Paul Sereno considers himself an unlikely scientist.
He didn't always do well in school, and didn't particularly like science. He wanted to be an artist.
Decades later, Sereno has discovered dinosaurs on five continents, led dozens of paleontology expeditions and holds the title of explorer-in-residence with the National Geographic Society.
Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago and founder of the science education nonprofit Project Exploration, will speak Sunday at Oklahoma City University.
During the speech, Sereno will discuss findings he's made on expeditions in Africa, particularly in the Sahara. Among those is an archaeological site that was inhabited by people who lived in the area when it was wet.
He'll discuss two new dinosaurs he discovered in the area. The names haven't been released to the public, he said, but one of the two was a burrowing dinosaur and the other was “something bigger and badder than T. Rex.”
Sereno plans to focus on the adventure that goes along with research in far-flung areas. It's easy to become bogged down in technical details and lose sight of the wonder that comes with scientific discovery, he said.
It's important to convey that side of science to younger students, Sereno said, because it's one of the discipline's more attractive qualities. It's what attracted him to the field in the first place, he said — bones and fossils captured his imagination.
Many students and parents think if they haven't taken the right courses and done well enough on tests by the end of junior high or high school, a career in science is off limits. But that isn't the case, he said.
“I'm a living example of it,” he said.
The national high school graduation rate stood at 78.2 percent in 2010, up from 71.7 percent in 2001, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University.
The fact that nearly one high school student in four doesn't graduate is worrisome, Sereno said, and it points to a need for improvement in the way we educate students. Graduating students and building interest in science-related fields is critical for the nation's continued survival, he said.
“We have to do something different,” he said.
Sereno will speak at 5 p.m. Sunday at OCU's Sarkeys Law Center, NW 23 and Kentucky Avenue. The lecture is open to the public.