Fossil Preparation 1


Starting Location: Sternberg Museum
Hays, Kansas

Ending Location: Sternberg Museum
Hays, Kansas

Session 1:
June 30th – July 5th

Session 2:
July 14th – 19th



Fossil preparation skills are among the best ways for students to get early, hands-on experience working in a professional paleontology lab space and to gain a greater understanding of the processes involved in bringing a fossil from the field and then placing it within a museum collection for research. Students will be introduced to a wide variety of these tools and methods used to clean and stabilize fossils at the Sternberg Museum’s new fossil prep lab facility. Emphasis is placed on practicing the cleaning, reassembly, and protection techniques for fossil material; all of these are required steps before any fossil can be used for research or display. Removing the rock surrounding fossil material, using combinations of small dental tools, airscribes, and pin tools is just the start. Preparators must also be experts with various glues and adhesives for reconstructing and reinforcing the fossils. Before the fossils can finally be transferred into research collections, supporting cradles must be built to protect the fossil so that the specimens can be properly handled and transported by collections staff. Finally, making a mold and replica cast of a fossil can aid in exhibit design or scientific research. All the work done in the fossil prep lab is extremely important to the science and work done on any collected fossil specimen.


Paleontologist, fossil preparator, education specialist

Instructor: Darrah Steffen

Darrah is an invertebrate paleontologist with passions for science and education. She’s worked at numerous museums sharing her enthusiasm for science with the communities they serve. She has prepped fossils and done outreach across the midwest at locations big and small. From the Permian Trilobites to the Western Interior Seaway to the megafauna of the Oligocene, she has a passion for it all. She has developed educational programs for all ages featuring a wide variety of topics in biology and paleontology. Darrah is the current fossil prep lab manager at the Sternberg Museum, working to clean and protect fossils that have come in from the field. When she isn’t exploring the natural world, she works as a paraprofessional for Lincoln Elementary School in Hays, KS. Darrah is an alum of Fort Hays State University, completing her MS in Geosciences in 2017.




Paleontologist, fossil preparator, Park Ranger (John Day Fossil Beds National Monument)

Teaching Assistant: Jessica Barnett
Jessica is a paleontologist with a passion for exposing data. She’s worked alongside fossil preparators at numerous sites and with material of various ages. She has prepped fossils all across the US at locations big and small. From Pleistocene megafauna in South Dakota and Permian crinoids in Texas, to Miocene monkeys in Oregon and Cretaceous crocodiles in Washington, D.C., Jessica loves to work with it all. She has developed training programs in fossil preparation for independent museums and the National Park Service. When she doesn’t have her hands in the dirt, she can be found at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument working as a park ranger. Jessica is an alum of Fort Hays State University, completing her MS in Geosciences in 2017.

Project Summary

Students will work alongside instructional staff as they learn to analyze, clean, protect, and reassemble vertebrate fossil material using a variety of professional tools, skills, and techniques. Fossil material prepped by students during the camp will be incorporated into the Museum’s research and education collections.

Additional Information and Logistics

Drop off is 8:00am on the first day. Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day.

Please see Frequently Asked Questions for information about attending the camps for out of state students.

You can follow along with our camp programs on Twitter and Instagram at @SternbergCamps.

Application Requirements

  • All application materials must turned in no later than May 14th, 2019. (But, the see the Admission Decision Schedule tab below for our four application and admission periods from February to May.) 
  • Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2019.
  • Complete online application.
    • To do this, you will need to set up an account with CampDocs. You can do this by clicking the link above. Once this is done, you’ll be able to log back in to your account as you complete the application process. 
    • The waiver can be found in the online application. 
    • The financial aid application can be found in the online application.
  • 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant. 
    • You can find suggestions for writing your letter of interest here
    • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
  • Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
    • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
    • You can find instructions for recommendation letter-writers here.
    • Returning students in good standing do not need to submit a recommendation letter. 
      • Standing is determined by staff. A student not in good standing will be expressly notified by the Camps Director.

Admission Decision Schedule

We run on a rolling admission schedule from February to May. Each month, we will evaluate students with complete application files to determine admission and scholarship award decisions. If your student is denied admission to a camp, you will be specifically notified. Below we have listed evaluation period cutoff dates, and notification periods. 

Please contact us at if you have any questions about this process. 

  • Application period 1
    • Cutoff: February 23
    • Admission notifications: February 24th-28th
  • Application period 2
    • Cutoff: March 23rd
    • Admission notifications: March 24th-28th
  • Application period 3
    • Cutoff: April 20th
    • Admission notifications: April 21st-25th
  • Application period 4
    • Cutoff: May 14th
    • Admission notifications: May 19th-24th

Program Cost

Tuition is $570 per Sternberg Museum member, and $640 per non-member.

A 10% deposit is paid at the time of registration. Students who are accepted into the camp must then have the remainder of the registration fee paid by the May 14th, 2019 registration deadline.

Q: What if my student is not accepted into the camp they applied for? Do you refund tuition?
A: 100% of paid tuition is refunded to any students not accepted to a camp they applied for. This includes the initial deposit paid at the time of initial application.

Q: What is your cancellation and refund policy?
A: Our refund policy for cancellations is dependent on which kind of camp you are signed up for (domestic or international), and when the cancellation is received.

Refund policies Domestic Programs:
For programs taking place within the United States, cancellations must be  submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Each camp registration is held  to a 20-percent cancellation fee. If you cancel 30 to 10 days prior to the  start of a program, half of the total fee is refundable. If you cancel 9 or fewer  days prior to the start of the program, no amount of the fee is refundable.  Registration fees are non-transferable between applicants.

International Programs:
Cancellations and withdrawals must be submitted in writing, via email or  typed letter. Up to the registration deadline of May 1st, 2018, the program fee is fully refundable. After May 1st, the registration fee is only 50% refundable, as we will have already provided payments for airfares, accommodations, and guide services.

For answers to more possible questions, see our Frequently Asked Questions page!


Contact Us

For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact us at or 785-639-5249.

Like any lab space, there are universal rules to keeping yourself and everyone else safe in a fossil prep lab. From ear and eye protection to proper ventilation, students will learn (and follow) the full required protocols for any use of solvents and sharp preparation tools.

  • Students will use a variety of tools such as dental picks, pin tools, and brushes.
  • Students will become familiar with the different matrix types surrounding specimens, from chalks to shales, and the best practices for removing the matrix.

Students will learn the method of repairing broken fossil specimens and how to strengthen dry and brittle fossil surfaces through the application of glues and consolidants.

    • Students will assist in the casting process.
    • Students will be taught the different types of molds and their uses for commercial and scientific processes.

  • Students will learn about the differences between archival cradling, temporary cradling, and field cradling.
  • Students will assist with the cradling process of a fossil specimen.

  • Students will learn about the importance of microscope work when identifying and preserving potential soft tissue structures.
  • Students will use microscopes during fossil preparation and become familiar with the processes involved with using one ie. focusing and ergonomics.
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