Winter Commencement 2023: Kendra Bolen, Artis College of Science and Technology
Kendra Bolen has a knack for discovery.
Take the summer of 2022, for example, when the Radford University geology major volunteered with a group of paleontologists conducting field work on a ranch in Montana.
“I didn’t have a trained eye for what we were looking for. I was more interested in the geology aspect, and everything to me looked like a rock,” Bolen humbly begins. “And I was sitting on what I thought was a rock, but it turned out to be a triceratops skull.”
Congratulations, the group cheered. “You’re now an official dinosaur digger.”
Since she was a kid growing up in Salem, Virginia, Bolen has had an aptitude for science. It began with dinosaurs and blossomed into other areas as she progressed through middle and high school. Bolen enrolled at Radford University intending to pursue a career as an earth science teacher.
Not long after stepping foot on campus, however, Bolen, with Department of Geology faculty members as her guide, discovered many of the amazing opportunities available to geology majors.
“This is what we do,” Bolen recalled department Chair Jonathan Tso, Ph.D., saying after telling her about numerous research opportunities and showing her the makerspace, the Museum of the Earth Sciences and the UAV Center for drone research.
“I love educating people, and there are so many opportunities that I had within our geology program that allowed me to teach others without actually becoming a teacher,” she said.
Bolen’s prowess for operating drones is known all across campus, and that has allowed her to teach others to fly the vehicles, including university President Bret Danilowicz.
“He was an absolute natural when it came to flying our drones,” Bolen said of the president. “It was a great experience, and he is a big advocate for what we are doing here, and he is definitely pushing for us to do more.”
Doing more at Radford, Bolen explained, is possible through the many hands-on learning experiences and research opportunities available at the university. During her time here, Bolen has worked on multiple research projects with faculty. Many of those have involved piloting drones.
She has traveled to West Virginia numerous times to fly and digitally map highway projects, and she has flown drones as a member of various response teams on projects along the New River. It was Bolen’s experience and expertise that afforded her the opportunity to join scientists from Paleo Prospectors for two summers. On her most recent mission to Montana in the summer of 2023, Bolen was allowed to bring dinosaur fossils back to campus for fellow students to study while in the Museum of the Earth Sciences.
“I’m so appreciative of the education and opportunities I have discovered at Radford University,” Bolen said, elaborating on the support and guidance she has received from the Department of Geology.
“We are not only a close-knit group; we are family,” she said. “We push each other to be our best and exceed expectations. Being pushed every single day to be our best and to become the greatest geologists that we can has exceeded my expectations.”
Bolen’s professors, she said, knew her name the moment she stepped into her first geology class. That was when she first discovered she was not “just a number here” at Radford. “I knew I was a student they actually wanted to put time into, and they had expectations for me.”
All the hard – and fun – work has paid off for Bolen. On Dec. 9, she will be among the graduates at Radford’s Winter Commencement, where her boyfriend, mother, father, sister, grandfather and grandmother from Ohio will cheer her on. “I’m a first-generation college student on my father’s side,” she noted, “so it’s a huge deal for me to be walking across that stage.”
Soon after commencement, Bolen will leave for South Bend, Indiana, to serve as director of the newly established Indiana Dinosaur Museum.
She’s excited to graduate, but over the last 2 1/2 years, she’s discovered how much she enjoys educating others, at the university and at local schools, and how much she adores Radford. Both figure into her long-term career plans.
“I look forward to graduating, but I'll definitely miss Radford,” said the certified drone pilot, educator and “official dinosaur digger.”
“It's a place where, hopefully, once I get my doctorate, I can give back and come back and be a professor here at Radford University.”