Ecoteen Myria Perez earns Girl Scouts’ highest honor — and a congrats from the Mayor — for collaboration with HMNS

Editor’s note: Museum volunteer and Ecoteen Myria Perez was recognized by Mayor Annise Parker on Friday after earning the Girl Scouts’ highest honor for her work with HMNS. Perez collaborated with the HMNS paleontology department to construct a Permian-period touch cart using specimens that she helped uncover at our dig site in Seymour, Texas. We caught up with Myria to talk a bit about her project and what it means to get the mayoral stamp of approval.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria with the Mayor

HMNS: You were an Ecoteen and have logged some 1,000 volunteer hours at the Museum. When did you start volunteering at HMNS and what’s been your favorite project or memory?

Myria Perez: I started volunteering at HMNS in the fall of 2008 when I was 12 years old. During that time, the Leonardo Dinosaur Mummy CSI exhibit was up on display. During my visit to the Museum for Leonardo’s exhibit, I found out about Dino Days and Breakfast with Dr. Bakker and immediately saved the date. When November came around I was able to meet paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker. There I was, wearing my over-sized Leonardo Dinosaur Mummy shirt with a pen and drawing in my hand for him to sign.

Volunteering was brought up during our conversation. “The minimum age is 14; how old are you?” And of course, I responded, “12.” Dr. Bakker looked at me and repeated the question. “12,” I chirped once more, until I realized I had repeated my mistake. The third time, “The minimum age is 14; how old are you?” I was 14 now! The first thing I learned from paleontologist Dr. Bakker was to lie about my age; I was good to go!

My favorite memory was helping my mentor [associate curator of paleontology] David Temple with the new hall of paleontology during the summer of 2011 by preparing, painting, and packing up specimens such as the Megalodon jaw, Triceratops skull, and Edmontosaurus bones. An unforgettable memory was a trip to Seymour, Texas for a paleo excavation in the Permian red beds. The drive is around eight hours, so my mom and I arrived in the town of Seymour around midnight. My mom decided to stop and stay at the Sagamar Inn, the one and only inn in Seymour. The rest of the crew was staying at their normal place.

My mom and I checked in and got ready for bed. About an hour passed since I had drifted to sleep when I woke up to foul words from my mother’s mouth. She was half-awake, jumping up and down, throwing her hands around with a disgusted look on her face. Her bed sheets were stripped away and little black and red bugs scurried, fearful of the lamp light.

This was the horrific bed bug encounter. From nymphs to adults, each part of life cycle stages were present. They were in my sheets, as well. At 1 a.m. we notified the people in charge; they denied the bed bugs and offered us another room — the room next door. Of course, we called poor David Temple and relocated under the darkness of the premature morning to the old tractor factory to join the rest of the crew.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria in the field

HMNS: What got you interested in paleontology? Is it something you’d pursue as a career path?

Myria Perez: I caught fossil fever back when I was 2 years old, and still to this day have yet to find a cure for it. I never played with Barbie dolls. Instead, I spent my time analyzing dinosaur bones (garden rocks in my backyard) and conducting prehistoric battles with plastic dinosaurs. Every year, my mom would take me to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see ancient life. I could say I just grew up with a passion for paleontology.

My ultimate goal is to achieve my doctorate of vertebrate paleontology. I want to study the paleobiology of ancient life.

HMNS: How many hours did you spend on the touch cart? Can you tell us a bit about the process?

Myria Perez: I spent a total of 129.5 hours on the Permian touch cart. This included the planning, presentation of the cart to the museum guild, the Seymour trip to collect fossils with the paleo crew, specimen molding and casting (as well as painting), creation of the manual, docent/volunteer training on the cart, and touch cart presentations to museum visitors.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria poses with her touch cart in the new Morian Hall of Paleontology

The Permian touch cart was a great opportunity to combine Girl Scouts, paleontology, and earth science education. The timing could not have been better with the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s new hall of paleontology that opened the summer of 2012. The Permian time period (around 287 million years ago) and the critters that inhabited the earth at that time were and are still being excavated and studied by the paleontology crew at HMNS. This was the perfect opportunity to show museum visitors the entire process of fossil display. In the touch cart, I was able to include items such as excavation site pictures, tools used in the field, and a “fossil hunt” for visitors to spot the fossils as if they were looking for them in the field, ultimately achieving the goal of “bringing the field to you.”

HMNS: What does it mean to you to be receiving the Girl Scout Gold Award, and to receive personal commendation from Mayor Parker?

Myria Perez: The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest award to be earned in Girl Scouts (it is the equivalent of the Boy Scout’s Eagle Award). The project must be sustainable and address a community issue. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this project because I was always learning about not only myself, but also about how to work with all kinds of people, how to write a manual, and important paleo skills such as molding and casting specimens. This project has been a wonderful experience and opportunity for me to meet and work with new people and promote earth science education.

To be able to share the HMNS paleo crew’s discoveries in Seymour with Mayor Parker was an honor! It made it very exciting to share a few fossils with her, as she also exhibited great interest in ancient relics. She enjoyed a coprolite (fossilized poop) from a Permian shark called a Xenacanth as well a skull from the boomerang headed amphibian, Diplocaulus.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Mayor Parker examines a coprolite

Draw A Dino Contest: Winners!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who entered the Draw A Dino Contest, in honor of the world premiere exhibition of Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur in Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation.

We were totally amazed and overwhelmed by the fabulous dinosaur drawings that poured through our doors throughout the contest. The creativity – and scientific understanding – of our entrants is astounding.

The contest was judged by HMNS curator of paleontology Dr. Robert T Bakker, and winners were chosen in two categories: Scientific Accuracy and Artistic Effect. It was such a tough decision – and we were so impressed with every entry – that we’ll be posting a slideshow where they can all be seen – I hope you’ll come back soon to check them out – there are some very cool kids out there!

And the winners are…

Scientific Accuracy

Dr. Bakker picked Todd Blackmon’s drawing in the category of scientific accuracy because Todd did something very scientific – he labeled his drawing, pointing out the anatomy of T. rex. This is something Dr. Bakker himself always does in his drawings, because it helps people to learn and remember.

Here’s what Todd had to say about his winning illustration:

“My reason for entering the contest was to have fun. I wanted to follow the rules of the contest and draw T-Rex and point out his features. It was very challenging to look at the huge dinosaur and make him fit on a piece of paper.”

T. rex by Todd Blackmon

Artistic Effect

Dr. Bakker chose Myria Perez’ drawing for the category of Artistic Effect because of the compelling scene she created – a scene that’s both emotionally compelling and based on current scientific understanding of the circumstances surrounding Leonardo’s death, from the hypothesized flooding event to the cracks that can be seen in Leonardo’s abdomen today. If you visit the Dino Mummy exhibit, you’ll see just how accurate Myria’s artistic vision truly is.

Here’s what Myria had to say about her creation:

“Creating “Leonardo’s Death”
Creating Leonardo’s death was a thrilling experience!  I learned so much about his lifestyle.  Before I started the final drawing, I decided to have an action scene because I am certain Leonardo’s last moments were filled with action.  I wanted to draw a picture that showed that action and a lot of detail. 

The first sketch I did of Leonardo was just an idea based on what I could remember about the exhibit and how he died with the wound.  After the initial sketch, I went online to find pictures of Brachylophosaur and thought about different positions I could place Leonardo in.  I decided on a pose for him: slightly tipping, an open mouth out towards the sky, and his tail curved around the wound a Daspletosaurus gave his side. 

Leonardo’s last moments probably included rain and a flood to perfectly preserve him as a mummy.  I decided to have the water up almost to his knee, but with enough room to let you see the details of his wound.  One of my favorite parts about drawing this scene was there was a lot of splashing and action with the blood trickling down and the rain.  The blood from his side oozes from his side and then splashes in the water. 

I was able to show this by shading dark to light under the water ripples so it would look like it faded.  I found it challenging to show the rain hitting Leonardo and sliding down his body off into the water after being blown by the wind.  The part of the drawing that took me the longest was all of the small hard to see scales over the entire body of Leonardo.  The scales are larger on the front of his legs because he would have needed better protection to walk through the brush. 

Creating  “Leonardo’s Death” is a drawing experience that has changed how I will look at my future drawings.  “Leonardo’s Death” has been my most successful drawing so far!”

“Leonardo’s Death” by Myria Perez

Congratulations to Myria and Todd! They’ll both receive $200 gift certificates to Texas Art Supply – keep drawing! – and a signed dinosaur drawing by Dr. Bakker himself. And, thank you to everyone else who entered – we’ll be posting a slideshow of all their creative, fun and thoughtful drawings here soon.