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Paleontologist / Fossil Preparator
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Throughout her Illinois childhood, Jennifer admired the natural world around her and told people she was going to be a Wildlife Biologist when she grew up. As a teenager, however, her musical talents and dramatic inclinations steered her in a very different direction. But three years as a Musical Theatre Major at Illinois State University proved ultimately unfulfilling, so Jennifer moved “out west”… to Nebraska. It was there that she learned of the discipline known as Paleontology. Abandoning her pursuit of a Musical Theatre degree, she enrolled at Chadron State College in coursework that eventually earned her a BS in Biology with a Geology minor. While completing her degree, Jennifer worked in the paleontology lab to help pay her way through school. “I walked in, and they handed me an Oreodont skull to prep. I knew right then that I never wanted to do anything else.”
Jennifer went on to complete an MS in Paleontology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, SD. While attending SDSM&T, Jennifer spent her winters working in the prep lab on campus, and summers unearthing Oligocene aged fossils at the Big Pig Dig within Badlands National Park. Upon her graduation in 2004, she returned to Illinois to work in the lab at Augustana College, preparing Antarctic dinosaurs. Then it was on to the Utah desert where she spent three years collecting and preparing early Cretaceous dinosaurs for the Utah Geological Survey. Although work on dinosaurs constituted much of her early professional experience, Jennifer never forgot the oreodont skull which introduced her to the world of fossil preparation. She confesses that mammals were her first paleo love, “I am so happy that I have finally found a permanent home where I get to do my part in telling the story of life after the dinosaurs.”
A window into the fossil prep lab at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center allows visitors to view Jennifer at work, preparing John Day Fossil Beds specimens. And the occasional lucky visitor might notice that she hasn’t completely given up her musical side… sometimes singing as she preps!
Did You Know?
The best place to see the monument's fossils is inside the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at the Sheep Rock Unit.