An impromptu online program engages kids and relieves parents
With schools closed, and much of New Jersey grinding to a halt, staffers at the Rutgers University Geology Museum gathered online last week to confront a daunting challenge: How would they continue their mission during the COVID-19 health crisis?
“We see upwards of 150 school groups a year—and suddenly nothing,” says Lauren Adamo, who serves as co-director of the museum with Patricia Irizarry, “We have worked for years to build up that connection to the community.”
By Friday morning, however, the museum was once again busy educating audiences about the natural world. More than 70 people watched a live webcast that focused on a tried and true—and kids’ favorite—topic of geology: rocks and minerals.
“When you think of minerals, some of you might think of the vitamins you might take,” Ria Sarkar, a graduate student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, told viewers. “But those are not the minerals we are talking about.”
Streaming from her home, where a fish fossil poster adorns her closet door, Sarkar used slides, videos, and a dazzling collection of multi-colored minerals to keep the audience engaged.
When it was over, viewers used capital letters to express their appreciation.
"This was FANTASTIC, thank you! We hope to tune in again!” one wrote.
Audiences in the coming weeks will have plenty of opportunities to do just that.
The 60-minute program was the first in a virtual series—“Ask a Geologist”—that now runs every Tuesday and Thursday. Using teleconferencing and the expertise of faculty, graduate students, and industry professionals, the series will take viewers to some amazing places, from Antarctica to Hawaii's 2018 Kilauea eruption to Kenya, while covering issues including human evolution, volcanoes and plate tectonics.
And most importantly, the series will keep the museum connected to the community while New Jerseyans and others in the region exercise social distancing and shelter-in-place measures aimed at containing the COVID-19 virus.
“Interacting with audiences is our mission and what we live for,” Irizarry says. “And for the people who want to visit the museum, this is letting them know we are there for them and that we’ll be back.”
She added that the twice-weekly programs provide some relief for harried parents trying to work from home and manage their kids.
The museum, located in Geology Hall on Old Queens Campus, was founded in 1872 by George H. Cook, a professor of chemistry and natural sciences and an influential figure who helped Rutgers attain its status as a land grant university.
The collections include a mastodon skeleton, a 2,400-year-old Egyptian mummy, and minerals and fossils emphasize the geology of New Jersey and surrounding states.
In putting together the online program, Adamo drew from her 2018 experience in the PolarTREC program, in which she and colleagues did research in the Swiss Alps and created a webcast for viewers back home. Adamo also relied on the museum’s program coordinator Julie Criscione SAS'13 who has bachelor's and master's degrees from Rutgers in geology.
"Julie's the glue that keeps everything and everyone together and on task,” says Adamo, who also cited the support of Matthew Drews, digital media coordinator in the Institute for Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Sarkar SAS’16 was the natural choice to host the inaugural program. Passionate about geology, she worked at the museum while a Rutgers undergraduate majoring in geological sciences and also worked at the Liberty Science Center conducting educational programs.
“I just love explaining things to people,” she said. “I can go on and on.”
Indeed, after completing her presentation on rocks and minerals, she received bunches of online questions, including one asking her to name her favorite geology pun.
Without missing a beat, Sarkar replied: “I’ll have to dig something up.”
Later in the week, a grateful parent posted on the museum’s Facebook page.
“My eight-year-old is obsessed with rocks and minerals and she loved every word of this wonderful presentation!”
For more information on the Ask a Geologist series, click here.