt is the pre-kindergarten through third grade science teacher and runs an after-school enrichment program to educate students about how fun and interesting paleontology, and science, can be.
Photos provided by Ginny Switt
About the author: Antony Stark is a senior at Oak Hall and is in his first year of journalism. While he has lived in Gainesville his whole life, Stark has been at Oak Hall since second grade. His current goal is to play soccer in college, the sport he is most passionate about. The senior Eagle is currently looking at attending college in Seattle.