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Two new faces at UCMP

Seth Finnegan

Seth Finnegan.
Seth Finnegan
Seth Finnegan grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago and collected fossils from the gravels around his school. Those gravels came from Silurian reef quarries containing rugose corals and crinoids, and so his "career" began. His more formal training included a geophysical degree from University of Chicago, followed by an M.S. and Ph.D. from the Department of Earth Sciences at UC Riverside. With an interest in Ordovician diversity, he began to look at ecosystems from an energetic point of view and accepted a postdoctoral research position with John Payne at Stanford. After three years, he headed down to Cal Tech to work with Woody Fischer on how changes in climate and ocean chemistry are related to the late Ordovician mass extinction.

Apart from being a UCMP Assistant Curator, Seth is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology. He describes his research interests as "all over the place," but for the last couple of years has really focused on the late Ordovician mass extinction to better understand how and why it happened, and how it did or did not have a long-term effect on the structure of marine ecosystems. What is of particular interest to him are patterns of extinction selectivity — which particular things go extinct and which don't, and how are those extinctions distributed, not just phylogenetically but ecologically.

When asked what he loves about research, he responded: "I really get excited about seeing fossils in the context of the rocks in the field …. There's no substitute for really getting out and grappling with the taphonomic aspects of it — thinking about how this information is being filtered through the record, and also what the rocks are telling us about what really happened here. So field work is great both intellectually and — I won't lie — it's fun to be able to travel! And of course there's a real thrill when you actually figure something out — when it clicks. It's what keeps you coming back." Sounds like Seth is a perfect match for UCMP!

Lisa White

Lisa White at Dinosaur National Monument.
Lisa White
Lisa White is a San Francisco native, growing up only a block away from the California Academy of Sciences, and she "blames" Cal Academy for sparking her interests in paleontology and geology. Lisa received a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences with an emphasis in micropaleontology from UC Santa Cruz and has spent the last 22 years at San Francisco State University, where she held positions of Professor of Geosciences and Associate Dean of the College of Science and Engineering. She taught undergraduate classes in paleontology, historical geology, and the history of life, and guided research projects with graduate students in Miocene diatoms of the Monterey Formation of CA, and fossil cold seep assemblages in the Franciscan Complex.

But all along, Lisa's heart was in education and outreach, in particular finding ways to engage diverse urban youth in field and laboratory experiences with the goal of generating interest and excitement in the geosciences. Over the last eleven years she has been the PI, or co-PI on six major grants focusing on the teaching of science, and the recruitment of minorities into the sciences at the K12, undergraduate, graduate, and junior professional levels.

Lisa is no stranger to UCMP and its education programs. She participated in our National Conference on the Teaching of Evolution in 2000, representing the National Association for Black Geologists and Geophysicists, and she and Judy Scotchmoor have been working together on teacher professional development projects for the past 11 years. Lisa also served as an advisor to UCMP's Understanding Science project and is an enthusiastic advocate for its resources.

Judy is thrilled at the prospect of working with Lisa for the next year before turning over the reins completely and moving into retirement, and as for Lisa? When she found out that she had been officially offered the job, her response was "Thank you for the opportunity to be part of all the magic that is the UCMP!"

Seth Finnegan photo by Helena Alencar; Lisa White photo by Elizabeth Polito