For eleven summers, Keith Snyder, chair of the biology department at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States, has traveled to eastern Wyoming's grasslands to dig up bones — dinosaur fossils, to be exact.
What began as a father-son adventure to visit the Dino Dig — organized by sister institution Southwestern Adventist University — transitioned to Snyder’s active participation, including leading teams, fundraising, and museum development. Students from Southern often join him on digs, and a few have become leaders at the site.
“I enjoy looking and searching for fossils, finding how pieces fit together and sorting out puzzles,” Snyder said. The team works in the Lance Formation bonebed to locate, record, and identify each bone before excavating and stabilizing it for transport to Southwestern’s lab in Keene, Texas, for additional preservation and study. High-precision GPS equipment records each bone’s location and measures with accuracy down to less than a centimeter.
The Dinosaur Excavation Research project has uncovered about 30,000 bones over 20 years, including some unique findings. On one dig, Snyder and his son, Ivan, uncovered the toe bone of a young T-rex that had adult T-rex bite marks. Based on this discovery, Snyder and Southern professor David Nelsen were among the co-authors of a scientific paper on tyrannosaur cannibalism published in 2018.
The first major paper addressing Lance’s broad findings was recently published in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS One. With Snyder as lead author, the work opens the door for a wider interpretation of what happened to the dinosaurs than traditional evolutionary theory.
“Dr. Snyder has been a great friend to our dinosaur research project,” said Art Chadwick, program director and biology professor at Southwestern. “An excellent scientist and scholar, he has worked tirelessly through two and a half years, including a sabbatical, to summarize 20 years of research on dinosaurs. In the field, Keith is a great explorer who has made many singular discoveries.”
Meeting Needs and Mentoring
Snyder is just one example of Southern professors who contribute to their fields and the community outside of the classroom. For a group of nursing professors, this involves providing free health care to those without health insurance in nearby Tennessee and Georgia counties.
Fifteen years ago, Holly Gadd, a family nurse practitioner and dean of Southern’s School of Nursing, began working with Volunteers in Medicine Chattanooga Inc., which provides care in a faith-based environment to those who have nowhere else to turn. Initially, Gadd served on the planning committee and volunteered as one of the medical providers.
In 2011, Gadd recognized that more consistency was needed in the clinic’s nurse practitioner role to provide continuity for patients. She proposed that a group from Southern take over this important position, and her idea was accepted.
“My vision was to provide a practice site for nurse practitioner faculty from Southern, to keep them up to date while serving the community,” Gadd said. Also, registered dietician and associate professor Beth Snyder provides monthly nutrition coaching for patients.
Faculty member Christine Moniyung describes the opportunity as “a remarkable platform to reach out to God’s children, allowing me and my colleagues to practice evidence-based primary care and Christian faith at the same time.” Beth Snyder adds that it keeps her in touch with current medical needs as “most patients are open and honest about their struggles, willing to learn to improve their health, and grateful for the hope rekindled in their lives.”
Writing to Reach the World
For most of her career, Alva James-Johnson, assistant professor in Southern’s School of Journalism and Communication, wrote full time for newspapers. Since leaving the newsroom to teach, she seeks freelance writing projects to sharpen her skills and stay current.
“I want to model to my students what it means to be a journalist and truth-seeker in today’s rapidly changing society,” James-Johnson said. “I enjoy reporting and writing stories, especially those with a strong human element, and I am particularly interested in trends, demographics, and complex issues that provoke thought and dialogue.”
Another Southern author making a difference is School of Religion professor Michael G. Hasel. He teamed up with his cousin, Frank M. Hasel, associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, to co-author the second quarter 2020 Adult Bible Study Guide on “How to Interpret Scripture.” The project also included writing the Teacher’s Edition for the guide and a companion book providing substantial additional resources on the topic and translated into multiple languages.
“Frank is a systematic theologian and has written extensively on this issue over the years,” Michael Hasel explained. “My specialty is in Old Testament, biblical languages, and archaeology. After each of us wrote a section, we would swap manuscripts for critique and feedback. It was a tremendous learning process for both of us and enriched our understanding and friendship.”
As much of the world went into lockdown this spring, millions of church members were unable to study the Sabbath School lesson together in person. The Hasel cousins reached out to John Bradshaw, speaker and director of It Is Written, to propose producing a weekly televised dialogue of the study, and learned that his team had discussed the same idea. Throughout April, May, and June, It Is Written TV aired the Hasels’ Sabbath School lesson dialogues each Friday, Sabbath, and Sunday.
“Both research and writing encourage learning and expose us to the cutting edge of wider discussions and thinking in our world,” Michael Hasel said. “That cannot happen without pushing ourselves beyond ourselves. In taking on these projects outside of the classroom, we exemplify a culture of lifelong learning to our students, and our faith grows as we share it.”
Collaboration and hands-on experience prove to be powerful learning tools. In January 2019, Natalia López-Thismón, Southern alum and associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication, attended the North American Division’s ministries convention. There, the division’s Adventist Women Leaders (AWL) discussed a need for providing education and resources to women in ministry. As an AWL committee member, López-Thismón suggested a podcast. The group loved the idea and asked her to make it happen.
With a full teaching load, López-Thismón knew she would need a co-producer and invited Natalie Boonstra, a junior public relations major at Southern, to work with her.
“I thought Natalie would be perfect for this because of the things she’s passionate about,” López-Thismón said. “I prayed about it, gave her a call, and everything clicked. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for Natalie, none of this would have happened.”
Together, the pair created the podcast Flourish by AWL, which can be found on most popular podcast platforms. Season 1 began airing in October 2019, and they are currently recording the second season. Episodes consist of 20- to 30-minute interviews with women who are thought leaders within their fields, such as Southern’s assistant chaplain, Anna Bennett. Future themes will include self-care, calling, motivation, and communication styles in the workplace.
“We focus on subjects that give practical tips to women in leadership to help them grow stronger personally, spiritually, and at work,” Boonstra said. “Specifically, we discuss how to implement ways to become better leaders and agents of change.”
López-Thismón said she enjoys mentoring Boonstra.
“Each academic department on our campus is unique, and each person contributes something different,” she said. “This type of extracurricular project allows me to foster a deeper connection with a student and stay abreast of trends and technology; plus, it keeps me on my toes. Learning never ends, even for a professor.”