Two professors in front of sign that says "The Origin of Dragons"

Dr. DorothyBelle Poli (left) and Dr. Lisa Stoneman.

3.25.2021
By Roanoke College News

Professors receive statewide award for dragon research

Two Roanoke College professors’ research into dragons earned them an award from the Commonwealth of Virginia earlier this month.

Dr. DorothyBelle Poli, professor of biology, and Dr. Lisa G. Stoneman, associate professor of education and department chair, received the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education on March 18, honoring them for their service to science education. The Thomas Jefferson Awards, presented through the Virginia Museum of Natural History, honor individuals and organizations throughout Virginia for outstanding contributions to natural science, natural science education, and conservation.

Poli and Stoneman spearhead the College’s Dragon Research Collaborative, which began as a research project aimed at finding a link between ancient, fossilized plants and the lore of dragons. The project has expanded dramatically over the past few years, spawning endeavors such as the successful Dragon Festivals at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which has drawn thousands of visitors from across the region and beyond.

“Receiving an award from the Commonwealth is an honor that is a highlight of my career,” Poli said. “My sole purpose as an educator is to increase science literacy, and the Dragon Research Collaborative has provided me with a unique opportunity to reach many people around Virginia and from other places.”

“Receiving an award from the Commonwealth is an honor that is a highlight of my career.”

Dr. DorothyBelle Poli, professor of biology

Students of all different majors and interests have been involved in the Dragon Research Collaborative. Stoneman said the project has produced numerous individual research projects, collaborations, presentations and publications.

“As an English education academic, I am fortunate that my love for story and my interest in how and why people see the world as they do, is recognized as an important part of natural history,” Stoneman said. “The family of dragons that we’ve grown over the past eight years has worked, played and traveled together, diving more deeply — and diversely — into the fossil-folklore hypothesis with each semester.”

Stoneman said she plans to spend a few months in Edinburgh, Scotland, to work more closely with international partners throughout the United Kingdom.

The project has taken on a life of its own, with no limit in sight.

“Never as a scientist would I have thought I would vocalize studying dragons,” Poli said. “But the plant fossil-folklore work turns even hardcore scientists into fantasy fanatics.”