Mercyhurst Magazine Spring 2022

AIM science grads excel on career path because ‘Mercyhurst is not just a school; it’s an experience’

By Brandon Boyd

For two Mercyhurst graduates, the paleontology program and the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) not only set them up for the future,

Both students also took time to credit Professor Scott McKenzie and AIM Director Brad McGarry, whom Abney described as like a “second father,” as in f uential f gures during their time at Mercyhurst. “Scott was truly a mentor in the purest sense of the word,” Deak said. “He should be the gold standard, and everyone else in paleontology should follow by example.” McKenzie had similar praise for Abney and Deak as students. “They were inventive and contributed to the literature of the science by presenting

but also spurred them to explore the past via a Tyrannosaurus rex. Cooper Abney ’18 and

Michael Deak ’19 both have completed work locally at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, where they assisted with dinosaur skeletons, and experienced paleontology on a national level through venues including the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Both students are currently wrapping up post- graduate work – Abney at Texas Tech University and Deak at Youngstown State University – and credit Mercyhurst for helping them advance professionally and socially.

posters, abstracts, and talks at several international geological meetings. It’s rare that undergraduate students do anything like this,” McKenzie said. “I believe that Cooper will

be a great ambassador for paleontology and natural history, and that Michael

will make discoveries that will further our

a understanding of the past.” Abney pointed to his time interning at the Smithsonian, where he helped set up a new dinosaur hall, as one of his favorite memories as a Mercyhurst student. He is wrapping up his time at Texas Tech University, where he has done collections-based work behind the scenes at the campus museum. There, he has documented items, learned museum laws, and honed preservation techniques. Deak cites mounting a dinosaur skeleton at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center and studying the holotype specimen of T. rex at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for his thesis as highlights of his Mercyhurst career. He i s f nishing up his master’s degree in biological sciences at Youngstown State University and recently presented sloth research at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Phoenix, Arizona. No matter how far they advance in paleontology and the sciences, both say their time at Mercyhurst allowed them to grow personally and professionally and — as with fossils they’ve cared for — both were able to explore and uncover who they could become. “Mercyhurst is not just a school; it’s an experience,” Deak said. “I de f nitely got the best experience out of it.” k

“My four years at Mercyhurst were among the best four years of my life thus far,” Deak said. “Being in the AIM program gave me a chance to socialize with other individuals who were on the autism spectrum and also prepared me professionally by going on various business trips to cities such as New York and Washington, D.C.” Abney agreed with the notion that Mercyhurst’s academics and AIM program helped him advance. “I wouldn’t have gotten to experience this otherwise, if it wasn’t for the AIM program,” Abney said. “Speci f cally, the work I’ve been able to do at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, hands-on time with various fossil and biological specimens in m y f eld, and the professional reputation that I’ve been able to build with experiences like these.” Both students’ geology major with a concentration in paleontology prepared them to advance their knowledge and experience within the f eld, and the AIM program equipped them with social experiences to take their careers to the next level.

“Up until college, I was a pretty socially awkward person,” Abney said. “The opportunities that the AIM program aff o rded me, such as social events and professional connections, have continued t o af

ect me

to this day.”


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