February 22, 2023

By Alaina Uricheck ’23

This is the fifth story in our series on Women in STEM.

Jennifer Elick was always interested in nature, but she did not know the possible ways to explore that interest as a field of study in college.

“I knew I wanted to write and incorporate art in whatever career I chose,” she said. “I nearly applied to art school, but I didn’t have confidence in my work to submit a portfolio.”

A one-time freelance photojournalist, she entered college as a journalism major, and soon discovered a field that combined all of her interests. To fulfill her science requirement as an undergraduate student, she chose a geology course. The course content piqued Elick’s curiosity about how the world worked, and she found herself staying after class to ask the female professor questions.

“I became completely engaged in the topics of geology. I’ve always enjoyed nature — rocks, minerals and fossils — and trying to understand what I saw, but her class and speaking to this professor about the major really led me to pursue other geology classes and to major in the subject,” Elick said.

Elick, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, joined the faculty at Susquehanna in 2000. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Temple University, her master’s degree from Kansas State University, Manhattan, and her doctorate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Though Elick considers herself to be lucky because of the support she received from male colleagues as a woman in the male-dominated field, she still faced challenges, she said. A lack of female representation in geology made her worry about the opportunities for her as a female geologist.

“Every school I attended had just one woman in the department,” Elick said. “I think the ability to see the path to my future goals seemed a bit challenging, because you ultimately see just one person in a group, and you wonder if there is room for you.”

She describes herself as a traditional geologist and has spent time studying the rock record in an effort to understand environments of the ancient world. She has mapped the decades-old mine fire beneath Centralia and studied mass-wasting. Much of Elick’s recent research has revolved around studying the sediments in the Susquehanna River and the formation of islands.

“The study of the earth encompasses everything — the air we breathe, the water we drink and the ground we inhabit,” Elick said. “The study of geology reveals how the present, past and future can be linked to best understand the world.”

Despite not attending art school, Elick has been able to implement art into her geology work through sketching and photography.

“When I took my first geology class, I found it was the first time I could really visualize in my head the different processes that I read about in the textbook. For me, this science was very visual. It was something that you could see around you in the rocks, landscape and on other planets,” she said. “Geology is a very visual science. Photography, sketching and then modifying ideas from artwork using computer software are very important ways that allow me to communicate science.”

Her advice for students is to make connections that can endure time and distance.

“I think a lot of female students tend to be shy or timid or reserved. You can still be this way, but always be brave enough to overcome your quiet demeanor,” she said. “Try to become involved in everything that you can, so that you make the most out of your college experience. It’s important to make the most of these experiences and all opportunities.”