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Fossils Discovery by AP Capstone student leads to Museum Honour

February 27, 2023 News Story
Gjana with Dr. Kirstin Brink at the unveiling event

Research conducted by a Daniel Mac student has been deemed “museum worthy” by paleontologists at the University of Manitoba.

Gjana Millar, a Grade 12 Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone student from last year, was honoured on February 16, 2023 for her original research and discovery of rare Ordovician fossils embedded within architecture at the University of Manitoba as well as Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute’s quadrangle. The fossils are estimated to be 400 million years old.

“Tyndall stone is quite a unique building material as it homes a diversity of marine life such as corals, sponges, squids, and more. Surprisingly, despite how remarkable these organisms are, they’ve rarely been looked into,” remarked Gjana during her speech at the unveiling ceremony. “Maybe it’s because they aren’t the big dinosaurs people usually see in museums.”

In partnership with the Dean of the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources, a three-panel museum float of Gjana’s research was officially unveiled in the Cretaceous Menagerie in the Wallace Building, where it will be permanently located. The ceremony featured various university dignitaries, professors, as well as the media. The information and photographs were taken directly from Gjana’s findings in her 5000-word academic paper. For her, the permanent exhibit marks the culmination of an extraordinary inquiry that will hopefully serve future researchers.

“What I hope this exhibit would bring is a spotlight upon these rare fossils that are found in many parts of the city,” Gjana said. “Although I've come to conclusions with multiple classifications in my research, there are still questions left unanswered."

Since its inception at DMCI, the AP Capstone program has allowed for students to engage with academic research that often places them in university-level learning while still in high school. Roughly half of DMCI’s Capstone students so far have received an AP score of five in AP Research, qualifying them for transfer credits with an A+ on their university transcripts. Gjana’s AP Capstone project not only scored a five, but was one out of three from DMCI to not lose a single point in the College Board’s grading system, which puts her in the top 1.14 percent of AP Research students globally. Mr. Paul, the AP Capstone teacher, believes academic partnerships are a huge factor for his students’ success. This was evident by the support of Mr. Dyer, Gjana's biology teacher, as well as Dr. Kirstin Brink, a paleontologist and professor at the U of M.

“The response from professors like Dr. Brink, scientists and other professionals has been overwhelmingly positive and accommodating for our kids,” said Mr. Paul. “They believe in what we’re doing, and have generously given of their time and lab equipment for our students to pursue their research goals. Whether it’s biologists with Manitoba Parks or Manitoba Fisheries, medical researchers at St. Boniface Hospital, or a paleontologist like Dr. Brink, the professionalism and support from the academic community has been extraordinary.”

In addition to the display, university curriculum at the U of M was also revised going forward to include activities where students get the chance to re-discover and re-classify fossils and duplicate Gjana’s research. Dr. Brink believes this will make for an engaging addition to some of her course offerings.

“I was very happy that Gjana’s project was so well done!” exclaimed Dr. Brink. “I am now able to use this display as a starting point for an assignment in my first-year historical geology course, allowing students to discover the hidden treasures in Tyndall Stone as Gjana did.”

The museum float was supported through a grant from the Teachers' Idea Fund. This allowed for Gjana to purchase a special macro camera lens for her photography, as well as aid in the construction of the exhibit panels. Mr. Paul noted that the funding through the grant allowed his students to "dream big dreams" and be thoroughly supported financially for whatever costs came up. 

"From small purchases like a simple zoo pass to bigger expenses like the engineering of a solar panel construction project, it was comforting to know that financial feasibility wouldn't be a factor for the students' projects this year," said Mr. Paul. 

As for Gjana, who is now a freshman at the University of Manitoba, her museum-float in the Wallace Building will always serve as a fond reminder of her time as a Winnipeg School Division student.

“It is such an honour to have the project I've put my whole heart into throughout my last year of high school, being permanently exhibited at the Ed Leith Cretaceous Menagerie, which is home to many other extraordinary collections founded by professionals,” Gjana said.

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