In 2010, Jonathan Mitchell earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology at Appalachian State University, with a concentration in Paleontology. He recently became a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan, having earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
At Michigan, he is building mathematical models to learn how anatomy has evolved in birds and other groups of organisms.
Mitchell credits Appalachian with much of the success he’s attained so far. “The classes were vital,” he said. “They gave me all the background I needed.
“The most important thing was that my professors, especially Andy Heckert, gave me a lot of research opportunities. I was able to try out a lot of different fields and projects. I could settle on things that I really enjoyed and was interested in.”
Mitchell found that when he started graduate school, he had a very clear idea of the kind of research he wanted to do.
At Appalachian, he had studied micro-fossil bone beds in and around the remnants of a pond that existed just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, about 220 million years ago. (The pond’s fossils were below what is now a brick quarry, discovered after red clay-like sediment for bricks was dug out.) He remembers scouring rubble for such items as tiny fish teeth, leg bones of lizards and jaws of minnows.
The work at the site taught Mitchell statistical techniques that he applied to the study of bird fossils at the University of Chicago. He said he also wrote his first scientific papers while he was still at Appalachian, which gave him a great head start for the University of Chicago as well.