As a young man growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Eduardo M. Ochoa began his academic expedition in bilingual schools, achieving proficiency in the English language and migrating to the U.S. at 14 years old.
Now an accomplished academic administrator, engineer and President of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), Ochoa is retiring after 39 years of service in the CSU system.
Ochoa’s parents admired the U.S., and they understood the importance of learning English, so they enrolled him in British schools for grade school and half of high school before migrating to the U.S.
Moving to Oregon brought challenges to Ochoa’s life.
“It felt like one of those science fiction shows,” Ochoa said. “Where you wake up, and you’re somebody else in another life and nobody knows about the memories you have.”
Ochoa and his family parachuted into Portland in the middle of the summer and Ochoa dealt with depression for the first month. After starting school and meeting new people, he pulled through, reinvigorated for a new chapter in life.
At Reed College, Ochoa majored in physics. His original plan was to pursue two majors, physics and philosophy.
Ochoa completed all the coursework for philosophy, but because Reed requires a thesis for each major, he decided that once he satisfied his intellectual curiosity, it wasn’t logical to write a philosophy thesis on top of a physics thesis.
His interests drifted from epistemology and the possibility of knowledge to social issues, losing interest in philosophical science.
The Vietnam War had been raging during Ochoa’s time in high school and social science teachers opened his eyes to political and global issues.
Ochoa weighed his options once he graduated. His experience in science and informed social awareness presented two engineering career possibilities – nuclear and electrical.
After spending a year in Argentina, he discovered work opportunities related to his expertise. Ochoa returned to the U.S. and took advantage of Columbia University’s nuclear engineering program, completing his master’s degree in two years.
The political situation in Argentina had deteriorated and massive military repression in the area became a problem. Ultimately, making Ochoa’s dream of working with atomic energy in Argentina no longer possible.
Ochoa stayed in the U.S. and worked as a full-time engineer for one year and developed a desire to study social science at The New School for Social Research in New York, selecting a degree in economics because of its marketability.
Following his endeavors in the Empire State, Ochoa and his wife, Holly, moved back west and had their first son. He accepted his first job at Fresno State and completed his dissertation while teaching.
Ochoa returned to the job market, took a tenure track job at California State University, Los Angeles, moved up to a department chair position, became a dean at Cal Poly Pomona, and proceeded to take on the responsibility of Provost at Sonoma State University.
Collaborating in postsecondary education with the Obama Administration was an unexpected, exciting offer. Ochoa grew a national network of connections in higher education as the assistant secretary of postsecondary education.
Raising the profile of CSUMB and the surrounding community has been a highlight for Ochoa.
“It was like a caterpillar growing,” Ochoa said. “During my tenure, we’ve been able to come out as a butterfly.”
A telling indication of progress is the recent completion of the first comprehensive funding campaign. The target was $25 million and the community raised over $100 million.
Ochoa didn’t use any of his jobs as stepping stones. Rushing through positions wouldn’t have allowed him to make a difference.
His calm yet focused demeanor stems from years of preparation, and by the time he stepped into the shoes of President at CSUMB, it was comfortable.
Ochoa believes the campus is unique.
“The university was founded with only six months of planning,” Ochoa said. “It attracted people that were great improvisers who wanted to do things differently.”
CSUMB has a harmonious culture that separates it from other universities. The school is motivated by innovation and change.
Ochoa credits the success of the CSU to applied research that can help undergraduates flourish. CSUMB’s establishment of criteria for retention, promotion and faculty tenure has rewarded activity that pushes the institution’s initiative forward.
Generating an environment for good people to achieve excellence is the work he will miss most.
President Ochoa has driven the campus to greater heights. His dedication to the university mission and connection with students, faculty and staff have provided CSUMB with a better tomorrow.