DOINews: BLM: It's a WIN: Philly, Montana and Dinosaur Bones

Last edited 09/05/2019

What do you do with a group of girls from Philadelphia, Pa., who've shown an interest in natural science? How about packing them on a plane, flying them to Montana and hitting the field for some dinosaur-bone hunting?

That's exactly what Timshel Purdum of Drexel University's Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia did this summer. Purdum works with a group called Women in Natural Science or WINS for short. The group commonly refers to itself as WINs Girls.

“The goal of the program is to provide underserved women in Philadelphia with opportunities in STEMs, that's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” said Purdum. “Our goal is to establish a path for the girls to pursue a science degree in college, but also to build self-confidence and a sense of comradery and community.”

Through a combined partnership with Drexel University, the University of Cincinnati and the New Jersey State Museum Paleontology Expedition, three WINS girls spent a week scouring BLM and other lands south of Bridger, Mont., for signs of dinosaur fossils.

Two WINS members comparing possible bone fragment finds in Montana.
WINS members Alyssa Fairfax and Maranda Parker compare possible bone-fragment finds in Montana.

“Back at the museum, these are girls who are trained to work in our lab; they prep the fossils that come back from trips like this,” explained Purdum. “They are the ones putting together what's been found over the past several years, but this is their first opportunity to see where it came from, and that makes them better educators when they are on the floor preparing the fossils and talking with the public.”

WINs member holding a possible bone fragment.
WINS members are trained to work in museums logging and processing fossils; the opportunity to discover and determine if an item is a fossil in the field rounds out their training.

On this trip, Philadelphia natives Alyssa Fairfax, Maranda Parker and Tiffany Neely are completing the field work. All three are experienced members of the WINS program, and none of them are shy about sharing some of their experiences.

“Ever since I've been with WINS, the focus has been to love science, and that's something that's really been instilled in me, I love environmental science and paleontology,” Fairfax said.

“When I first got here I didn't know what to expect because I'm used to being in a lab,” Parker said. “The instructors at the lab would always tell me to look for something that isn't familiar or is out of place. I never really understood what they meant until I got out here and experienced it for myself.”

WINS participant touching her tongue to what she thinks might be a fossil.
WINS member Tiffany Neely uses an old paleontology field trick. If you feel suction when you touch your tongue to a suspected fossil, you might have something. If you don't feel suction, it's a rock.

“Over the past few days we've been uncovering and casting bones, but we don't know what type of dinosaur it is. Our boss thinks it might be a Pachycephalosaur,” Neely said.

For those without the benefit of a WINS program, a Pachycepalosaur or “thick-headed lizard” is a dinosaur that roamed Montana about 80 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period.

“I'm really impressed by the amount of knowledge these young ladies already have about Paleontology,” said BLM state paleontologist Greg Liggett. “But what I think is even more important is the exposure to science, the understanding of how public lands play a role in the earth sciences, and the opportunity the BLM and partners like WINs have in playing a role in the education and future of our youth.”

While hearing about museums and universities that hunt for dinosaur bones in Big Sky country isn't anything new for Montanans, back home in Philadelphia, the WINS girls get a different reaction from friends.

“When I tell my friends that I'm not going to have cell service for a week they always want to know where I'm going,” Fairfax said. “Sometimes when I tell them I'm going to Montana to hunt for dinosaur bones they don't understand, so I have to explain it to them.”

Wins crew out in the field, hunting for dinosaur bones.

The WINS crew head out to the field to hunt for dinosaur bones in Montana.

Creating youth who are able to explain scientific concepts to their peers might be the most successful part of the WINS program.

Story and photos by Brad Purdy, public affairs specialist, BLM Montana/Dakotas State Office

Oct. 14, 2014

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