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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

SBCC geology instructor follows her passion of science everyday

Nate Stephenson
Jenna Rolle stands with fossil casts in EBS 115 where she teaches ERTH-122, also known as “Dinosaurs” on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at City College in Santa Barbara, Calif. Rolle has traveled to China and across the United States studying fossils.

While watching the water of the Missouri River gush through the landscape of Mitchell, South Dakota, a young Jenna Rolle pondered the forces that shape our planet. 

Fascinated by how the water molded rocks, she didn’t know it yet, but that moment would define the rest of her life, taking her across the planet to follow her passion.

Rolle is now an instructor in City College’s Earth and planetary sciences department.

“I’m not always good at chilling,” Rolle said. “Every weekend is a two-day race to see how much I can do outdoors.”

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To most, the only thing the rural farmland of South Dakota seems to offer is cows and corn as far as the eye could see, but for Rolle, it offered countless adventures.

“I was allowed to run wild,” she said. 

Her childhood days spent outdoors fueled her love for science, something Rolle has taken with her across the globe. 

From attending the World Summit on the End-Permian Mass Extinction in Wuhan, China to following a 2,000-mile stretch of ancient shoreline across the United States, Rolle gathers no moss. 

After her family moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, she continued her love of the subject further at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee where she received a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology.

There, she became fascinated in the world of evolution, which would lead to her interest in geology.

Realizing the alliance between two of her favorite subjects, she was all in. 

“Stromatolites were my gateway drug to geology,” she said, jokingly.

Eventually, Rolle received a master’s degree in Earth sciences and decided to take her passion further. 

She applied to research programs across the country and landed on one at UCSB, where she studied ancient microfossils hundreds of millions of years old. 

However, she learned that it wasn’t for her. 

“Sometimes you have a vision, and sometimes that vision doesn’t end up feeling right,” Rolle said. “For me, it wasn’t enough.” 

Rolle found that the research, while fascinating to her, was esoteric and didn’t fall in line with her passion for sharing science with the public. 

So she gave herself an ultimatum: if she quit the two-year research program, she had to make her dreams happen. 

Now, Rolle works as the teen programs manager at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Her main duties involve leading “Quasars to Sea Stars,” a program focused on mentoring teens who have an interest in the world of science. 

“It’s about flaming the fire for a spark of discovery,” she said. 

From tagging endangered condors to teaching teenagers about the Sierra Nevada landscape by backpacking through them, Rolle is living a dream come true. 

After doing a pop-up display featuring Tyrannosaurus rex fossils at City College, she made an impression on the school’s geology department. 

So when the position to teach a class on dinosaurs opened up, Rolle leaped at the opportunity, where she’s been ever since. 

“She brings a very happy, friendly, student-centered energy to the department,” said Geology Department Chair Bill Dinklage. “She makes an effort to really reach the students.” 

On the side, Rolle also serves on the city’s Community Development and Human Services Committee

“I have that Leslie Knope mentality,” she said, referring to the “Parks and Recreation” character. “I’m the youngest person on the board, it’s been so exciting.” 

 The first of her family to attend a four-year university, Rolle is a true rockstar.

“If you want something, you’ll find a way to make it work,” she said. “There are always going to be obstacles. Let them become moments that define you.”

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