Who We Are: Meet Julia McHugh, Dinosaur Journey Museum’s new curator of paleontology
Editor’s note: Who We Are features men and women embodying Grand Valley’s unique spirit. Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Julia McHugh took over Dinosaur Journey Museum’s open curator of paleontology position June 23, she hit the ground running — working in the field all but a handful of days, which culminated with the extraction of 6-foot-7-inch long, 2,800-pound Apatosaurus femur from the Mygatt-Moore quarry last week. The site, located just a few miles from the Colorado/Utah border, is home to a variety of prehistoric fossils, both dinosaur and aquatic.
“I’m having a blast,” she said. “This is a great area for paleontology. There’s so much right outside.”
McHugh took over from longtime curator, John Foster, who recently moved on to work for the Museum of Moab.
“She’s really good,” Foster said of McHugh. “She definitely bonded quickly with the volunteers. I’m looking forward to working with [Dinosaur Journey] on future projects.”
Before moving to Grand Junction, McHugh worked for Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. She was the senior research assistant for the anatomy and vertebrate paleontology track.
“I assisted in faculty research labs for vertebrate paleontology, and managed the volunteer program and public outreach,” McHugh said.
While in Oklahoma, McHugh also worked as a research associate with Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. She received her Ph.D. in 2012 from University of Iowa’s Department of Geoscience and previously studied at both Idaho State University and Hanover College in Indiana.
“This job [at Dinosaur Journey] was written like it was made just for me,” McHugh said. “Right now I‘m taking stock, learning the lay of the land and status of the museum. Then I’m coming up with a vision for the next 10, 20 and 50 years. You always have to be moving forward.”
One long-term project McHugh would love to accomplish is a joint expansion on Dinosaur Journey’s Fruita site with The John McConnell Math & Science Center of Western Colorado, which is currently located in Grand Junction.
“It would be a math and science campus for [grades] K-12,” she explained, with a shared education building. “We’re still in negotiations with the City of Fruita. Nothing is set in stone at this point.”
McHugh also traces her first dinosaur dig to Mesa County in 1997.
“It was a dig in Wyoming that was done through Dinamation International, the company that was here and built this building,” she said.
According to McHugh, her interest in geology and paleontology is long-standing, originally stemming from a childhood passion for rocks.
“Mom has a photo of me at 18 months, sitting in a flower bed in a dress looking at scoria. I got into fossils at age 13.
“My favorite dinosaurs are the same ones I liked as a kid,” she added. “Apatosaurus is my favorite herbivore and Allosaurus is my favorite predator. They’re both prevalent in Grand Junction.”
Besides sharing her passion for paleontology through tours, volunteer-based dinosaur digs and community outreach, McHugh will also be teaching classes (one each semester) at Grand Junction’s Colorado Mesa University. This fall she will instruct an Introduction to Geology class; then in spring she’ll teach an Introduction to Paleontology class.
When McHugh isn’t working, she loves to travel and dabble in photography, documenting her trips across the world.
For more information about Dinosaur Journey Museum, visit http://www.museumofwesternco.com/visit/dinosaur-journey.
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