Alumna Jessica Maisano ‘Rocks’ Childhood Dream Job

CT Scan Rendering of a Komodo Dragon Head, Showing the Bones Embedded in the Skin Around the Skull

Honors College alumna Jessica Maisano, ’94, B.A., started her career at Kent State as a fashion merchandising student before realizing her passion for dinosaurs and dirt was a viable career option. One Kent State professor would show Maisano that childhood dreams are actually within reach.

In her junior year, Maisano wrote a term paper about what killed the dinosaurs for her earth history course taught by Don Palmer, now Professor Emeritus of Geology.

Jessica Maisano
Jessica Maisano
“I always wanted to be a paleontologist, like every child in the world,” Maisano said. “Most people outgrow that, and those of us who are paleontologists never outgrew it. I prefaced the whole paper with, when I was little, I wanted to be a paleontologist, but then I realized I would be poor all my life digging in the dirt and never find anything.”

Palmer rebutted her comment in her grading and instead presented Maisano with opportunities in the field. In her senior year, Maisano changed her career path to vertebrate paleontology.

“I just decided to go for it,” Maisano said. “I mean, I liked fashion, but at that point, I was feeling bored and not challenged, so Dr. Palmer helped me switch that fall semester into geology. I didn't know anything about the geology department when I switched, and I just happened to fall into a wonderful, small but warm and inviting and supportive department that I think is a real asset to the university.”

While many of her fashion courses did not transfer to vertebrate paleontology, Maisano was grateful to have taken a variety of courses.

“A lot of those classes still benefited me tremendously,” Maisano said. “Like public speaking; you wouldn't believe how many scientists don't know how to speak in public at talks and meetings.”

Maisano also took economics classes and accounting, which she found applicable in the course of her career. 

In the late ’90s, CT scanners were introduced to the world of natural history. The University of Texas received a grant to build an online library of vertebrates based on CT scans. With no prior knowledge of CT scanning, Maisano helped to establish CT scanning in her field.

“At the time, nobody was really trained in it,” Maisano said. “It's something you would just learn by doing. It really was the beginning of this technology in the field.”

Now, Maisano manages a research lab with industrial-strength CT scanners. Unlike medical CT scanners, Maisano’s lab scans “everything but people.” 

“We scan meteorites, fossils, Apollo moon rocks – anything and everything that a scientist would want to look inside of non-destructively,” Maisano said.

Maisano has most recently scanned and analyzed volcanic rocks, manufactured foams, an iPhone battery and a mouse embryo. Her team has 75 years of experience between them.

“Knowing what kind of energy you want to use, how long it's going to take to get the data, what scanner to use ... all of those things are based on experience,” Maisano said. “You get really good at looking through the data and understanding what it is you're seeing, and then helping the client understand what it is they're seeing.”

Maisano’s favorite part of her job comes from helping other scientists reach their research objectives.

“Every time we scan something, what we're seeing inside is new, so it's a real learning experience,” Maisano said. “It's interesting all the time, and I really enjoy being in this kind of environment, working with other scientists and helping them get the data that they need.”

Maisano advises current college students to stay flexible and be open to new opportunities as they present themselves.

For more information about majors available in the Department of Geology, visit www.kent.edu/geology.

POSTED: Thursday, January 28, 2021 - 4:52pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - 10:32am
WRITTEN BY:
Hannah Gooch