Vertebrate Paleontology Staff Biographies | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

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Vertebrate Paleontology Staff

Xiaoming Wang, PhD, Curator

Vertebrate Paleontology Curator, Xiaoming Wang, holds a PhD from the University of Kansas, where he studied the evolution and ecology of an extinct dog group known as the Borophagines.  He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and later became the Assistant Professor of Biology at Long Island University before starting as an Associate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology in 2002.  He has held the position of Curator since 2007 and has received several grants in support of oversees field work in Inner Mongolia and the Tibetan Plateau of China.  Dr. Wang's research interest in the evolution of terrestrial mammals is primarily focused on the history of carnivores.  Over the past 20 years Dr. Wang has specialized on the systematics and phylogeny of canids, the group that includes the dogs, wolves, foxes, and coyotes.  He has published over 100 peer reviewed papers and a popular level book titled, Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History, by Columbia University Press. 

Dr. Wang actively mentors graduate students pursuing courses of study similar to his research interests and holds many adjunct professorship positions at local universities and international organizations, such as the University of Southern California, the University of California Los Angeles, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  Dr. Wang is also currently serving as a Member-at-Large for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP).

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Jorge Velez-Juarbe, PhD, Assistant Curator, Mammalogy

Mammalogy Assistant Curator, Jorge Velez-Juarbe, holds a PhD from Howard University, where he studied the morphology, systematics, and paleobiology of fossil sirenians and cetaceans.  After receiving his doctorate in 2012, Dr. Velez-Juarbe held Post-Doctoral Associate positions at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and at California State University Fullerton before being hired as Mammalogy Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals at our Museum.  Dr. Velez-Juarbe's appointment involves curatorial responsibility for both out fossil and extant marine mammal collections.

Some of his current projects include: diversity and dynamics of ancient marine mammal herbivore communities, marine mammals from Central America and the Caribbean, Evolution of Cenozoic marine faunas of the Eastern Pacific region, Evolution and diversification of early odontocetes and mysticetes, and paleobiogeography of Cenozoic vertebrates from the Caribbean region.

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Samuel A. McLeod, PhD, Collections Manager

Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager, Samuel A. McLeod, holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.  Shortly after finishing his doctorate, Dr. McLeod was hired by the Museum to work on a National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored project to scientifically excavate three large quarries in the Sharktooth Hill Bonebed (a significant middle Miocene marine deposit near Bakersfield, California).  Dr. McLeod has over 30 years of experience managing, expanding, digitizing, and curating the Museum's Vertebrate Paleontology collections held in public trust.  Dr. McLeod's research interests include the evolution of ecolocation in fossil odontocetes and bats, as well as the systematics and morphology of fossil cetaceans, pinnipeds, sharks, and leatherback turtles.  He has also written over 2,500 paleontological record searches for Environmental Impact Reports, thereby providing much needed support for the Vertebrate Paleontology collections and programs.

Dr. McLeod has been instrumental in the digitization of museum collection records since his graduate student days.  Early in his career, he resurrected the computerized records from the 1960s of the Rancho La Brea collections — one of the first efforts worldwide to digitize museum collection records.  Dr. McLeod was awarded and/or managed several NSF grants to digitize the Museum's catalog collection records for both Vertebrate Paleontology and Invertebrate Paleontology.  Over the decades, Dr. McLeod has participated in national and international discussion groups fostering the advancement of collections digitization.  Dr. McLeod currently serves as an Information & Technology committee member for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP).

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Vanessa R. Rhue, Assistant Collections Manager

Vertebrate Paleontology Assistant Collections Manager, Vanessa R. Rhue, holds a BA from Biola University, where she focused her studies in zooarchaeology.  Ms. Rhue's interest in historical biology led her to acquire over 10 years of paleontological field and laboratory experience — working at numerous localities throughout Southern and Central California.  During her tenure at the Museum, she has made significant contributions to collecting, documenting, preparing, housing, photographing, and curating specimens and their associated records for scientific research and display.  Ms. Rhue's research interests include the conservation of paleobiology specimens and the advancement of best practices concerning museum collections care issues.

Ms. Rhue is passionate about training and mentoring Museum volunteers and interns — the future generation of collections care workers.  She enjoys teaching and giving of her knowledge to others in creative ways through educational workshops, Museum public outreach events, and presentations at professional meetings.  Ms. Rhue is an active member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), where she has served on professional development committees since 2012.  Ms. Rhue is also a member of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) and an inaugural member of the Association for Materials and Methods in Paleontology (AMMP).

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Sophie A. Wang, Assistant Collections Manager

Vertebrate Paleontology Assistant Collections Manager, Sophie Wang, holds a BA from Pomona College, where she completed a senior thesis on the relationship between aquatic lifestyle transitions and eye morphology.  Ms. Wang's involvement with the Vertebrate Paleontology Department began in the summer of 2014, when she volunteered to prepare, house, and catalogue specimens in our collection.  In July of 2015 she was hired to work part-time, assisting Vertebrate Paleontology staff with a variety of curation projects.  Ms. Wang is currently responsible for curating incoming collections from mitigation projects.  She has a special knack for finding fits with bone and often helps us in the laboratory to repair and house specimen for our collections.  Ms. Wang's research interests include the evolution of vertebrate morphology and adaptations to habitat transitions.

In addition to her scientific research interests, Ms. Wang is also invested in studying the relationships between science and society.  She is currently part of a team developing a blog that aims to increase access to scientific knowledge and develop a political education about the history and structure of science.  Ms. Wang is currently a Student-In-Training member of the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB).

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Alan Zdinak, Preparator

Vertebrate Paleontology Preparator, Alan Zdinak, received his training in fossil preparation and archival specimen housing at the American Museum of Natural History.  His work there focused on Mongolian dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous.  At the Yale Peabody Museum his work shifted to the Triassic, doing micropreparation and molding and casting of a bipedal crocodylomorph and fieldwork in Petrified Forest National Park.  He also conducted historical research in Yale’s O.C. Marsh collection.  Moving on to the Smithsonian, Mr. Zdinak worked on the renovation of the National Museum of Natural History’s fossil halls. He deinstalled and housed a wide variety of vertebrate and invertebrate fossil exhibits, from trilobites to a mastodon.  He also trained and supervised volunteers in the rehousing of the NMNH’s fossil crocodilian and marine mammal collections.
 
As vertebrate Paleontology Preparator at our Museum he is currently involved in the design of a renovated fossil preparation laboratory.  Mr. Zdinak is an active member of the paleontological community, teaching workshops at professional meetings such as The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) and Association for Materials and Methods in Paleontology (AMMP) as well as giving talks on fossil prep topics to the general public.  As recipient of the 2014 SVP Marvin and Beth Hix Preparator’s Grant he produced Web videos demonstrating archival housing techniques.  Mr. Zdinak holds a BA in Art and Philosophy from New York University and was formerly an Emmy nominated director of television shows like “Blue’s Clues”.

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