Sternberg Paleontology Camp


Due to the Covid19 pandemic, all of our 2020 in-person camps have been cancelled. We have transitioned to online-based summer camps with our instructional teams. To learn more, click here.



Staffers Kellum Tate Jones (L) and Amber Michels (R)

Our high school field paleontology camps are for students who seriously enjoy the great outdoors and paleontology! Students will get to investigate the paleontology and ecology of ancient Kansas that once included vast wooded grasslands of rhinos and horses in the Miocene, and a sea of sharks, flightless birds, and immense marine reptiles in the Cretaceous! During fieldwork, students will learn how to find and collect fossil material as paleontologists do, using the same tools as professional researchers. Students will learn to take field notes, use GPS units, map and compass skills, and proper methods of fossil collection to preserve as much information as possible.

Overarching themes will include critical thinking skills, use of the scientific method, understanding the process of biological evolution through natural selection, applied geology, ecology, and generating an informed argument through the use of evidence. These camps are designed to be an immersive learning experience for students interested in biology, geology, or paleontology. Our goal is to make sure any student planning to pursue a career in life or earth science will leave our camp with relevant, practical skills and knowledge in both scientific disciplines.


Session 1: Cretaceous Marine:
Field sites will be around 110-70 million years old, and contain marine vertebrate and invertebrate fossils. Vertebrates often include bony fish and sharks, mosasaurs, and even an occasional pterosaur! Excavation projects change year to year, depending on what Sternberg Museum paleontologists have found prior to camp, or finds made by students during camp.


Session 2: Miocene Mammals:
The group will be focused on excavating fossils at the Minium Quarry site, famous for its prolific mammal and plant fossils. The most common fossil mammals found are rhinos, horses, camels, and occasionally some dog and large cat material. The site is also well know for its fossil plant material, including extremely rare grass seeds. 


Concepts and Skills

Students, along with Camps Director David Levering, working to undercut a large jacketed fish fossil in 2018.

We cover a lot of ground in our field paleontology camps, and not just when we’re prospecting for fossils. Here is an overview of the content students can expect over their two weeks at camp:

  • Fossil hunting
  • Fossil excavation
  • Data collection/field notes
  • Sedimentary geology
  • Evolution and ecology
  • Ethics in paleontology
  • College academics 
  • Career paths in paleontology
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Outdoor safety
  • Camping
  • Maps and navigation

Conditions Summary

These categories are presented to help applicants determine if a program is a good match for their preferences. We have set up a separate page here outlining how to interpret each category, and how to interpret the respective scores.  

Physical Exertion: 9
Hiking with field packs while loocking for fossils, excavating fossils with medium to large tools, and hauling gear boxes make up the majority of this rating. While staff take very careful, deliberate steps to ensure the health and safety of all participants, there is inherent physical rigor involved with digging up and moving large fossils. 
Academic Pace: 7
Outdoor Intensity: 9
Summers in Western Kansas can frequently see temperatures of 100F, with moderate to severe thunderstorms making appearances every so often (usually evenings or at night). Staff work diligently to train students to manage their individual needs, and look out for teammates while out in the field so everyone stays happy and healthy. We take the weather challenges of field work very seriously, and make sure our students are respecting those challenges too. 
Computers and Mathematics: 2
Art and Graphics: 4
Writing: 6

Projected Number of Field Days: 9.5 
Projected Number of Indoor/Lab Days: 3.5

Project Summary

Students will work alongside instructional staff to excavate fossil vertebrate and plant material to be incorporated into the Sternberg Museum of Natural History’s research collection. Along the way, students will be guided in keeping accurate, professional field notes, sketches, and photographs. 

Work on collecting fossil material in the field can be counted towards service requirements for high schoolers, as the fossil material will be incorporated into the Sternberg Museum research and/or education collections. Talk to your school administrators and our Camps Director to see if you qualify. 

Week 1: Intro to Field Paleontology

The first week of camp will be spent in the field, with students learning how to camp, navigate, prospect for fossils, manage a field site, use excavation tools, keep field notes, and stay safe and healthy during field work. Often this includes dealing with changing weather, and learning to cope with the rigors of the work required to dig up a large fossil. Students are provided the tools and training to get the job done right, with emphasis on safety and efficiency.

Students begin with site assessment and starting documentation in their field notebooks. Special attention is paid to making sure students are developing good professional skills and habits they can carry with them long after their time at camp. Following site assessment and discussion, students are guided by staff through the process of properly checking a field site for exposed fossil material. Once a collectible fossil is found, students and staff begin the excavation and extraction process, with participants learning to dig out the fossil as professional paleontologists do. From brushes to picks to jackhammers and plaster jackets, students get hands-on experience with the full excavation process. Staff encourage students to take on leadership roles within the group, including peer-teaching by students who have quickly picked up particular skills.

Our excavation projects change from year to year, depending on what fossil material has weathered to the surface for us to collect.

Weekend: Skeletal Anatomy and Museum Collections

During the weekend mid-program, students will visit the comparative anatomy lab in the Fort Hays State Biology Department, and the modern skeletal collection at the Sternberg Museum to explore the evolution of the vertebrate skeleton. They will spend two full days learning major bones of the skull and body, as well as teeth types of mammals. Moving from fish to reptiles and amphibians to birds and mammals, students will learn to identify bones, and see how bones differ across vertebrate organisms.

Students will also visit the Sternberg Museum paleontology research collection during their time in Hays. Here, they will learn about the importance of research collections held in public trust, how these collections are built and maintained, and how they contribute to the progress of scientific understanding.

Week 2: Fossil Collection and Documentation

To close the second week of the program, students will continue to build and hone their field paleontology skills, and improve their data collecting habits. This includes refining documentation procedures essential for collecting quality field data, ensuring specimens will be usable for research.

While this may seem like a small detail, it is one of the most important components of the program. Attentive, detailed data collection is professionally mandatory in paleontology. We make sure students understand this clearly, with plenty of opportunities for practice and feedback.

Additional Information and Logistics

Drop off is 8:00am on the first day at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. Specifics on the drop-off location will be provided to admitted applicants.
Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day, unless other specific arrangements are made well in advance with Camps staff. 

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 by May 2, 2020. (See the Admission Decision Schedule tab below for our five application and admission periods from January to May.) 
  • Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2020.
  • Complete online application.
    • To do this, you will need to set up an account with CampDoc. 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.
    • If you already have an account with CampDoc, simply log in. Your personal information should all be saved from your last application.
    • 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 January 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: January 11
    • Admission notifications: January 20-24
  • Application period 2
    • Cutoff: February 15
    • Admission notifications: February 24-28
  • Application period 3
    • Cutoff: March 14
    • Admission notifications: March 23-27
  • Application period 4
    • Cutoff: April 11
    • Admission notifications: April 20-24
  • Application period 5
    • Cutoff: May 2
    • Admission notifications: May 4-8

Program Cost

Tuition is $1,530 for Sternberg Museum of Natural History or Dinosaur Ridge members, and $1,700 for non-members. Tuition includes food and lodging costs during the camp.

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 16, 2020 payment 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?
Refund Policy:
Cancellations must be submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Deposit fees for camp(s) applications are fully refundable until the applicant is officially accepted for admission. Prior to admission, the deposit is fully refundable in the case of cancellation submitted in writing. Denial of application acceptance will result in a full refund of the deposit payment for each camp the applicant was not accepted to. Following application acceptance, the deposit is no longer fully refundable, and each camp registration is held to a minimum 10-percent cancellation fee. For cancellations 30 to 10 days prior to the start of a camp, half of the total fee is refundable. For cancellations made 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 or to accepted participants. Funds provided Sternberg Science Camps in the form of any financial scholarship to the participant will be withheld in any case where a scholarship awardee or their parent(s)/guardian(s) cancels an accepted application.

Cancellation Policy:
In the event of a trip being cancelled, either due to insufficient enrollment, sudden onset of extensively unsafe travel conditions, or other unforeseeable impairments, the Sternberg Science Camps will provide a refund of all tuition and/or deposit fees paid up to the point of cancellation. Any scholarship funds awarded to the applicant to aid in attendance will be retained by the Sternberg Science Camps program. We are unable to reimburse the cost of any travel expenses paid to transport successful applicants to and/or from their camp(s). We strongly recommend attendees insure their travel to and from their respective camp(s) being attended.


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.

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