New directions for Penn Dixie

Dr. Stokes teaching geology with the UA Science: Sky School on Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, AZ.

Press Release – April 15, 2016

Hamburg, NY — The Hamburg Natural History Society (HNHS) is pleased to announce several new partnerships and programs created under the guidance of first-year Penn Dixie Executive Director Phil Stokes, PhD. “Penn Dixie’s fossils are known throughout the world, and our annual visitors reflect broad international demographics,” Dr. Stokes said. “However, I’m looking forward to building a stronger presence in the region and, in particular, strengthening our connection to the cultural community.”

Since his tenure began in November, Dr. Stokes has reached out to several local organizations. “The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were at the top of my list,” he said. “Both groups have excellent leadership and are invested in youth services in western New York.” In conjunction with the scouts, Penn Dixie will be offering a new program, Scouting Rocks!, on Saturday May 28. The program is free for any scout — boy or girl — in uniform. The program will provide scouts an opportunity to collect fossils, view sunspots, hike nature trails, and learn about rocketry from Moog scientists.

Penn Dixie looks to build partnerships with local schools as well. Having previously worked with a mix of public and charter schools in several cities, Stokes was keen to approach potential partners to create expanded all-day science inquiry programs at Penn Dixie. The first school that he reached out to, Tapestry Charter, was very eager to add new opportunities for their students. “Tapestry has a focus on experiential learning and the faculty are very enthusiastic about developing hands-on science programs at Penn Dixie,” Stokes said. And, most recently, Penn Dixie collaborated with the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph to create an interfaith Earth Day program based on Pope Francis’s encyclical about water and climate change.

But, all of this doesn’t mean that Penn Dixie is moving away from its core mission. “We’re not changing what we do; we’re changing how we do it,” Stokes revealed. Penn Dixie will continue to offer its most popular programs: summer day camps, the Miss Buffalo Nature Cruise, Earth Science Day, and several others. Registration for this year’s signature fossil collecting event, Dig with the Experts on May 21, has already exceeded 2015 levels — with one month to spare!

Stokes credits Penn Dixie’s improved online presence for this trend. “We designed a new website and started accepting online sales, and the door blew in.” he said. “It’s always fun to see a grandparent taking out a membership at 2 am. We love it.” Penn Dixie’s fossils continue to attract visitors from large distances. Groups from Canada, Ukraine, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are already scheduled to visit this year. Stokes described how whole families of fossil enthusiasts call or email about Penn Dixie. “My favorite call so far was from a mom from New York City,” Stokes explained. “She wanted to bring her kids to Penn Dixie to collect for two days, stay in the nearest hotel in Hamburg — and visit Niagara Falls.”

Established in 1993, the HNHS is steeped in the culture of Buffalo “Penn Dixie has been a positive part of our community for generations,” says Jamie Decker, Sr. Marketing Director for the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. “Phil brings fresh ideas and an enthusiastic strategy to build upon the history and grow the Site for future generations to learn and enjoy.”  With this is mind, Penn Dixie has its eyes on more partnerships with cultural organizations, schools, and for added foundation and corporate support. “Penn Dixie is a global geological treasure and I want everyone to know about us,” Stokes declares.

Dr. Stokes received his PhD in Geosciences from the University of Arizona as well as MS and BS degrees in Geology from SUNY Buffalo. He has worked on four National Science Foundation programs — most notably working to improve the recruitment and retention of underrepresented populations — and has taught science — informally and formally — at the K-12 and college levels in Tucson, Arizona.

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