The Science Building Rooftop
The Science Building Rooftop
Eli Brown

The Curious Case of Stan The T-Rex

The first time I walked through those gleaming doors of the Science Building here on Montgomery College’s (MC’s) Rockville Campus, it quickly became an earth-shattering experience. How? Why?  Allow me to explain…

I stepped inside. Immediately, a striking image emerged in my periphery, so upwards I looked. At this exact moment,  I saw a thing that shook my very bones to their core. It was the portrait of an ancient skull with leviathan proportions, and a fatally fanged jaw agape in my direction! The rapacious air made my skin crawl —  A sensible reader will rationally assume that I erupted in a great calamity, fleeing in terror from the ancient assailant ambushing students in the science building — but I couldn’t move!  Fear had paralyzed — no, fossilized me — right where I stood. All I did was close my eyes and accept the titan jaws of fate.

However, it becomes apparent that I escaped alive. At least, alive enough to write this article in the first place, right? So what then happened next? After a brief moment, I opened my eyes. This was when I realized that my marauder was no living creature, but the bloodless, brooding, bronze skeletal frame of a life-sized Tyrannosaurus rex. Thankfully, it didn’t plan on making a meal out of me anytime soon. In fact, Stan was smiling.

Stan’s Chompers (Provided by MC Communication Office)

Stan the T-rex. A monolithic monument of the Mesozoic era. A colossal fossil frozen in time. A primordial predator, quaintly composed of two hundred jagged bones and a modest fifty-count of acuminate arrowhead teeth to chomp things off. If he were alive, he’d weigh a monstrous seven-and-a-half tons. From snout to tail, he’s hardly a hair short of forty feet. Once you’ve read up about his dimensions, you’ll understand the relief I felt when I realized his mighty skull didn’t belong to a Goliath, but to a sleeping giant. Stan welcomes all, student and faculty alike, who dare to enter his dominion. So, Stan apologized for the stir that he’d caused, beckoned me close with his little arms, and naturally, we then embraced.

No. Not really. But after I recuperated, I was adamant on examining Stan’s anatomy thoroughly.  But first, I glanced over the plaques placed around the perimeter of Stan’s pulpit. Then, as I was analyzing the copper-colored curio, a dozen inquiries penetrated my brain like the sharp incisors of the titular hero. First and foremost, where on Earth did this relic even come from? It seemed strange that a precious piece of prehistory would have a backstory buried so deeply beneath a mountain of mystique. I walked around the dormant dinosaur king and admired the swank of his skeletal tail. Then I thought “Why don’t we try to dress Stan up? At least we ought to give him in a purple scarf.”

Indeed. It gets awfully chilly these nights, and it’s tough not to mention how frail he’s looking these days.

Stan’s Mugshot (Provided by MC Communication Office)

The third question struck my brainbasket as I examined the mammoth-sized feet and statuesque talons of the so-called Stan. It should be a secret to none by now that Stan is a fossilized dinosaur. Sure, he seems like a nice guy too, but he’s mostly a fossilized dinosaur. So it’s a little funny –isn’t it?–  that MC is displaying a giant Tyrannosaurus in the Science Building, meanwhile MC’s mascot is Monty… the Raptor? Personally, I’ve never seen Monty and Stan together in the same room. The odds of a dinosaurian rivalry between the two? Extremely high. I doubt I should be the first to wonder if Monty is secretly asking the Science Department to put a raptorial artifact adjacent to, if not in a pulpit overshadowing that of Stan’s.

“A raptor fossil on display in the Science Building would be an undeniable show of strength, and a fierce demonstration of our unwavering school spirit,” Monty would argue.

Without many tangible answers to these inquiries, I sought Dr. James Sniezek (Instructional Dean for Chemical and Biological Sciences at Montgomery College) for an exchange.

The Tyrant Lizard King (Provided by MC Communication Office)

(Background Facts: Stan was named after paleontologist Stan Sacrison, and the original “Stan” is a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered in South Dakota in 1987, according to Paleontology World. In 2020, Smithsonian Magazine reported that Stan was auctioned for $31.8 million, making it the most expensive dinosaur specimen ever sold. The replica of Stan displayed on campus is a cast of the original.)

An exchange with Dr. James Sniezek, Dean of Instruction (Chemical and Biological Sciences), Montgomery College:

The Advocate: Stan didn’t just crawl out of the backyard and perch himself in the Science Building for prosperity’s sake. Where exactly did he come from? How did he end up here at MC?

“There’s a building in Silver Spring called Discovery Communications at the intersection of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue,” Dr. Sniezek says.

As he spoke, the secrets of Stan finally started to unearth. The building he mentioned used to be owned and occupied by the Discovery Channel, and it was home to several fascinating dinosaur exhibits and paleontological artifacts. When Discovery Communications relocated, they left countless remnants of ancient history behind for donations — one of which was a model of Stan. MC jumped at the chance to snag prize-worthy relics.

“I thought if we could get a couple of pieces, we could place them in strategic locations around all three campuses,” says Dr. Sneizek.

Stan in 2019 (Provided by MC Communication Office)

Alas, MC was only given one: Stan the T-rex. As you may have guessed, there were no complaints. In 2019, Stan was disassembled, cleaned, transported, and reassembled in the Science Building. Dr Sniezek remarks that Stan isn’t supported by anything but the structural integrity of his many bones and pieces. What’s more, is that Montgomery College is the only community college in the nation with a model of Stan, one of the world’s most complete T-rex fossils uncovered to date.

The Advocate: Not every college you visit can say that they have a prehistoric artifact on display. How valuable is Stan for MC?

“He’s a student magnet,” he says. “When we start and end tours at MC, we frequently do that with Stan.”

Dr. Sniezek goes on to convey how even kids in their elementary years are drawn to MC just because of Stan. Rockville Science Days, organized by The Rockville Science Center is hosted yearly at MC. Folks of all ages are continually captivated by Stan at this event.

“It’s a wonderful outreach opportunity for the college.”

Stan in the Science Building (Provided by MC Communication Office)

The Advocate: I can’t imagine Monty the Raptor was too thrilled to see a rival on display. Looking towards the future, would you expect to see a raptorial species on display alongside Stan?

Dr. Sniezek says that while it’s something he would enjoy seeing, valuable prehistoric specimens are few and far between. But this roadblock hasn’t seemed to hinder the college. The Science Building is home to many ecological and evolutionary items up for display.

1st Floor Display Case (Eli Brown)

“If you follow the tail of Stan and walk down that hallway, you will see that there are display cases in there containing skulls and other replica pieces from paleontological history. For instance, there is a skull of a Sabretooth Tiger,” he says.

And hopefully, there will be more where those came from. Dr Sniezek enlightened me on the world of contemporary science, specifically regarding DNA analysis from skeletal remains. As scientific technology advances, he hopes society will make many more groundbreaking discoveries.

“To truly understand what we are today, you need to understand where we came from,” he says.

Smilodon Skull (Eli Brown)

The Advocate: Lastly, don’t you think Stan would look better dressed up in some purple clothes?

“I’m concerned if you could support the additional weight,” Dr. Sniezek says.

He goes on to state that while a snazzy Stan would be immensely popular among students, such a thing is contingent upon the image of the college. He admits that it might garner a lot of press, but in the long run, it might harm the school’s public image.

However, Dr. Sniezek does suggest an alternative. When Stan was unveiled, MC apparently decided to hire a company in possession of robotic raptors — yes, robotic raptors — that could walk automatically.

“I don’t know why we can’t rent a robotic raptor, dress it up in Montgomery College gear, and have it move around. Especially at our recruitment fair or something like that, you know? I’m all for that stuff. But the fact that Stan is probably valued at $200,000 – $300,000, I doubt that it’d gain a whole lot of support from college.”

Stan’s Magnetic Smile (Provided by MC Communication Office)

So there you have it. The odyssey of a dinosaur unbridled by the eons. Was it truly just plain old good luck that brought Stan to Montgomery College in the end? Perhaps. But Stan isn’t an ordinary pile of bones, he’s a pillar of modern science. And sure, maybe we’ll never see a purple scarf wrapped around his neck in the winter. But Stan isn’t simply an antique exposition, he’s a beacon of imagination that will inspire many. Herbivore fanatics will tell you that Stan is just your run-of-the-mill pampered predator on a pedestal. But by my account? Stan’s a gentleman. May the Tyrant King reign for many moons.

The curious case of Stan the T-rex is officially closed.

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