If you have a saber-toothed tiger fang on your desk, there’s a good chance your life is pretty interesting. So it is with Lisa White, who is a working paleontologist.
Above: Lisa White, Photo: Anastasiia SaponBut White is more than that. She is also director of education and public programs at the UC Museum of Paleontology, which means her job is to make sure lay people, especially students, have a chance not only to see evidence of the Earth’s changes but also to understand them.
White spent 22 years as a faculty member and later as an administrator at San Francisco State. But her activist genes—her mother, Myrtle Escort White, was a public health nurse and her father was the late Joseph L. White, who pioneered the field of black psychology—led her in 2001 to start a program called SF-ROCKS, which took minority youth into national parks to explore fossils and geologic formations.
Now, White not only leads students on tours through the museum’s 5 million fossil specimens but is also reshaping its virtual offerings. This year, “Understanding Global Change” will join “Understanding Evolution” and “Understanding Science” as web-based learning tools.
“We’re not afraid to look at challenging topics of the time,” White says in a modulated voice that’s born to teach. “Bring it on,” she says.
Last summer, White accompanied 20 educators on a research vessel off Southeast Asia, where she brought science alive by letting them examine a deep core sample from the time, 65 million years ago, when much of the Earth’s plants and animals went extinct.
Paleontology, White believes, allows us to see a world in change, a world in which saber-toothed tigers no longer exist.