Growing up in Michigan, Jacob Moreno (21) was nowhere near the ocean. But that didn’t stop his fascination with the big blue enigma that makes up 71% of the world. In fifth grade, a homeschooled marine biology lesson taught by Moreno’s parents sparked a passion that’s stuck. The Great Lakes became his first laboratory, but he had his eyes on something bigger. 

“Learning about how unexplored the ocean [is has] always piqued my interest,” Moreno  said. “I always wanted to discover something. I just thought it was so cool how much there is undiscovered in the ocean and how beautiful God’s creation is.”

Throughout middle school and high school, The Blue Planet and Planet Earth were mainstays on his TV screen. Moreno says the ocean’s beauty and mystery are what got him hooked; he wanted to pursue a career in marine biology and ride the wave of his passion for the deep blue. 

When it came to choosing a college, his mom discovered PLNU — 2,300 miles away from his hometown of Pontiac, MI. Needless to say, living in San Diego would get him much closer to the ocean.

“My hesitations coming into Point Loma was they didn’t necessarily have a specific marine biology program,” Moreno admits. “But I read that they had a really good science professor, Dr. Cho, who’s a marine biology Ph.D. … I saw they offered a lot of courses on it even though they didn’t have a major or minor in it.”

And Moreno took every oceanography course PLNU’s Biology department offered. He excelled, which led to an amazing opportunity to spend two summers as a research student for his mentor, and the biology professor who inspired him to be a Sea Lion in the first place, Walter  Cho, Ph.D. 

“Jacob was a wonderful research student. He was very motivated, very organized, really passionate about the project,” Cho said in a phone interview about his former student. “He was totally focused and always gave his full attention and effort on whatever he was working on.”

Nowadays, Moreno is putting his degree in biology to work in a slightly different capacity. In his first job post-graduation, he’s an associate scientist at Element Biosciences in La Jolla, a genomic sequencing company. He works in the research and development department in the biochemistry subgroup on the protein engineering team. Moreno works on developing enzymes and proteins, and he says the abundant lab hours at PLNU put him ahead of the curve. 

“The thing I wanted most out of a job was a place where I could become more of a well-rounded scientist,” Moreno said. “You hear stories of people with my degree who go in and end up doing the same repetitive task over and over again — more like an assembly-line type job, which is something I definitely didn’t want for myself, but knew that could be very much reality.”

Moreno has worked at Element Biosciences since 2021, and is happy to report he’s been encouraged to be creative, and innovative — to think outside the box and to cultivate new ideas. 

“It’s very night-and-day, the person I am now to when I first started,” Moreno said. “That’s all attributed to the team that’s there and willing to invest in me as a person and as a future scientist. They give me space to think critically and come up with ideas and contribute in ways that I feel add a lot of value, which is pretty unique for a first-time job.”

“And Moreno took every oceanography course PLNU’s Biology department offered. He excelled, which led to an amazing opportunity to spend two summers as a research student for his mentor, and the biology professor who inspired him to be a Sea Lion in the first place, Walter  Cho, Ph.D.”

He’s had the opportunity to design new proteins and enzymes. Some have shown interesting results, and a lot have failed. But to Moreno, that’s what makes science, science

“You fail a lot more than you succeed. That’s the name of the game,” he said. “It’s a very strong team mentality, so we win as a team and we lose as a team.”

Being a part of a team atmosphere isn’t new to Moreno. He played soccer growing up, received All-league and All-state honors in high school, and was a 4-year defender on PLNU’s men’s soccer team. 

“Work ethic is something that I feel carried over very well from my athletic background onto my professional life. Attacking everything with everything that I have,” he said. “You always want people on your team who are going to work hard, and that’s one of the core values of our company: Overcome with grit. Understanding that the bigger picture is the team and it’s not the individual.”

“Jacob was a wonderful research student. He was very motivated, very organized, really passionate about the project,” Cho said in a phone interview about his former student. “He was totally focused and always gave his full attention and effort on whatever he was working on.”

Being a collegiate student-athlete has allowed him to approach his science career with a different lens. Those times a midfielder got passed him and scored a goal? Next play. A close game lost in penalty kicks? Next game. Soccer gave an assist on his short memory.

“I’ve gotta tough chin because of it. So maybe failing isn’t as alarming to me as some other people,” he continues, “I’d say, it’s taught me how to fail well.”

Still, Moreno humbly confessed, he doesn’t consider himself an official “scientist” — a title he defers to his peers who hold the title of Ph.D. in biology allowing them to don the crown of experts in their field. But, his college professor vigorously disagrees.

Photo of Jacob on PLNU campus before Graduation

“Jacob is a scientist, he’s definitely a scientist,” Dr. Cho said, adamantly. “He was developing scientific critical thinking skills as a student in our major as well as a research student in my lab. That curiosity that drove him and really that passion to understand the world around us, is integral to being a scientist. He is a scientist.”  

Moreno has always possessed that curiosity. Ever since his mom-made marine biology science curriculum sparked an unwavering interest, he’s been hungry to know how things tick. 

The ocean knows no bounds. And neither does Moreno’s dreams of becoming a marine biologist. He still wanders back to Point Loma and Cabrillo’s tidepools to be out in nature’s beauty. Whether it’s the first time or the100th, he’s still fascinated by what he sees. 

“I’m excited about where I’m at,” Moreno said. “But hopefully, I have a long life ahead of me and I’ll be able to eventually return to that passion. [To] merge the two things that I’m wondering about right now — biochemistry and genetics, and genome sequencing — with my passion for marine biology like Dr. Cho did.” 

“I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist since I was a kid. Right now, I’m definitely not a marine biologist. But one day, maybe.” 

Jordan Robinson (Ligons) (16) is a former PLNU women’s basketball student-athlete who studied journalism and women’s studies. Currently, she’s a freelance sports journalist, TV host, and WNBA podcaster in Los Angeles, CA.