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Dr. Karen Samonds

Karen is currently an Associate Professor at Northern Illinois University. She received her B.S. and B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, and her M.A, M.Phil. & Ph.D. from the Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University. She has worked at Mount Holyoke College, McGill University, and the University of Queensland, Australia. Her research integrates comparative anatomy, systematics, and biogeography with field paleontology to address topics in vertebrate evolution. She first travelled to Madagascar in 1998, and has participated in many different types of research there (e.g., paleontological, ecological, behavioral). Her paleontological field research aims to shed light on the origin and evolutionary history of Madagascar’s modern fauna, one of the most unique and endemic on the planet.

Postdoctoral Associate

James Hansford - NIU & Zoological Society of London

James is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at NIU and the Zoological Society of London. He received his BSc from Cardiff University, his MRes from the University of York and his PhD from the University of Southampton. His research into systematics and biogeography underpin conservation research in the Caribbean, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Madagascar. His research into elephant birds is the foundation of modern understanding of Madagascar’s largest Quaternary vertebrates. James is conducting research into the role of Madagascar’s extinct megaherbivores to understand the diversity of ecosystems and ecological function, to create conservation and regeneration objectives.

Graduate Students

 

Elizabeth Lester - Lab Supervisor

Liz is a PhD student in the Department of Biological Sciences. She earned dual degrees in Earth Sciences and Evolution at the Ohio State University in 2017 and then received a M.S. in Biological Sciences at Marshall in 2019 university working with Antarctic plesiosaurs. Her research focuses on Elephant birds’ diet and histology. She currently works in the Samonds lab while pursuing her degree. 

 

Coleman Czajkowski - Chief Fossil Preparator

Cole is a Masters's student in the Department of Biological Sciences. He earned his B.S. in Environmental Geology at NIU. Cole is currently using 3D digital models and prints to study Malagasy Elephant Bird subfossils. He used to work at the Field Museum in Chicago as a fossil preparator where he primarily works on dicynodonts for Dr. Kenneth Angielczyk. He hopes to find a career researching in paleontology.

Kara Coffman-Rea

Kara received her Bachelor's of Science degree from NIU in 2007, and a Master’s in Human Anatomical Sciences in 2016. After graduating, she worked at Illinois Valley Community College and Missouri Southern State University teaching anatomy & physiology to undergraduate allied health students. Kara’s research focuses on microplastic particles in our environment and bodies. For her Ph.D., she is documenting the type, size, shape and location of microplastics in human cadavers, and comparing different microplastic detection methodologies. 

Christina Cline

Christina started the PhD program in the Department of Biological Sciences in 2018, co-advised br Dr. Samonds and Dr. Heather Bergan-Roller (Dept. of Biological Sciences). She received her B.A. in Biology from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1997 and her teaching certification from N.I.U. in 2000. She spent 14 years teaching high school science and most recently received a Master's of Science in Human Anatomical Science (HAS) from NIU in 2017. Her research interests are in Science Communication, particularly in how scientists communicate effectively with the public. She hopes to focus her research on how to best teach students in their medical education, and strategies for successful communication with their patients.

Chloé Gherardi

Chloé earned her Bachelor's degree in Biology from McGill University, and is now pursuing her Master's in Biological Sciences from NIU, under the co-supervision of Dr. Samonds and Dr. Mitchell Irwin (Department of Anthropology).

Allison Shackelton

Allison earned her Bachelor’s degree in Geology at St. Norbert College in 2014 and her Master’s in Geology at Temple University in 2016. She is studying subfossil Malagays hippos for her research, co-advised by Dr. James Hansford (NIU/Zoological Society of London).

 

Joshua Mathews

Josh is a PhD student in the Dept. of Biological Sciences & Head of Paleontology at the Burpee Museum of Natural History. He earned his B.S. in Biology and Geology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and his M.S. in Geography at NIU. Prior to starting his PhD, he was chief fossil preparator at the Fryxell Geology Museum at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. He was involved with the Transantarctic Vertebrate Paleontology Project and traveled on expedition to Antarctica in the winter of 2010-2011 to excavate and search for early Jurassic dinosaurs.

Nadia Rasolofomanana

Nadia earned her Masters thesis at the University of Antananarivo in September 2016. Her Ph.D. work focuses on the subfossil diversity in the Sambaina Basin, central Madagascar. has conducted fieldwork with the Samonds paleontological team since 2015.

Miora Christelle Andriambelomanana

Christelle began working with the Samonds team in 2016. She earned her Master's degree in 2017, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Antananarivo focused on subfossil flora and the paleoenvironmental history of the Sambaina Basin and Ampasambazimba, central Madagascar.

 

Ravoniaina Rakotozandry

Ravo started working with the Samonds team in 2016. He is currently pursuing research on Malagasy subfossil crocodylians for his thesis (Doctorat) at the University of Antananarivo.

 

Nomenjanahary Zafindratsaravelo Bototsemily

Nomena started working with the Samonds team in 2016.  She earned her Masters thesis at the University of Antananarivo in March 2018. Her Ph.D. work focuses on the subfossil birds of the Sambaina basin, Central Madagascar, in particular the genus Alopochen. She is currently pursuing her thesis (Doctorat) at the University of Antananarivo.

Dianah Raharisoanarindra

Dianah is currently a Master's student at the University of Antananarivo. She began working with Dr. Samonds paleontological team ln 2018. Her thesis focuses on subfossil hippo teeth from the Sambaina basin and Ampasambazimba, Central Madagascar. She is also interested in fossil dolphins.

 

Undergraduate Students

 

Ryan Dewey

Ryan is an artist and animator currently operating out of Dixon, IL. His experience in art includes illustration, sculpting, painting, and puppetry. He is a volunteer educator and artist at the Burpee Museum of Natural History and teaches drawing and animation at the Woodlawn Arts Academy during the summer. He has an Associates degree in Fine Arts from Rock Valley Community College in Rochford, IL and is currently a student at NIU, working towards his Bachelor's in Time Arts. He plans to pursue a career in TV animation.

Michael Vitha-Nolan

Michael is a senior illustration student pursuing a Biology minor at NIU. His work focuses on accurately drawing and displaying a variety of animals and plants for both his scientific illustration classes and the Samonds lab.

 

Past Students

 

Jamie Graves

Jamie graduated with her Master's degree in Biological Sciences from NIU in 2018. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology at Northwest Missouri State University in 2016 and subsequently pursued paleontological work in Wyoming before coming to NIU. Her research focused on Malagasy subfossil bats.

Katie Heffernan

Katie earned her bachelors in Biology at University of Wisconsin - Parkside in 2009, and then received a M.S. with a specialization in Human Anatomical Sciences in 2011 from Northern Illinois University. Her Ph.D, awarded in 2019 and co-advised by Dr. Samonds and Dr. Mitchell Irwin (Department of Anthropology), focused on dental macrowear in Malagasy lemurs.

Peyton Whiston

Peyton was a double major in Biological Sciences and Geography with a minor in Chemistry. He previously conducted research in Dr. Jones’ lab studying the invertebrate communities of tallgrass prairies. At NIU, Peyton was also involved in Best Buddies, Phi Sigma Biological Honor Society, and the Pre-Professional Association.

Ellen Rosenwinkel

Ellen joined the Samonds Lab in 2017 and primarily sorted small vertebrate fossils. In the future, she hopes to attend medical school and participate in medical research. 

Natalia Peña

Natalia Pena graduated from NIU with a degree in Biological Sciences with a minor in chemistry. She was the secretary of the Pre-Dental Association at NIU and also a student athlete on the NIU women's soccer team.

Kwame Ababio

Kwame graduated from NIU in 2018, and his work focused on manual and acetic acid preparation of vertebrate fossils. He is also a reggae recording artist. 

Angela Reddick

Angela recieved her Masters thesis from the Department of Geology at Northern Illinois University, co-advised by Dr. Karen Samonds and Dr. Reed Scherer (Dept of Geology and Environmental Geosciences).

Rebekah Ernat

Rebekah graduated from NIU in 20117, majoring in Biology and Anthropology and minoring in French at Northern Illinois University. Her passion for paleontology was revived at a fossil dig while she was studying in Madagascar in the sumer of 2015. She hopes to someday work at a national park, natural history museum, or some other location where she can help people to better understand and enjoy the world around them.

Kailynn Madsen

Kailynn graduated from NIU in 2017, receiving a degree in Biology at Northern Illinois University. Her work focused on acetic acid preparation of small vertebrate fossils. She is currently attending veterinary school.


Isabella Huminsky

Isabella graduated from NIU in 2017 as a Biology major studying Pre-Medicine & Spanish. She participated in honors research with Dr. Samonds for the University Honors Program and the Biological Honors Program at NIU.

Harimalala Tsiory Andrianavalona

Tsiory defended her PhD at the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar in August of 2016, and her Masters degree in 2011, both of which focused on shark fossils from northwestern Madagascar. She was recently named a “National Geographic Young Explorer”and has conducted fieldwork with the Samonds paleontological team since 2010.

Tolotra Niaina Ramahangihajason

Niaina defended his PhD at the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar in August of 2016, and his Masters degree in 2011, both of which focused on newly described microfossils and the genus Kuphus (a marine bivalve) from Nosy Makamby, northwestern Madagascar. He has conducted fieldwork with the Samonds paleontological team since 2010.

Kara Coffman

Kara graduated from the Human Anatomical Sciences Masters program in 2016. She received a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Northern Illinois University in 2007. Kara completed a special studies project on the inguinal canal, incorporating a descriptive manual explaining the detailed anatomy of the inguinal region along with its clinical significance, three dissections of the inguinal canal, and a model representing the development and formation of the inguinal canal.

Morgan Hirschfield

Morgan graduated from NIU in 2016 with a Biology major emphasizing in Pre-Medicine.

Jessica Cox

Jessica was one of the 2014 "Huskie Research Rookies" and participated in mentored research in the Samonds lab.

Melissa Woodall - Lab scientific illustrator

Melissa graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2015. She has developed a passion for drawing skeletal features, insects, and a wide variety of animals, including humans, and did numerous illustrations for the Samonds Lab.

James Mateika

James graduated with a BA from Northern Illinois University in 2015, and a Masters in Human Anatomical Sciences in 2017. He undertook an independent study with Dr. Samonds focused on prosthetic limbs and related physical and occupational therapy.

Samantha Kraft

Samantha graduated from Northern Illinois University in December 2014. She worked in the Samonds lab for 2 years, and was also an SI Leader (a peer tutoring program designed to enhance student performance and academic achievement).

Meghan Timke

Meghan graduated from Northern Illinois University in December 2014. She took an intensive independent study of Head & Neck Anatomy with Dr. Samonds, and has future hopes of attending medical school with a potential focus on osteopathy.

 

Burcu Carlon

Burcu finished her PhD research on the functional morphology and biomechanics of extant and extinct felids and canids in the Fall of 2014, co-advised by Dr. Karen Samonds and Dr. Christopher Hubbard (Dept. of Biological Sciences).

Allison Reed

Allison is currently in the Physical Therapy program at Northern Illinois University. She worked with Dr. Samonds on a Capstone Project for the honors program on knee anatomy, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and rehabilitation.

Rebecca Stith

Allison is currently a dental student at Louisiana State University (New Orleans). She undertook an intensive independent study of Head & Neck Anatomy and Dental Anatomy with Dr. Samonds.

Caitlin Crookshank

Caitlin graduated with a BS in Biology from Northern Illinois University in 2014. She gained extensive lab experience in acetic acid preparation and fossil identification.

Kelly Fallon

Kelly is currently an instructor of Biology at McHenry County College and plans to continue educating the population of McHenry County in Biological Sciences. Kelly graduated in the Spring of 2013 with a Masters degree in Anatomical Sciences from Northern Illinois University.

Paul Regan

Paul completed an independent study with Dr. Samonds on Gorilla anatomy and specimen preparation. He entered a Nursing program in 2014.

Brittany Gerard

Brittany graduated with a Biology degree from Northern Illinois University in 2013. She completed her Capstone Honors thesis research with Dr. Samonds.