Climate & Life, Community Impact, Earth & Cosmos
Jonathan Hicken in front of the whale skeleton at the Seymour Center

After an extensive search, the UC Santa Cruz Seymour Marine Discovery Center has chosen Jonathan Andres Hicken to be its new director. Hicken will be stepping into a role vacated by founding director Julie Barrett Heffington, who retired last year after 21 years of service.

The campus conducted a national search with the help of an external search firm, but found the new director in its own backyard. Hicken has lived in Santa Cruz with his family for over a decade, and his enthusiasm for the local community and his new role directing one of its most unique spaces is palpable.

“What excites me about the Seymour Center is that it is an institution that is already beloved and has enormous support in the the community, but that also has massive potential to grow in exciting ways and with new vibrancy,” Hicken says. “I can’t think of a better situation to be walking into.”

Hicken began his career as an academic researcher studying undocumented migration from Mexico to the United States. His work led to four published papers and a presentation before a congressional committee in Washington, D.C.

Portrait of Jonathan Hicken

In 2011, Hicken pivoted to working for a tech startup, where he helped build and lead two teams of close to 50 people and was responsible for $20 million in sales. His experience growing teams, building sound business models, and understanding customer needs to provide better service led him to his next role as the director of development and partnerships for the SantaCruz Museum of Art History (MAH).

From 2016 to 2019, Hicken led the MAH’s fundraising, marketing, and guest services departments through a period of explosive growth by increasing membership and donations and helping to create a popular new outdoor space for visitors to draw them to the museum. He is enthusiastic about bringing a similarly positive, community-driven experience to the Seymour Center to help fulfill its mission of getting community members of all ages excited about marine science and ocean conservation.

“Our mission at the Seymour Center is to quench the public’s thirst for knowledge about the ocean and to grow a community that is passionately committed to ocean conservation,” said Paul Koch, dean of physical and biological sciences, who oversees the Seymour Center. “In Jonathan, we found a director who can build on our strengths, but also lead us in exciting new directions with an even greater community focus.”

One of the Seymour Center’s goals is to expand its offerings to reach new audiences, while continuing to build on its strengths in K-8 education. Hicken was chosen for this role in part because of his years of experience growing groups and institutions.

Hicken is also an accomplished fundraiser and since 2019 has worked to raise millions for the environment, outdoor recreation, and homelessness in the Santa Cruz community through Housing Matters and his own company, Giving Studio. He credits his success to his ability to create strong community partnerships.

Gary Griggs, distinguished professor of Earth and planetary sciences, attended Hicken’s job talk and believes he has many unique assets that will benefit the Seymour Center and the UC Santa Cruz campus. “I believe Jonathan Hicken’s imagination, enthusiasm, communication skills, and fundraising and business experience make him a great choice to lead the Seymour Center into the future,” says Griggs. “He will bring new energy, creativity, and leadership to this much loved center.”

The Seymour Center is currently engaged in refreshing its exhibits and visitor experience. Hicken will be responsible for guiding the Seymour Center into the next stage of its development and strategic planning as it prepares to reopen in late summer, and he is looking forward to getting started.

“What I most want people to know about me is that if they have any curiosity in or passion for the Seymour Center, I want to talk to them,” Hicken says. “I am taking a very deliberate approach to come in and listen. My main message to everyone is that I want you to be a part of this. I’m excited to see what we can build together.”