Ode to the Volunteers

Volunteers sort through fossiliferous sediment in our sorting lab at the Life Science Building on the UW Seattle campus. Photo credit: Henry Fulghum

By Henry Fulghum

Hi everyone, my name is Henry Fulghum, and I am the Wilson Mantilla Lab manager. In this blog post I wanted to touch on my experiences during quarantine, and more explicitly, recognize the volunteer members of our paleontology community. 

In many respects, the Wilson Mantilla Lab has been able to maintain a productive routine since the beginning of quarantine (early March in Seattle). We still hold lab meetings and reading groups, and we even have remote happy hours on Fridays. I feel very fortunate to say that, in large part, my work and research has continued unimpeded through quarantine. Unfortunately, this degree of normalcy and functionality hasn’t extended to every aspect of the Wilson Mantilla Lab. The cancellation of fieldwork and the 2020 DIG Field School are some of the stark examples of this; for some lab members, quarantine marks their first break from fieldwork in close to a decade.

As lab manager, one of the hardest parts of quarantine has been the loss of engagement and interaction with our volunteers. Normally, there is a group of 10-20 undergraduates, post-baccalaureates, and general paleo-enthusiasts working in the Wilson lab, but the closure of the University has suspended this program. A large part of the work that we do is contingent upon the processing of fossiliferous sediment; many of our DIG Field School alumni may remember collecting sediment and screenwashing in the Fort Peck Reservoir. Once those samples are transported to Seattle, our volunteers become responsible for the remainder of sediment processing. They screenwash the sediment again, bag it, and then ultimately take on the monumental task of sorting through it for fossils. Many more assist with identification and curatorial work, as well as contribute to research. I don’t exaggerate when I say that this group is an essential part of our work. 

But I’d like to emphasize more than just what the volunteers contribute research-wise. They bring a curiosity and an infectious enthusiasm to the lab, and getting to work with them is a highlight of my job. I started as a volunteer in the Wilson Mantilla Lab, and that experience fostered a lot of my passion and professional interest in Paleontology. Because of this, the work I do now as a supervisor feels that much more rewarding.  The University of Washington recently announced their plan to hold 90% of courses online during the coming school year. As of now, it’s unclear what this means for our lab. So to all of our volunteers, current, past, and prospective, I want to express my thanks. You make my job something truly special, and the Wilson Mantilla Lab isn’t the same without you around. Stay safe and healthy. We hope to see you soon.

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