Though Massachusetts history is best known for the Mayflower or the Boston Tea Party, state officials and scholars celebrated a piece of local mid-Jurassic history on Wednesday.
Governor Charlie Baker, along with Lt. gov. Karyn Polito and state legislators attended a signing ceremony to designate the Podokesaurus holyokensis — a swift-footed lizard weighing about 90 pounds and three to six feet long — as the official dinosaur of Massachusetts.
The prehistoric lizard had already won its crown in April, when Baker signed the bill (H 3190) titling the dinosaur, and Wednesday’s ceremony at the Museum of Science in Boston celebrated the dino as part of Massachusetts STEM Week 2022 .
Organized by the Executive Office of Education and the STEM Advisory Board, the fifth STEM week will take place this year from October 17th to 21st. The See Yourself in STEM theme focuses on serving women, people of color and first generation students, those on low incomes, English learners and people with disabilities who are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Polito, co-chair of the advisory board, spoke about using dinosaurs and other “fun” themes to get kids excited about STEM education.
“We in Massachusetts intended to work with our educators and leaders in our school districts to transform our classrooms into learning labs, investing in equipment and state-of-the-art things like CNC machines, 3D printers, and lab oscilloscopes so kids can have fun exploring and discovering and not afraid to try different things,” she said.
Inspiring high school students to enjoy science, especially girls and children of color, helps them envision future careers in STEM and fuels the state’s innovation economy.
Baker recalled being interested and passionate about dinosaurs himself as a kid, and thanked the man behind the bill, Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis of Framingham, and other lawmakers for giving a “spunky Holyoke misfit the opportunity.” have to be the dinosaur here”. Commonwealth.”
Lewis explained to viewers Wednesday morning that the idea of naming a state dinosaur came to him in the late hours of the night at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the den leader of his child’s Cub Scout Group, he said he was rummaging through a Boy Scout book one night, looking for something a group of eight-year-olds would get interested in on Zoom after spending the whole day virtually at school to learn.
“I jumped to the back and there was a section about dinosaurs,” he said. “And I was like, ‘I like dinosaurs, maybe we can do something with that.'”
He learned that there were 12 states with state dinosaurs, and the next day reached out to leading paleontologists from across the Commonwealth to ask why Massachusetts didn’t have a designated dino.
Lewis said he began working with paleontologists who were excited about the project and saw it as an opportunity to get kids across the state interested in science and learning about the legislative process at a time when schools are struggling had to hold students’ attention through screens learning.
He and his collaborators put together an online poll between two options recommended by the paleontologists. By the end, 35,000 people had attended and Lewis was the subject of international press on the subject.
“I got emails from parents who were so excited because their kids were obsessed with dinosaurs and they got to talk about the legislative process,” he said. “I got emails from teachers who were rightly fed up with talking about the pandemic and social distancing and masks and hand sanitizer. Instead, they could talk about something funny that everyone, or at least most people, have loved at some point in their lives, dinosaurs.”
Parents of children who had never contacted their state officials before suddenly began contacting them about more than just dinosaurs, Lewis said.
“During the pandemic, many people lost their jobs, many people lost their health insurance related to their employment, and people who had never contacted their state representative and state senator before now had a reason to,” he said.
Given this year’s STEM week theme, the Podokesaurus holyokensis seems even more appropriate. The dinosaur’s fossils were discovered by Mignon Talbot – the first woman to name and describe a dinosaur, among other achievements that shattered glass ceilings.
Lewis said Talbot went from being something only paleontologists knew to a family or classroom name.
“If this project would just inspire a few girls to grow up and get into paleontology, it would all have been worth it,” he said.