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National Geographic features Karen Samonds during International Women’s Day celebration

March 8, 2013
Karen Samonds and her daughters, 6-year-old Ann (left) and 4-year-old Evelyn

Karen Samonds and her daughters, 6-year-old Ann (left) and 4-year-old Evelyn

National Geographic Magazine’s website singled out NIU biologist Karen Samonds for recognition as part of its March 8 observance of International Women’s Day.

Explorers Journal salutes Samonds for both her work at filling in the 65-million-year gap in the fossil record of vertebrates on the island of Madagascar, and for choosing to bring her family into the field with her.

The choice has sometimes meant juggling paleontology and diaper changing duties, but it also has paid priceless dividends. Almost since birth, her daughters have been exposed to stunning biodiversity and experienced foreign cultures and languages first hand.

The couple began taking their children into the field with them when their first daughter, Ann, now 6, was just seven months old. Her sister, Evelyn, joined the team two years later and now, at age 4, has already traveled to Madagascar three times.

International Women’s Day logo“Bringing the kids sort of transformed the landscape,” Samonds said. “As researchers in a Third World country, we were regarded as pretty strange. It is hard to get what we do to translate to the locals. But families are universal, and when we began bringing the girls it opened up a whole new way of interacting with people.”

Samonds and her husband Mitchell Irwin, an NIU anthropologist, who joins her in the field, have also helped create Sadabe.

The non-governmental organization formed by scientists working in Tsinjoarivo, Madagascar, tries to help the local residents while facilitating research. Through the organization, they also help run a summer field school in Madagascar.