Rowan alumni Jean and Ric Edelman commit $25 million for University’s Fossil Park

Rowan alumni Jean and Ric Edelman commit $25 million for University’s Fossil Park

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Jean and Ric Edelman (right) celebrate their $25 million gift for the Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University with (from left) Rowan President Ali Houshmand, Fossil Park Director Kenneth Lacovara, and Board of Trustees Chairman Linda Rohrer.

Making history doesn’t matter much to Jean and Ric Edelman.

Making an impact—a tangible, lasting impact—does.

To that end, the Edelmans today pledged $25 million to preserve and expand the Rowan University Fossil Park in Mantua Township, N.J.

Their gift—the second largest in University history and the largest ever given to Rowan by alumni—will help transform STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education through one-of-a-kind, hands-on discovery and world-class research at the Fossil Park.

The park will be named the Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University. Learn more about their gift here.

“We want our giving to have a measurable impact on people’s lives,” says Ric, a 1980 alumnus, who, with Jean, a 1981 alumna and University trustee, founded Edelman Financial Services in 1987. The company is one of the largest independent financial planning and investment management firms in the nation.

“It wasn’t our goal to donate $25 million to the University. Instead, our goal was to determine how much money it would take to create a world-class museum and learning experience at the Fossil Park, and that’s the amount it will take,” continues Ric, who has been ranked the No. 1 Independent Financial Adviser in the nation three times by Barron’s. He’s also a #1 New York Times bestselling author, and in August, Forbes ranked him among the Top 10 Wealth Advisers in America.

“We want the Fossil Park to be a world-class destination for families on the same scale as the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Franklin Institute.”

Ambitious plans for the Fossil Park include a state-of-the-art museum and visitor center, a fossil preparation lab that will reveal how scientists study fossils, a nature trail, a paleontology-themed playground, social spaces to accommodate special events and—most importantly—the opportunity for students and families to participate in paleontological digs at the site, helping scientists discover fossils from the dinosaur age.

Purchased by Rowan in January for $1.95 million, the 65-acre tract contains thousands of 65-million-year-old fossils from the Cretaceous Period—the heyday of the dinosaurs. Located behind a suburban shopping center, the former ancient sea floor was mined for nearly a century for its greensand (or marl) by the Inversand Company, which sold the sediment as an organic fertilizer and water treatment product. Since the 1920s, researchers have excavated fossils there as Inversand continued its work.

Last year, company officials announced they would end operations at the quarry within the year. Recognizing the value of the land as both a home to “citizen science” and as a world-class research site, Rowan purchased the tract, located just four miles from its Main Campus in Glassboro.

The Edelmans’ gift will help Rowan create a vibrant Fossil Park and educational opportunities of international caliber, says Rowan President Ali A. Houshmand.

“The Edelmans’ passion for sharing discovery and science will transform and expand Rowan’s capacity to educate for generations to come,” says Houshmand.

“Their vision and generosity will make it possible for tens of thousands of students, families and researchers to explore a range of hands-on sciences at a globally significant site—paleontology, of course, but also geology, biology, environmental science, and more. Visitors will be able to dig up the past and learn about the future of our world through many disciplines. The Edelman Fossil Park will be an international science center and a premier destination for our region.”

Researching the Cretaceous Period

Led by world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, park director and founding dean of Rowan’s School of Earth & Environment, researchers at the Fossil Park are working millimeter by millimeter to carefully examine the fossils, sediments and geochemistry of the site to gain a clearer picture of the period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. They’re investigating the idea that the fossils—sea turtles, sharks, boney fish, crocodiles, mosasaurs and dinosaurs, among them—represent a mass die-off of the animals that once lived there.

Lacovara’s team is trying to determine if the six-inch bone bed from the end of the Cretaceous Period is related to the mass extinction that wiped out the 165-million-year reign of the dinosaurs.

The Fossil Park also is the site of wildly popular “community dig days” during which children and families can search for the fossils of ancient sea creatures with their own hands, alongside researchers. Since 2012, nearly 15,000 visitors—some traveling from as far away as Michigan, Georgia, California and England—have connected with the Earth’s deep past by digging for fossils. Two thousand spots for the fifth annual Community Dig Day on Sept. 10 were filled up in 23 minutes when registration opened online.

Alumni support

The Edelmans are two dedicated alumni who generously share their time and talents with the institution, Houshmand notes. Their $25 million gift is the third largest to a public college or university in the state. Gifts to Rowan occupy three of the five top spots on that list and include the landmark $100 million gift from Henry and Betty Rowan in 1992, the Edelmans’ gift, and $15 million from the Henry M. Rowan Family Foundation in 2014.

“A $25 million gift is special no matter how you look at it, but it is especially meaningful when individuals give so generously to their alma mater,” Houshmand says. “This gift speaks to the Edelmans’ experiences as students here, the impact that our faculty and staff had on them then and today, and the trust that they have in us to be good stewards of their investment.

“We could not feel more honored, and we promise to make them even more proud of their alma mater.”

For the Edelmans, the Fossil Park is a prudent investment, Ric says.

“We’re particularly excited about the vision, commitment, enthusiasm, and hard work” that have helped build the institution, he notes. “Rowan is entirely deserving of our financial support. We hope other alumni will demonstrate their support as well.”

‘We’re fulfilling a dream of his—and a dream of ours’

For years, the Edelmans have earmarked science and science education as key areas of their philanthropy.

In 2002, they gave $1 million to establish the Edelman Fund in support of Rowan’s planetarium, which bears their name. In 2006, they established a program that allows elementary schools to bring students to the facility—free of charge—to experience astronomy programs that enhance their classroom work. To date, nearly 60,000 individuals have attended shows at the Edelman Planetarium—the largest in South Jersey. Annually, more than 6,000 K-12 students learn about the solar system, space and beyond at Rowan’s facility.

In 2010, the couple donated more than $240,000 to fund the instrumentation for a full-dome digital projection system at the planetarium to ensure that the facility remains a leader in astronomy education.

Maintaining—and expanding—the public’s opportunity to experience the thrill of scientific discovery through Dig Days is crucial to the Fossil Park’s future, the Edelmans agree.

 “The Fossil Park has the ability to provide access to science for children of all ages. There’s nothing better than hands-on science,” says Jean. “We want people to make the Fossil Park, the planetarium and the University a destination.”

“The Fossil Park is bringing families together. To provide those opportunities is absolutely priceless,” she adds. Jean rejoined Rowan’s Board of Trustees in 2014 after serving from 2008-’12.

When Lacovara gave a presentation on the park before the trustees, board members immediately saw purchasing the site as a wise investment, she notes. Their gift builds on that, she adds.

“Ken gave a wonderful presentation. Everybody loved the idea,” says Jean, noting that Lacovara is also a 1984 Rowan alumnus. “We’re fulfilling a dream of his—and a dream of ours. We’re excited to be a part of it.”

The Edelmans’ support for the Fossil Park is monumental scientifically and educationally, says Lacovara.

“We believe the site, scientifically, to be of global significance. The generous gift from the Edelmans will allow us to pursue this scientific story using the best techniques and in the most complete way,” says Lacovara, who applies the latest technologies to study fossils, including 3D laser scanning, CT scanning, 3D printing, robotics and techniques from medical modeling and molecular biology.

Lacovara is known internationally for his discovery of the massive plant-eating dinosaur Dreadnoughtus schrani. Found in Patagonia, Dreadnoughtus is the best example found of any of the largest creatures ever to walk the planet and is the most complete skeleton of its type unearthed.

Bringing science to the citizenry is a key component of the park’s mission and something the Edelmans embrace, adds Lacovara.

“We believe hands-on experiential education is one of the most powerful ways to change people’s lives,” he says. “The Edelmans want to help people learn and explore, and to help people improve their lives by providing pathways to success. Their vision is our vision. Their heart is in this.”

A commitment to Rowan

In addition to their philanthropic gifts to Rowan, the Edelmans have been active University supporters, giving of their time and expertise.

In 1994, they each received the Rowan Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, which honors graduates who have brought credit to the institution through personal and professional accomplishments and humanitarianism.

Ric, who earned his bachelor’s degree in Communications, was the keynote speaker at the University’s 1999 Commencement ceremony, where he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. In 2007, he was inducted into the Rowan University Public Relations Student Society of America Hall of Fame. He serves as a member of the advisory board for the College of Communication & Creative Arts. He is the first to be named Distinguished Lecturer for the University.

Jean, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Consumer Economics and Marketing, with a minor in Nutrition, holds the distinction of being the first female president of the University’s Student Government Association. She also was named Distinguished Senior, the University’s highest student honor. Currently chair of the academic affairs/student affairs committee on the University’s Board of Trustees, she was the speaker for the 2013 Graduate School Commencement.

Rowan’s growth has been extraordinary, she says.

“When we were students, Glassboro State College was a sleepy little college. It’s quite remarkable how far we’ve come,” she notes.

About the Edelmans

Passionate about empowering others through education, the Edelmans have dedicated themselves to transforming lives through personal finance education. That was their plan when, in 1987, they set out to create a different type of financial services firm with the founding of Edelman Financial Services.

The firm provides financial planning and investment management services to more than 30,000 individuals and families and manages $16 billion in assets, with 170 planners in 42 offices coast-to-coast. The firm also provides 401(k) plans and institutional investment management for businesses. To date, the firm has won more than 100 financial, business, community and philanthropic awards, including several “best places to work” awards.

Ric hosts radio and television shows that air weekly nationwide. He was named one of the “10 most influential figures” in the investment advisory field by RIABiz.com, a highly regarded industry website.

Author of eight books, Ric in July re-released Rescue Your Money (Simon & Schuster), which tells readers how to invest in today’s tumultuous times. His books have collectively sold more than one million copies and have been translated into several languages.

One of the most successful women in the Washington, D.C. business community, Jean speaks on intrapersonal growth and development. Her book, The Other Side of Money, is a compilation of the many columns she’s written over the past decade. The book shares her insights to help readers see themselves and the world around them in a positive, loving way.

The Edelmans support a variety of charitable activities, including the Edelman Nursing Career Development Center at Inova Health System Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Northern Virginia Riding Services, and many others.