Ladyboss Feature: Jessie Rock

Local paleontologist Jessie Rock is known for bringing her love of geoscience (and oftentimes a large mammoth tusk) to classrooms across Fargo-Moorhead. Now, she’s working to bring a science museum to the community to spread the love a little further.

In a brief summary, what do you do?

I am a geology lecturer at NDSU where I teach, curate collections, create public displays, and coordinate outreach events for the NDSU campus and F-M community.

What’s your favorite part about what you do?

I love the diversity of my job. Each day is different. Some days I teach and revise lab materials, some days I help community members identify bones or rocks they find, some days I get lost in the fossil collections discovering new treasures.

Where did your passion for rocks begin? Why did you become a paleontologist?

I was always interested in the natural sciences, but geology wasn’t on my radar until college. While taking a course on historical geology, I became fascinated with the stories that rocks had to tell. I came to the understanding that the fossil record transcends any human perspective and it records the history of past climates, environments, and the evolution of life on Earth. I fell in love with paleontology and changed my major to geoscience that spring.

What do you think are some of the most interesting rocks and fossils that have been found in the Red River Valley/Lake Agassiz Basin?

Recent glacial activity scoured away most of the fossil record from our area leaving glacial deposits. In F-M, these deposits are covered in 30 meters of clay-rich sediment from Glacial Lake Agassiz. While fossil collecting is limited in the basin, they are abundant in buried peat layers that formed during a low-water stand of this lake. These plant, insect, and mollusk remains are useful as indicators of past climate and environment. They reveal that just over 11,000 years ago, F-M was covered in swamps, marshes, and bogs with stands of mixed forest comprised of spruce, tamarack, willow, and poplar trees. Interestingly, no fish fossils have ever been found in Lake Agassiz deposits, but sometimes large rocks are found in the thick lake clays. These rocks are called “drop stones” and were carried out to open water by icebergs which melted and dropped them.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received, or you have to offer?

Find something you love doing and give it your all!

Tell us about your project to bring a science museum to the region:

I love science museums and make a point of visiting them whenever I travel. I have lamented our lack of a science museum for many years, but especially since becoming a parent myself.

Like many other community members, I have always dreamed of having something like this available for my family and students, but I didn’t fully understand the present and emerging community support of a science museum until we launched our survey last June. Here’s how it began.

Last April, I applied for a grant to fund a mobile STEM lab which I wanted to use to present STEM activities to meet the demand of our local community. Following the submission of my proposal, I was contacted by the Fargo Forum who was interested in why I had applied for the grant. A reporter followed me to an outreach event at a local elementary school and quoted me saying that, “FM needs a natural science museum.”

The community response to this statement was overwhelming. I was inundated with email from educators and families asking why we didn’t have a science museum or how they could help make this a reality. The fire was lit, so I assembled a small team in the basement of Stevens Hall at NDSU and we created a community survey and which we released on social media.  Within eight weeks, we had almost 2400 responses (approximately 1% of the greater FM area). Most respondents (99%) indicated that they would support the establishment of a permanent science museum in the F-M area. Many respondents commented on the need for more indoor activities for families in winter. They reported that they travel over 200 miles to visit science museums, and that they spend a lot of money doing it.

We brought this data to the cities of Fargo and Moorhead. Everyone has been supportive. Most recently, the City of Moorhead has shown great enthusiasm and has made introductions that are giving this project traction. We are working on our business plan with the Western Minnesota Small Business Development Center. We have not committed to establishing the museum in one city or location at this time, but hope to establish our location by summer 2019. The FM Area Foundation is serving as our fiscal sponsor while we await our 501c3 status and we hope to start our fundraising this spring. We are learning more every day and we are gaining momentum.

Our goals are:

  •  To establish a world-class science museum in our community.
  • To provide access to interactive, hands-on STEM learning experiences for visitors of all ages.
  •  To leverage relationships with the local scientific community in order to design compelling and unique exhibits which reflect the diverse talents of our local individuals, institutions, and businesses.

This is a community endeavor and we plan to leverage the expertise in our community.  We have sufficient talent here to build something unique. We don’t need to outsource the design to make this project work, and we hope to get the support of local businesses, institutions, and individuals in our community and feature some of the STEM happening here in FM.

Why do you think it’s important for people to learn about the natural sciences?

From the amazing natural world in which we live, to the products and technologies we use in our daily lives, science is everywhere and is for everyone. Science should inform public policy. Science literacy should be valued. We need to insure, now more than ever, that we promote science and science learning at the local and national level in order to remain competitive in the world.

If people are interested in seeing a science museum in Fargo/Moorhead, how can they help?

If you or your organization would like to be involved in this project, please leave us your feedback and contact information when prompted at the end of our community survey (QR code). To receive updates on the museum project, please join the mailing list at www.fmsciencemuseum.org