Dr. Lisa White

Dr. Lisa White

Info & Affiliations

Director of Education and Outreach, University of California Museum of Paleontology

Ph.D., Earth Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz
B.A., Geology, San Francisco State University


Dr. Lisa White is a San Francisco native, who grew up a block away from the California Academy of Sciences. While she loved visiting museums and seeing the specimens, she never imagined that she would one day be working as a director of education at a research museum. In high school, Lisa’s passion was for art. At San Francisco State University, she switched majors from photography to geology, but her goal was to learn how to be a better nature photographer. When she was taking her first geology course Mt. St. Helens erupted, “igniting” her career focus. An internship at the US Geological Survey combined with great mentors pushed her to become a professional geoscientist. Despite her newfound passion, Lisa quickly discovered that working in the field is very different from the classroom:

I was woefully unprepared for field work as an undergraduate student. I once packed a tape player and a dozen cassettes (this was the 1980's) in my backpack for field work in Alaska. What can I say, I am a music lover and this was pre pre pre-digital music players. The cassettes and tape player would have been fine to leave back at the base camp but I carried them in the backpack, a pack that was supposed to carry all the rock samples after sampling on a high mountain ridge. I was not a very useful field assistant that trip.

Lisa went on to get her Ph.D. in Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying diatom biostratigraphy and biosiliceous sedimentation in the Monterey Formation and, 10 years after a rough start as a field assistant, she rediscovered a love of fieldwork. Right after graduating she took a job as an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State. Again, Lisa remembers the steep learning curve that came with the new position. She recalls the difficulty of maintaining a heavy teaching load, which left her little time to continue her research. Students in her classes would question her qualifications and she recalls feeling isolated at her own alma matter. But Lisa found strength by focusing on her enthusiasm for Earth sciences, and she found ways to focus on the parts of the job she loved. Critically, she built a network of colleagues and allies who shared her dedication to diversity and representation in science. Lisa developed field and research experience programs for urban high school students through programs including SF-ROCKS (Reaching Out to Communities and Kids with Science in San Francisco) and METALS (Minority Education through Traveling and Learning in the Sciences).These passions kept her going as she took on positions as the Professor of Geosciences and Associate Dean of the College of Science and Engineering.

After 22 years at San Francisco State, Lisa joined the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) as Director of Education and Outreach in 2012. The new position allowed her to focus on expanding UCMP online resources and direct Earth and ocean science programs for diverse undergraduates. Ongoing projects include the A-STEP (Ambassadors for STEM Training to Enhance Participation) program, where undergrads generate media about Earth and ocean science topics for the public, and the ACCESS (Advancing Community College Education and Student Success) Paleo program, which connects UCMP with community college students through paleontology lab opportunities. Through it all, Lisa remembers what kept her going, “If you find yourself discouraged at times, keep multiple plans going and an active network of friends and professionals to share your ideas and goals for positive reinforcement.” The programs that Lisa has set up ensures that future geoscientists will have those resources.

Highlighted works:

Bell, Robin and White, Lisa, 2020. The Geosciences Community Needs to Be More Diverse and Inclusive, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-geosciences-community-needs-to-be-more-diverse-and- inclusive/ Scientific American.

Ellwood, E.R., Sessa, J.A., Abraham, J.K., Budden, A.E., Douglas, N., Guralnick, R., Krimmel, E., Langen, T., Linton, D., Phillips, M., Soltis, P.S., Studer, M., White, L.D., Williams, J., Monfils, A.K., 2020. Biodiversity Science and the Twenty-First Century Workforce, BioScience, Vol. 70 No. 2, https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/2/119/5680446

White, L., and R. Bell, 2019, Why diversity matters to AGU, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO136457. Published on 01 December 2019.

Marshall, C.R., Finnegan, S., Clites, E.C., Holroyd, P.A., Bonuso, N., Cortez, C., Davis, E., Dietl, G.P., Druckenmiller, P.S., Eng, R.C., Garcia, C., Estes-Smargiassi, K., Hendy, A., Hollis, K.A., Little, H., Nesbitt, E.A., Roopnarine, P., Skibinski, L., Vendetti, J., White, L.D., 2018. Quantifying dark data in museum fossil collections as palaeontology undergoes a second digital second digital revolution. Biology Letters 14: 20180431, https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2018.0431 

National Research Council, Committee on Trends and Opportunities in Federal Earth Science Education, 2013. Goldstein, A. (Committee Chair), Asher, P., Cozzens, S., Manduca, C., Pyle, E., Riggs, E., Turekian, K., and White, L, 2013. Preparing the Next Generation of Earth Scientists: An Examination of Federal Education and Training Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, https://www.nap.edu/download/18369

Paleontology, diatom micropaleontology, geoscience education

Bio written by David Gold, January 2021