Meet the Curators
J. Alan May, Ph.D.
Anthropology & Archaeology Expert
Alan May was born in Quanah, Texas and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. His undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville is in Anthropology. He received an MA in Anthropology from the University of Arkansas emphasizing the ethnology of health care delivery in rural and urban settings of western Arkansas.
He received the Ph.D. degree in Anthropology at the University of Missouri-Columbia with a specialization in southeastern United States archaeology. After graduation, he worked first as an excavator and then research associate for the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY on a coastal Georgia research project. He received a postdoctoral fellowship to study the interaction between Native American populations located in the vicinity of the Georgia Spanish Mission: Santa Catalina de Guale (pronounced “Wally”). During this period he became interested in the Spanish explorer Juan Pardo who had made two trips into the interior southeast United States during 1556 – 1558.
In 1985, he moved to Gastonia, NC to begin a survey of historic and prehistoric archaeological sites at the Schiele Museum of Natural History. He has received several survey and planning grants from the North Carolina Division of Archives and History to survey areas within Gaston County as well as surrounding counties. He directs field school projects through the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and serves as Lecturer in Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology. Field school excavations have been conducted on prehistoric and historic sites in Gaston, Lincoln, and Mecklenburg Counties North Carolina as well as York County South Carolina.
When not working on archaeological projects, he enjoys traveling to other museums and sites in the United States and France. He is married to Ann Tippitt, Executive Director of the Schiele Museum of Natural History.
Bob Dun, Ph.D.
Nematodes, Earthworms, & Other Soil Invertebrates Expert
Bob is a Cornell PhD Graduate who joined The Schiele Museum after reading an article in the Charlotte Observer. He brought with him an extensive knowledge of nematodes, which are mostly microscopic organisms that are hard to observe or preserve. Bob transitioned to working with earthworms and recently extended his studies to many other small soil invertebrates In order to conduct research with specimens that can be more readily preserved and viewed in the context of the museum.
Interesting notes: There are close to 1800 earthworm species. Earthworms do amazing things for our soil but also keep a record of what is contained in the soil because they absorb elements from the environment around them. The channels carved in the soil by earthworms are largely responsible for soils’ ability to drain water. Many kinds of small animals that we never imagined were beneath our feet play important roles in recycling the nutrients in soil organic matter so plants can use them again.
Dawn’s work with arthropods (insects) contributes to the growing body of research that seeks to inventory information about species of insects throughout the regions of North Carolina. She identifies features that are unique or similar and records those findings in a database that will be submitted to the state of North Carolina for analysis. The insect specimens at The Schiele Museum come from donations as well as specimens collected in the field by our research team. One of the main goals for Dawn’s study of arthropods is to make people more aware of their local environment and the creatures that contribute to keeping it healthy.
Interesting notes: There are 150 different species of ground beetles within Gaston County. Only half a dozen of these species are predators and the rest are gathers that collect seeds for food. The predators have a longer snout that they use to prey on snails.
Denise has been working with The Schiele Museum for years to focus on the snails of the southern piedmont region that includes Gastonia and the surrounding areas. Her focus is on providing a more accurate inventory of the snails in the region so that people can be educated about the benefits of the good snails, especially if they want to have healthy plants in their yards.
Denise looks for small differences to distinguish one species from another and the differences can be as subtle as the dullness of the shine on the shell that identifies one species from another.
Interesting notes: Slugs are important decomposers and they can break down tough materials like tree bark because they use their sharp teeth. Many snails are found in a specific location or near a specific rock substrate. Some snails are microscopic in size (just a few millimeters).
David taught ecology at Davidson College for 30+ years and brings all of that vast experience to The Schiele Museum’s Research and Collections team. His goal is to make the public less afraid of spiders through education so that people will think twice before stepping on them out of fear. David completed his doctorate at Yale and brings a vast trove of knowledge from his research and teaching experiences in the field.
Interesting notes: Ticks and mites are arachnids as well as spiders. Spiders have 8 legs instead of 6 and they also have 2 body sections instead of 3 body sections as found with insects. Molting spiders can regrow their legs by shedding one exoskeleton and revealing a new one.
Deborah Langsam, Ph.D.
Deborah received a doctoral degree from Duke University with a specialty in the taxonomy of the lower fungi. Her interest in fungi began as she pursued her master’s degree in Oceanography at The City University of New York; a summer course taken at the Duke University Marine Laboratory introduced her to the fascinating shapes, colors, and textures of fungal spores and the role fungi play in aquatic and terrestrial environments.
Now retired, Deborah is Associate Professor of Biology Emerita at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A winner of the NCNB (Bank of America) Teaching Excellence Award, she taught courses in Introductory Biology, Botany, and Mycology for almost 25 years. In addition to working with the Schiele fungal collections, Deborah serves as a docent with the Mint Museums of Charlotte. She, along with Schiele colleague Allein Stanley, also act as consultants to the Charlotte Poison Control Center.
Fun fact: when you find a mushroom, you’re seeing the “tip of the iceberg.” Mushrooms are the reproductive structures of the organism and they’re produced by extensive networks of mostly microscopic filaments called hyphae. One collection of hyphae extended over 2400 acres in Oregon and is believed to have been the largest single organism in the world.