Jason Mitchell, veteran and firefighter
When he was just a young boy, Jason Mitchell of Enid, Oklahoma, was “in love with dinosaurs and fossils and everything about them,” as he said recently. So, it was only natural that after his one-and-one-half year deployment in Iraq, the 22-year Army veteran turned to hunting for fossils as a way to reconnect with his then eight-year-old son Hunter.
“He had had a hard time with me away so long and we really needed some quality dad-son time together,” notes Jason, who is now a firefighter. “Plus, he was at the age when kids, especially boys, are really into dinosaurs. It was also something that I had always wanted to do.”
That first excursion with Paleo Adventures, which Jason notes definitely helped with their re-bonding, grew into several more. Their “hunts” eventually led to Jason and Hunter meeting up with Tom Hebert, recent founder of the Earth Sciences Foundation, Inc., and his daughter, Emma. Both families were by then volunteering at Paleo Adventures and were sent off to explore a quarry on their own to see if it had potential for the company’s digs. After two to three days together digging up fossils, they became good friends.
Now, Jason looks forward to supporting Tom in two of the big initiatives of the Earth Sciences Foundation. These include “Veterans Engaging and Transitioning to Science” and “Earth Sciences and the Youth.”
“If a veteran has any interest in fossils or geology of anything of that nature, I think it would be a really good experience for them to spend some time doing it,” says Jason. “It would be a de-stress time because when you’re in a quarry, it’s very minute, time-consuming, focus work. You have to concentrate,” he notes, “and while you’re concentrating on that one thing, you’re not thinking about the other stuff. You’re not thinking about what happened during your service.” Also, the hope is that therapy digs might help veterans find skills and interests they didn’t know they had.
And Jason can certainly attest that getting youth involved in fossil hunting and categorizing is beneficial on several fronts. He and his son, who is now 20, still go out on hunts together, now doing some exploring on their own in their native Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma is not really known for its fossils, but we’ve enjoyed the challenge of finding sites around the state,” he says.
As for youth and families getting involved in the Earth Sciences Foundation, Jason, who has a display of some of his fossil findings in his living room,definitely recommends it for both. “If family members are interested in it, it’s a great experience for everybody, helping them to bond and also making a difference in preserving this ancient history.”
Digging into the past, opens up Sabrina Wagner’s future
Wearing a dinosaur mask to her Calculus1 class has opened up all new interests and opportunities for Sabrina Wagner, who is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire majoring in geology and environmental science.
Thomas Hebert, founder of the Earth Sciences Foundation, was also in that classand as Sabrina noted, Tom likes dinosaurs. So, seeing the mask, he struck up a conversation with her, telling her about his research. She was interested. “Eventually I asked him if I could join his team and that’s how it started,” she said. “I guess it was the right day to wear a dinosaur mask.”
Sabrina ended up working on mapping a fossil site in South Dakota with Hebert and also going on an exploratory dig in Montana. “Before we went out to the first site, Tom and I learned how to use the [surveying] software and equipment donated by Carlson Software,” she explained, noting that Ladd Nelson, Carlson sales director from our region, trained them. “After gaining some confidence, I was able to take that equipment out in the field to mark the locations of the fossils,” she added.
This involved setting up a base unit and then Sabrina would carry the rover to where someone found a fossil, mark the x, y, and z coordinates, and then note what kind of a fossil it was and who found it. Not exactly easy to just “pick up” working with surveying software and hardware, but in the process of taking this on Sabrinafound she liked both surveying and identifying rocks. “It was a passion that I found when I went into the field with Tom,” she said. “I didn’t know I was good at it, and I didn’t know I would like it until I did it.”
This experience is making her lean toward paleontology as a career. “I now know that paleontology is a job that is an option for me,” she said. “I’m realizing that I have more options than I thought I did.”
Another important thing to Sabrina was actually finding fossils. “Every time I found any kind of fossil, even if it was a broken fossil—something that no one has ever touched before—it always just made my heart drop,” she explained. “I didn’t know that a job like this could make me so happy. It gave me butterflies.”
Of course, Sabrina recommends it to everyone. “It’s a very relaxing, peaceful activity and then you get this jolt of happiness,” she said. “It’s fun and anyone can do it.”
And, there’s an added benefit she noted: “If you find something that’s really, really good it could end up in a museum and then you can go look at it and say, ‘I found that!’”