HomeLatest NewsBelize On Track to Gain First Ever Paleontologist

Belize On Track to Gain First Ever Paleontologist

Belize On Track to Gain First Ever Paleontologist

Belize is on track to receive its first ever paleontologist with twenty-four-year-old Alson Ovando. In 2021, the Belizean national began his studies at the East Tennessee State University pursuing a master’s degree in geosciences. Ovando plans to bring his knowledge back to Belize and pursue a career as a vertebrate paleontologist, despite the absence in the country. News Five’s Britney Gordon spoke with Ovando to learn more about this academic pursuit. Here’s the story.


Britney Gordon, Reporting 

Alson Ovando’s love for paleontology, the study of the record of life on Earth through fossils, started early, when he watched the movie Jurassic Park for the first time. Fascinated by the dinosaurs and their researchers, he told his mom that he wanted to meet a paleontologist.


Alson Ovando

                            Alson Ovando

Alson Ovando, Aspiring Paleontologist

“I’ve been interested in paleontology my entire life. I think you saw from that news article that went out from my school when I was around four years old, I actually saw Jurassic Park for the first time. And I was just super excited to believe that people have this as a job. This is a real thing you could do. I asked my mom. I ran up to her and I was like, Can I meet a paleontologist? And she was like, Liz doesn’t have any paleontologists. The closest thing you could meet is a paleontologist. is an archaeologist, and she told me about Dr. Jaime Awe being a super famous archaeologist, and I’ve always wanted to meet him. And I got to meet him a few years later, like when I was in, doing my bachelor’s degree,  but it’s been my life’s dream to do it, just because no one else has tried to do it before, and I was just curious. About all of these questions, I think Belizeans have know that they’re starting to talk about paleontology. Did Belize have dinosaurs? What was the ecology like? What was the ecosystem like back then? Was Belize even our own? Was Belize even a thing? Was it undergrown? Was it underwater? So all of these questions I had to know, I finally get the chance to try and answer them for the first time.”


Ovando, the son of famed Belizean musician Al Ovando, grew up in Dangriga, attending Ecumenical High School, before pursuing a degree in natural resource management at the University of Belize. Eventually, he was able to meet renown Belizean archeologist Jaime Awe at the Belize Archeological Symposium in 2019. Through Awe, Ovando was able to connect with his current advisor at East Tennessee State University.


Alson Ovando

“So doctor Jonathan Jaime Awe, I’ve met him several times throughout the years. And what happens is he actually connected me to my current advisor. I actually was working with the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project, which is one of the only archaeology projects that work in the Stann Creek District. And I was a part of their staff for their summer field season. And then I attended the Belize Archaeology Symposium. That’s in San Ignacio every year. And Doctor Awe is there. He usually is like the highlight at every symposium. He was just roaming around, and I stopped to talk to him to tell him what I was up to and that I’m looking into doing my master’s degree. So I just asked him, do you know anyone who’s interested in doing paleontology in Belize? And he was like, yeah, you need to talk to this guy in Tennessee. I think he’d be interested. And when I met my now advisor Doctor Schubert, I was so excited that he was even willing to meet with me. I talked so much, I barely let him explain to me what the school was about or things that I could do, or I was just so happy that someone was finally interested in working with me.”


Despite the uncertainty of a career in the country, Ovando says that he is determined to work in Belize and is prepared carve out a place for himself if necessary.


Britney Gordon

“Are you confident even though there’s such a lack of presence in the paleontology field that you will be able to build a career for yourself here?”


Alson Ovando

“So that’s a very good question. I get that question all the time, actually. So my ultimate goal after I finished my master’s degree is I want to do my PhD in paleontology. Where I do that PhD, I am still unsure. The future is very unpredictable at this point. But when I do get my PhD, I plan to return to Belize to continue studying the paleontology of Belize. I want to make it my life’s career and my life’s work. And at all costs, that’s what I’m going to do. Whether or not I think, if there’s, people want to know what kind of job will I get in Belize? I’ve kinda just had to accept the fact that there might be no job waiting for me and that I might need to create my own job in some way, shape or form.”


Currently, he is on track to graduate in 2025. Ovando’s tuition is waived as part of his program, and he will be able to publish his research upon graduation. He said that for additional funding, he applies for grants and scholarships every semester. He encourages all Belizeans to pursue underrepresented careers, even if the path is difficult. Britney Gordon for News Five.

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