Dig beneath the surface of Rachael Dank (’18 geology), and you’ll find a whole lot of steel. It takes a certain kind of mettle to juggle school, work, raising three kids and still maintain a graduate school worthy GPA.
"Sometimes I want to pull my hair out," she admits.
But it’s worth it, because when Dank graduates this summer, it will be the achievement of this first-generation college student’s lifelong dream.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I always loved rocks," she said. "But I never thought I could make a living out of it. We lived by a creek so I was always down in the woods acting like I was on an exploratory adventure, a scientist who was going to solve a problem. I remember, in the imagination of a child, finding really cool rocks and saying ‘Tell me where you’ve been!’ because I knew they were old."
After moving to Houston, Texas, for a year, Dank realized opportunities abound for geologists in the petroleum industry, depending on markets. She decided she could turn her passion into a career, and when she moved back to Iowa, she enrolled at DMACC and later transferred to Iowa State’s geology program.
A home at Iowa State
Dank knew she belonged at Iowa State from day one. The Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences has a small family atmosphere and an alumni network that is appealing to future professionals.
For example, Dank’s internship last year was supervised by an Iowa State geology alumnus. She spent the summer working for Oldcastle Materials, a sand and aggregate mining company. Using geophysical equipment, she helped explore new land prospects to see what minerals were stored underneath.
Dank loved the internship so much she didn’t want it to end. So, she pitched an idea to help the general manager with the less exciting side of a geologist’s life—land record management. She implemented a workflow of job responsibilities and procedures and created a part-time role for herself in between classes.
"That was an excellent experience and all based on networking I did [at Iowa State]. Building those relationships with my professors and showing a strong work ethic. One of the great opportunities Iowa State has offered me is that connection with professionals."
Was a summer surrounded by rocks everything her childhood self dreamed of?
"Yes! It’s so cool," Dank said.
‘Two old friends’
Discovering her passion was the easy part. Navigating college was hard. As a first-generation student, Dank didn’t have anyone to guide her in the process. When she accidentally missed a scholarship deadline before arriving at Iowa State, she was devastated.
Thankfully, the following year she applied on time and was rewarded with a scholarship and a "rock" of another kind: a new friendship with LAS alumna Becky Kresowik (’87 liberal studies).
Kresowik and her daughters created the Lucille Drey scholarship in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to honor Kresowik’s mother who earned her social work degree at age 63. The scholarship is given to a nontraditional female LAS student with preference to those raising children while in school.
Kresowik has reached out to every student recipient of her mother’s scholarship, and she and Dank formed a true bond.
"We ended up meeting and having coffee and it was like two old friends coming together," Dank said. "It was an immediate connection. She has such a big heart. Every chance we get that she’s on campus we always meet up."
"Becky is such a blessing in my life. It’s not just the financial support, but it’s the thought of someone being that generous. It’s very inspirational," Dank added, tearing up.
“Rachael is the ideal recipient of my mother’s scholarship. She is bright, hardworking and dedicated to her family, schoolwork and her job. Rachael will be successful in her career no matter the challenges. I treasure our shared time together and our friendship,” Kresowik said.
Moving forward and giving back
Dank will walk this spring and officially graduate in the summer after a mountaintop experience: attending ISU’s Geology Field Camp in Wyoming. Her immediate plans are to work in industry and pursue graduate school in the near future. Her long-term plans? To pay it forward and help another student achieve his or her dreams, too.
"The relationship that bloomed [with Becky] is such an inspiration to me to give back the way she has. Even if it’s just one student, if I can build that relationship and be that inspiration and be that encouragement, that’s better than any paycheck I could get."