1. What was your major/field of study during your time at Stockton, and when did you graduate?
I started at Stockton in the fall of 1994 and graduated in 1999 with a B.S. in Marine Science and a B.A. in Psychology. Sharks had always been my passion since I was a child.
2. Tell us about the kind of work you are doing now and how that aligns with your career aspirations.
I have been fortunate enough to turn my passion for sharks and marine life into my career. I have found that with the Marine Science field you can do one of four things: 1) Teach 2) Field Research 3) Lab Research or 4) Work as an Aquarist at an Aquarium. I like working hands on with big animals, so aquarium work was the way to go for me. I have actually worked at 5 facilities throughout my career, but I am currently in my 10th year working as a Senior 1 Aquarist at SeaWorld in Orlando. I get to scuba dive with and perform complex husbandry for all sorts of exotic marine life. I love how diverse my job is. One day I’ll be wrangling a 400 lb. shark to perform a health physical on it, while the next I’ll be changing the life support parameters on a large sea dragon exhibit to coax these rare and endangered sea creatures to breed in captivity for the first time. Every day is a new adventure. I feel very strongly that it is through work by public aquariums and zoos that we help ignite a passion and interest in wildlife and conservation within society.
3. What are some of your favorite Stockton memories – such as a favorite class, professor, spot on campus, or social event?
I REALLY enjoyed my time at Stockton. I lived in the dorms for the duration of my education and I feel it really fostered friendships and comradery that I still carry on to this day. I always loved the comedians that the Board of Activities would have come perform for us. From big names like Richard Jeni at the PAC, to comedians just starting out their careers performing at Lakeside Center; it was always a riot. I will always remember SCUBA diving in the pool across from the PAC. Getting my SCUBA certification through Stockton was a huge step in the success of my eventual career. Dr. L. Stanton Hales was my INTRO TO MARINE SCIENCE professor that really started me down the path to getting into the field by offering me the opportunity to help him with his research on marsh fish. WRITING ABOUT NATURE taught by the brilliant Dr. Jack Conner was one of my favorite classes. I loved the actual main building of Stockton, because I was an avid roller blader, and all the sidewalks and parking lots were perfect for skating. The deep recesses of the Science Lab wing were always fun to explore. I’ll never forget the room that contained the huge collection of preserved animals the university had. They even had a display of extinct Passenger Pigeons! Unreal!
4. How has attending Stockton influenced your life?
Attending Stockton allowed me to live my childhood dream of working with sharks and marine animals as my career. Thanks to Stockton, I love my job. They say that if you love your job, you don’t work a day in your life. I took a class called FOSSIL FISHES taught by an Adjunct Professor named Dr. Phil Light. He would go home at the end of the day and look up volunteer opportunities on the internet (which was in its fledgling stages) for students who stuck out to him in his classes. He came into class one day and handed me an application form for students to participate in a brand new research project studying Great White Shark populations off the coast of South Africa. I filled it out and sent it in. Thanks to him, my SCUBA certification, and my prior fish research with Dr. Hales; I was chosen out of hundreds of other students all over the country to go and live in South Africa for 3 months and study Great White Shark populations with the South African White Shark Research Institute during the summer of 1998. This was a lifelong dream of mine fulfilled! It is something that I still think about every day, and it has always been a shining star on my resume. None of this would have been possible without Stockton.
5. What advice would you offer to current Stockton students and recent graduates?
The best advice I can give Stockton students is to take advantage of their professors and don’t be a “bug on the wall”. Your professors are there to help you. It was Dr. Hales that gave me the opportunity to start to get some experience. It was Dr. Light that helped me achieve a childhood dream. It was also Dr. Rudolph Arndt that helped me finish my career at Stockton with a 3 credit independent study that allowed me to graduate on time with a double major. Don’t be a “bug on the wall” means take charge of your future. Get some experience even if it means volunteering. Build that resume! At the direction of another professor, I went and volunteered with the DEP in a coastal “census of the sea”. I tried to get a job at the NJ State Aquarium and was turned down for lack of experience. Rather than being deterred, I went to the small boardwalk aquarium in Wildwood and volunteered. They gave me a job after 2 days of volunteering. The next summer, I got a job at Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Pt. Pleasant which was a much more respected facility. All this combined with my other Stockton experiences eventually led to the Great White Shark research. After graduation I got a job caring for sharks at a large aquarium in Albuquerque, NM. From Albuquerque I went to work at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, where I worked with fish and a whole host of other amazing animals. It was here that because of all my accrued experience I was eventually recruited by SeaWorld which is the biggest and best aquarium company there is! It all started by taking advantage of helpful Stockton professors and volunteering.
6. On a personal note, what is your favorite thing to do on your days off?
Here I am, 16 years out from my Stockton days. I have a wonderful wife, Melody, and am a father to two beautiful girls, Ava who is 4 and Amelia Grace who is 4 months. I enjoy spending time with my daughters and passing on my love of marine life to them. I still play bagpipes for fun. I like to SCUBA dive recreationally. I am also a huge movie buff.