image of child with rock collection

first rock collection

That’s me, Kent, with my first rock collection on the porch steps of Grandma’s house in Menomonie, Wisconsin. I was introduced to geology at the age of 7, when a six-year-old friend gave me three small plastic dinosaurs.  

And yes, in those pre-Jurassic Park days, it was possible to be seven years old and to have never heard of dinosaurs.

I was immediately captivated by a world in which such animals lived and decided I would become a geologist. However, as I lived in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood, geology experiences were rare. My first fossil was found in rubble brought up during sewer repairs on our street. Hence, rock collecting began in earnest at my grandmother’s, whose yard had a sandstone cliff (although sadly one without fossils).


For his masters, Kirkby got to spend summers living in a mountain lion’s cave in the Guadalupe Mountains (although the puma understandably choose to spend her summers in other caves). The cave was in a series of cliffs with spectacular views of western desert sunsets.

What was supposed to be a quick year before returning to complete a PhD turned into a decade in the oil and gas industry, working in exploration and research while based in Denver and Calgary.

image of Kirkby
image of Kent with deck dino


After returning to Wisconsin to complete a PhD at the relatively advanced age of 35, Kent Kirkby took a chance on a teaching post at the University of Minnesota, despite half of the hiring committee warning him not to accept the job.

Nearly three decades and 14,000 students later, I still look forward to every day here. Minnesota students are simply outstanding and there are not many careers where you get to spend most of your time learning new things about our world.

And I still get to play with dinosaurs…