Jess Martin is having a busy day. The administrative director of the new Science Center nurses a cup of coffee adorned with the words “She who must be obeyed” and scrolls quickly on her laptop. It’s 9 a.m., and she’s working her way through a mountain of email. With less than week to go before the building’s grand opening on Oct. 20, there is much to do.
“Tell me anything that’s a crisis,” she instructs Anders Griffen, the building’s program coordinator. They’re in the Science Center’s spacious atrium, better known as “the living room,” which is filled with colorful rugs, soft furniture and people talking and studying. Through the wall of windows beyond, students hurry to class in the rain.
The day has brought some unexpected problems. A lock removed from a door in the now-closed Merrill Science Center needs to be reinstalled. A room of aquariums of fish has water on the floor. Already this morning, Martin has shepherded equipment from the old Merrill greenhouse. Coming up, she has five meetings, an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education and an hour of open office time.
This was a normal day for Martin in the weeks leading up to the October celebration. Hired in 2016, Martin coordinated the transition from Merrill and McGuire, and with the move mostly complete by early fall, her charge turned to relieving the administrative burden from the science faculty and molding the seven science departments into a single cohesive cohort.
“I’m a matchmaker,” she says. “I bring people together.”
To do that, Martin is part landlord and part entertainment director for a giant cruise ship of science. In her office, she has a mascot named Keith, a brain coral that a faculty member gave her. She wears shirts with mottos such as “Never trust an atom—they make up everything” and “Actually, it IS rocket science.”
To introduce students and faculty to the building, Martin ran treasure hunts for 15 tiny hidden mammoths. In the living room, she started Friday afternoon gatherings where students hold court about such topics as women in science and the electronics club. She’s also asked faculty to bring musical instruments and take advantage of the resounding acoustics in the space. For the first of these jam sessions, Martin brought her guitar and performed “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes.
After her check-in with Griffen, Martin heads to her next meeting of the day, with physics professor David Hall ’91, to discuss what experiments students will perform at the Oct. 20 celebration. On the way, she notices that someone’s moved the living room footstools over to the windows, forming a pattern of colorful objects. “I like to see a little subversion and spontaneity,” she says. “It’s great to see people adapting to the space as though it was always here.”