MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Scientist, Engineer, Mathematician. How about being appointed board member of the National Museum and Library Services by President Barack Obama? No, seriously, one man does it all.
Between his education, professional experience, national service, publications, presentations and teachings, Eric Jolly’s resume is nine pages long.
Jolly made Minnesota home 10 years ago as the President of the Science Museum. That’s what makes him a Minnesotan to Meet because even when the Science Museum is closed, President Jolly doesn’t stop moving.
You can feel his enthusiasm for math and science as you desperately try to keep up.
“You can’t lose your energy, you can’t lose your excitement,” Jolly said, “when you see the wonder in a young person’s eyes.”
That wonder started in kindergarten for Jolly, when his teacher brought two glass jars to class.
“She put one outside, the other one inside the door,” he said.
It was the middle of winter. When the kids came back the next day, the one outside had cracked and the one inside was fine.
“I wanted to know why,” Jolly said, “and that’s what started my fascination for science.”
He grew up going back and forth between Oklahoma and Rhode Island. Now, Jolly works with groups across the country promoting science, technology, engineering and math courses, to get more kids interested in those subjects.
“Teaching and investing in that next generation is an incredible act of faith and it’s a faith in our future,” Jolly said.
That love of inspiring others had him teaching from Harvard to UCLA — making stops everywhere in between, including Minnesota.
“I taught a post doctorate course at the Humphrey Institute 25 years ago and that’s when I saw the Mississippi River and knew I would have to come back,” Jolly said.
That happened 10 years ago. Now as president, the mighty Mississippi is right outside his office window.
“I want kids to leave here with the kind of knowledge that the next time you walk by the Mississippi you scoop your hand in and talk about the dragonflies or things you’ve founds,” Jolly said.
That’s why the Collector’s Corner is Jolly’s favorite spot in the Science Museum.
“You can bring anything you find in from the natural world, as long as it’s not stinky, smelly or slimy,” Jolly said. “The more you can explain about the specimen, the more points you earn.”
Then you can trade up. Forget baseball cards, we’re talking fossils and sea creatures.
“Collector’s Corner is really one of the first ways a child’s curiosity is captured,” Jolly said.
It’s the hands-on experience that also get the attention of museums around the country.
“We provide advice and funding to nearly 125,000 libraries and about 30,000 museums in the United States,” he said.
And just last year, 100 museums took exhibits developed in Minnesota that then traveled all over the map.
“It’s fun to reach a point in my life that I can take what I was passionate about and share it with the next generation,” Jolly said.
Leaving kids both big and small wanting to geek out — and be proud of it.
“They should love being a nerd. Because it means they know something no one else does. That’s special,” he said.
The Science Museum in St. Paul is in the top 10 in the country, with the largest exhibit production company and leading producer of IMAX movies — in 22 countries and 400 theaters around the world.
Fun Fact: Jolly’s own basket weaving is displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.