From Biology Major to VP of Animal Care: Alum's Journey Reflects Passion for Nature and Humboldt Experience

A photo of Jon Hoech.
Jon Hoech's love for nature brought him to Cal Poly Humboldt, where he learned everything he needed for his current job as the VP of Animal Care at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
When asked about his favorite part of his current role as the Vice President of Animal Care at the Monterey (‘86, Biology) Bay Aquarium, Jon Hoech emphasizes working with amazing people who share his passion for marine conservation and the breathtaking view of the Monterey Bay from his office window, both mirroring his favorite parts about studying at Cal Poly Humboldt.

"I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to work with such a diverse and talented group. Seeing the passion and dedication they bring to their work every day is a joy. I also appreciate the collaborative spirit within the aquarium, where everyone is working towards a common goal of inspiring marine conservation and appreciation for the world's oceans,” Hoech says.

Hoech's journey from a small beach town in Southern California to Cal Poly Humboldt reflects a passion for nature that has defined his life. Growing up in San Clemente, surrounded by the ocean, Jon's early connection to the marine environment and love for scuba diving laid the foundation for his academic pursuits.

Motivated by a curiosity for the natural world, Hoech found his way to Cal Poly Humboldt, drawn by the redwood curtain, unique culture, and the promise of academic training that aligned with his interests. Despite not having a specific career in mind, he dove into the College of Natural Resources and Sciences, exploring various fields from marine biology to mycology and physics, finally deciding to pursue Biology as his major.

“I joke with my friends and say that I crammed a four-year college degree in 5 years because I kept moving everywhere until landing at biology,” Hoech says.

Reflecting on his time at Humboldt, Hoech emphasizes the influential professors, small class sizes, and the immersive environment as key elements that shaped his educational experience. The redwood forest, Telonicher Marine Lab, and newly built facilities like the Dennis K. Walker Greenhouse added to the richness of his academic journey. Access to unique natural areas like the Lanphere Dunes National Natural Landmark and Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex unit further enhanced his connection to the environment and learning.

Hoech’s love for the community extended beyond campus life, with fond memories of walking through Redwood Park and regularly visiting a unique piano bar on campus. He emphasizes the vibrant social life and the sense of being part of a community as integral to his Humboldt experience.

Some of his favorite parts of studying biology were the passionate professors, the experiential learning in the redwood environment, and the quality of instruction. He specifically mentions the impact of Biology professors like Gary Brusca, Tim Lawlor, and Native American studies professor Robert Lake, who broadened his perspectives beyond the scientific realm.

“Gary Brusca and Tim Lawlor had exceptional teaching methods, which encouraged me to think critically and understand complex concepts rather than just memorization. On the other hand, Robert Lake broadened my perspectives beyond the objective sciences to round out the corners of the more linear and rigid Western European paradigms in his Native American ideology classes. He expanded my experiential learning, and his teachings gave me a synergistic way of looking at life,” Hoech says.

After graduating, Hoech pursued a diverse career path, including managing a scuba diving shop and working on a teaching credential. However, a serendipitous opportunity at the Monterey Bay Aquarium changed his trajectory. Now, as the Vice President of Animal Care, he oversees five departments: the applied water science team, the dive programs, the veterinary services team, the husbandry team, and the collections team. In managing and leading each department, he is applying everything he learned in the biological sciences curriculum as a student at Humboldt, from math and chemistry to ecology and microbiology.

As for lessons learned at Humboldt, Hoech pauses to reflect, undoubtedly considering the wealth of experiences that have shaped his life there. His advice for prospective students considering Humboldt is clear: embrace the unique environment, outstanding professors, and diverse community to appreciate the transformative journey that awaits at Humboldt.

“I believe that three main things make Humboldt a great place to study. Firstly, the quality of the environment, including the resources and infrastructure on campus. Secondly, the availability of good professors, and lastly, the wonderful environment of Arcata and Humboldt County. It is a magical and beautiful place that can open young minds to new concepts and ways of thinking. For those who love nature, like me, it’s a terrific place to be," Hoech says.

Photo: Jon Hoech's love for nature brought him to Cal Poly Humboldt, where he learned everything he needed for his current job as the VP of Animal Care at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.