For as long as she can remember, Flor Gomez has been fascinated with the mysteries of science. Captivated by the secrets that lurk beneath the terra firma and mesmerized by the galaxies that have kept dreamers gazing into the starry night skies since the beginning of time, Gomez’s passion for science can only be described as – inspiring.
Not to mention life changing.
Her constant desire to learn more in this area of study keeps her on the lookout for opportunities to expand her mind.
A few years ago, the Donna ISD Science Strategist found herself immersed in space science projects. On one occasion, she captured the attention of NASA and was selected from among hundreds of applicants to participate in the LiftOff Summer Institute at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She then challenged herself further and took on life science initiatives that brought national wildlife refuge gardens to Donna ISD school yards. Her latest undertaking, and what may be her most memorable, centers around earth science and the study of paleontology.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Gomez talked about her acceptance to the Dig Field School, a program that brings K-12 educators to Hell Creek, Montana for a four day, immersive field research experience. The participants work and learn side-by-side with University of Washington paleontologists excavating dinosaurs and other fossils, collecting data, and developing research skills and experiences that they can take back to students in their classrooms.
Gomez was one of only 25 educators chosen from across the country to participate in the program and she was proud to be one of them. “I’m a science enthusiast so I was extremely excited to be accepted,” Gomez said. “It’s one of those things that you think to yourself ‘am I ever going to get this opportunity’. So, I was ecstatic that I was going to do something I’ve always wanted to do and alongside real paleontologists.”
The participants were taken to a fossil dig site where the first T. Rex skeleton was discovered over a hundred years ago. Gomez said she was taken aback when they were told by their professors that they would be doing their own digging for dinosaur bones and other fossils. “They said in order for us to familiarize ourselves with the type of rock from 66 million years ago, we have to dig in,” Gomez said. “We all stared at each other thinking we were going to watch and learn. Instead, they gave us a pick ax and other gadgets and told us to have at it.”
After hours of walking and digging, the group was excited to unearth both micro and macrofossils. One of the discoveries in particular had everyone in awe. “We looked at our professors and it looked like they wanted to cry,” Gomez said. “It turned out it was a mammal jaw and it was complete. They said it’s rare to find one tooth, but to find a whole jaw is even rarer.”
Gomez also made a discovery of her own. “I said look what I found,” Gomez said. “Turns out it was a bone from a Triceratops dinosaur.”
The bones and soil they dug up were labeled and sent to the Wilson Research Lab at the University of Washington and later to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington for further research. The fossils that are not duplicates will be put on display. Gomez said the participants will have the opportunity to request soil samples they collected to use in the classroom. “Our students our going to get 66 million year-old soil samples to sift through and look for those little micro fossils that I was able to find.”
Gomez said the experience is one that she will never forget. “What I was able to get out of this was life changing but at the same time I gained a lot of experience myself by having a better understanding of paleontology. What I also loved about this program is that we’re able to bring this research back to our students. It’s one thing to see it in pictures, but it’s another to use the actual soil sediments that were dug from the time period that went through the great mass extinction.”