The Virginia Museum of Natural History has named Dr. Brooke Haiar the recipient of the 2019 Thomas Jefferson Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education.
Dr. Haiar, an environmental science professor at the University of Lynchburg, will receive the award in a ceremony on March 21 at Natural Bridge State Park.
The annual award honors a Virginia educator who has made significant contributions to natural history or natural science education. Since 1999, Dr. Haiar has teamed-up with VMNH curators and researchers to excavate dinosaur fossils in Wyoming, and Lynchburg students started joining the digs in 2009.
Since then, her University of Lynchburg students have excavated dinosaur fossils and learned how to clean and study them in a lab on campus. Some bones found by the students are on display at VMNH in Martinsville, Virginia. Beginning this summer, she will take students each year instead of every other year.
“Field research and experiences are more powerful than learning about subjects in a classroom or traditional lab setting,” Dr. Haiar said, describing her commitment to hands-on learning. “They foster an excitement about the subject, and science in general, that is impossible to duplicate in a lecture. Students are fully immersed in the subject while learning the basics of living and working in a wilderness setting.
“I find it personally and professionally rewarding to see students experience the unique issues related to working in the field and learn how to handle them.”
Matthew Koelbel ’20, who went on the Wyoming excavation in 2018, said Dr. Haiar helped him gain practical experience that he hopes will set him apart for graduate school in paleoanthropology.
“She made the quarry a place conducive to both scientific curiosity and productive excavation,” he said, referring to the dig site. “I am thoroughly grateful to her for allowing students like myself to gain field experience in a proper paleontological excavation as undergraduates.”
The VMNH Foundation Thomas Jefferson Awards ceremony is a statewide event honoring individuals and corporations for outstanding contributions to natural science, natural science education, and conservation. In addition to Dr. Haiar, the museum will present awards Dr. Gerald V. Gibbs, a professor at Virginia Tech, William Henika, a geologist at Virginia Tech, and Norfolk Southern Foundation.