COSAM News Articles 2021 August COSAM’s Graduation Marshal Daniel Leaphart makes grandfather proud

COSAM’s Graduation Marshal Daniel Leaphart makes grandfather proud

Published: 08/03/2021

By: Maria Gebhardt

Daniel Leaphart is named after his grandfather who encouraged him to pursue a career in paleontology.

Leaphart, originally from Madison, AL, is the Summer 2021 Graduation Marshal for the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM).

He is earning his bachelor’s degree with a major in geology.

Since he was just two, he has been fascinated with becoming a paleontologist.

“When I first learned about dinosaurs, I wanted to learn more and more about the Earth’s history,” Leaphart explained.

As he graduated from Bob Jones High School in Madison and entered college, he decided to select a major in the Department in Geosciences.

“My time as a student at Auburn has been absolutely amazing,” he said. “Being a student in geosciences makes for the most incredible work environment you could ever ask for.”

Leaphart participated in the department’s summer field camp.

“I was able to go to Dinosaur Ridge in Colorado and it was a dream come true,” Leaphart explained.

Dinosaur Ridge was founded in 1989, and is one of the most famous and sought after fossil destinations in the world.  Leaphart is pictured to the right in front of it. The dinosaur footprints are visible in the ridge behind him.

“Seeing the dinosaur fossils in the hill made me feel like I was a little kid again,” he said. “I was so excited to see and touch these pieces of history that are more than 100 million years old.” 

Leaphart had multiple professors that made his learning experience outstanding over his four years.

“Dr. Ron Lewis was a terrific professor and mentor to me,” Leaphart shared. “I learned about micropaleontology or fossils that need to be observed under a microscope, I helped him run fossil tests for the 2019 Science Olympiad, and I worked on a research project with him.”

Since his retirement, Leaphart has been conducting research with another professor in the department.

“It has been really exciting to learn from and work with with Dr. Fronimos,” Leaphart said. “He is a vertebrate paleontologist with a research focus on sauropod dinosaurs, which is exactly where I want to focus on.”

Sauropod dinosaurs had long necks and were tremendously large eating leaves from the tops of trees from the early Jurassic to Late Cretaceous periods.

You can see Leaphart pictured with a cast of an Apatosaurus femur in the second photo to the right from a class with another professor.

“I also had an incredible experience with Dr. Wilhite,” Leaphart said. “In his dinosaur biology class, I was able to look at fossil collections in Auburn University’s Museum of Natural History.”

Leaphart is passionate about his experience majoring in geology.

“Auburn’s Department of Geosciences is small and that definitely elevates your student experience,” he added. “You get to know all of the professors from your classes, you get to develop meaningful connections through those professors and you learn directly from them helping them conduct hands-on research in the field.” 

When asked if he would recommend incoming students to major in geosciences, he explained why the field is more vital than ever.

“Geosciences is an important area for students to study. When you think of all of the climate changes impacting society today and that will continue to reshape our future, geosciences can help us understand these complex issues,” he said.

Leaphart is attending the University of Iowa this fall for graduate school.

“Through hands-on research with fossils at the University of Iowa, I will have an opportunity to learn about pre-historic crocodilians, which is really exciting, because many of them are very different from today’s crocodiles.”

Leaphart’s grandfather passed away before his high school graduation, but his inspiration and encouragement has left a lasting impact on this Graduation Marshal.

“I hope I have made him proud,” Leaphart said. “I wish he knew that I was preparing to enter graduate school on the way to becoming a paleontologist just like he told me I could.”


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