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International audience digs Creative Media Institute fossil podcasts created for Smithsonian

Creative Media Institute students at New Mexico State University collaborating with the Smithsonian Institute and the Bureau of Land Management are receiving international attention with the completion of 10 podcasts exploring 280-million-year-old fossils in the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument in the Robledo Mountains.

Philip Lewis, department head of the Creative Media Institute at NMSU. Lewis and his students recently collaborated with the Smithsonian Institute and the Bureau of Land Management on 10 podcasts about the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips).

"Certainly it's a big deal for New Mexico State University," said Philip Lewis, CMI department head. "We're on people's radar as a new entity."

The podcasts, titled, "Traces of a Lost World," seek to educate young viewers in paleontology. They include talks with experts like Jerry MacDonald, who discovered the marine fossils in 1987. MacDonald details how he discovered the fossils and how the area then became a national monument.

Also presented are Bill DiMichele, a curator of prehistoric plants at the Smithsonian, and Spencer Lucas, a curator of paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, who describes how Las Cruces, N.M. was more than 100 feet underwater during the Permian era. Dan Chaney and Skip Lyles, who work in research and collection at the Smithsonian, discuss how fossils are gathered and delivered there.

"Paleontology is interesting because fossils for young people are really the first things they can approach. It really opens up their hearts and minds to the idea of what it would be like to be a scientist," Lewis said. "We could make movies about anything, but we made this."

Lewis and his crew spent just four days filming in the Robledo Mountains in early March. When the filming stopped, the four-month toil of editing began. Working closely with BLM project coordinators Lori Allen and McKinney Briske, the crew finished in late August.

The CMI student film crew consisted of Samuel Sandoval as cinematographer, Oscar Zamora as producer and Jasmine Perez as production assistant. Nick Cueto created the music for the podcasts and NMSU alumna Lilia-Rosa Salmon acted as hostess.

"I'm proud of the students, that they rose to the occasion and never failed," Lewis said.

Now making a worldwide impact, the 10-13 minute podcasts are featured on the Smithsonian website and linked to its iTunes area. They also appear on the Bureau of Land Management's YouTube.com channel, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, which receives more than 20 million hits a year, plans to post the podcasts on its website. The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science is currently producing kiosks for visitors.

"It has been a great pleasure to make these 10 movies, which are both a creative endeavor and collaboration of technical and scientific advances, not to mention the first major promotion of New Mexico's Prehistoric Trackways National Monument," Lewis said.

With future collaborations in the works, CMI has teamed up with the BLM again to build education kits for New Mexico middle school students. The digital masters are currently developing media components that illustrate what the world was like 280 million years ago.

In a scavenger hunt-type setup, students will be required to conduct research in order to proceed with the quest. The kits also will include digital instruction for teachers, created by the CMI students.

"I love it when the community comes and sits down in my office and says, 'Let's work together,'" Lewis said.

To download and view the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument podcasts from the Smithsonian Institute, visit http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=467100227.
You can also view the podcasts via the BLM's YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/blmnewmexico.

For more information, contact Philip Lewis at 575-646-6139 or plewis@nmsu.edu.