Alumna Unveils Highly Anticipated Aquarium Exhibit
What does Southern Adventist University and the nation’s first public aquarium have in common? The answer is Jennie Dee Janssen, ’99.
On May 12, National Aquarium, located in Baltimore, Maryland, unveiled its newest exhibit with the alumna at its forefront. Since opening the highly anticipated Living Seashore exhibit, Janssen, manager of changing exhibits, has appeared on several TV and radio stations in the Baltimore/DC area and been quoted in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and Smithsonian.
Living Seashore is a hands-on exhibit that gives visitors a chance to uncover the mysteries of the Mid-Atlantic shoreline. The exhibit’s main attraction is its two touchpools, which house more than 150 animals from 20 different species for visitors to touch, such as horseshoe crabs, stingrays, sea stars, and moon jellies. The exhibit also features several other attractions, such as boardwalk-style binoculars that show videos of animals that inhabit the beach and a live display that reveals animals hiding in the sand.
“We’re trying to show you that when you go to the beach, it’s actually a living habitat,” Janssen said. “The dune is not just a place between your car and the water. I hope that by making exhibits like this available to the public, people become familiar with these animals and appreciate them and are astounded by how cool they are.”
When the decision was made to create the Living Seashore exhibit two years ago, Janssen was chosen to be the lead biologist on the project and to curate the gallery. She determined which species would be appropriate for each space within Living Seashore and which infrastructure would be needed to support them. She then oversaw the installation of the life support systems, developed the animal care and operational protocols for the gallery, and trained the exhibit’s hosts on animal-handling techniques for interacting with guests—all while managing and mentoring the team of aquarists that performs the day-to-day care of the animals. Janssen enjoys working in public aquaria because, to her, it is more than just a job; it’s an opportunity to serve God.
“Just as Adam and Eve were entrusted to take care of the garden, this planet is our garden,” Janssen said. “The Bible has told us that God loves every one of His creatures. They are here at the aquarium, and they’re amazing. To care for them is to appreciate His creation. And displaying them and sharing them with the public is like witnessing, in a way.”
Though Janssen has worked hard to obtain her position at National Aquarium, she attributes finding her focus to Bill Hayes, PhD, one of her many mentors while she was a student at Southern. Hayes, a biology professor, helped her realize that her dream of working with aquatic animals could become reality and used his connections to help her acquire a research internship at Tennessee Aquarium while she was still a freshman. Because of Hayes and other influential faculty, Janssen was able to conduct research of her own and present her findings at various conferences alongside professionals and graduate students.
“The professors at Southern never held me back,” Janssen said. “There was never a feeling that I couldn’t do something because I was an undergrad. Without the mentors I had, I absolutely would not be in the public aquarium industry. Period. Nor would I be the same person I am today.”