Ella Jean Morgan is vice president of academic programs at the College of Oceaneering (COO), a professional diving school based in Wilmington and San Diego, California. The school’s curriculum focuses primarily on commercial diving with specialties in underwater welding, non-destructive testing, and advanced dive medicine.
Morgan came to COO fourteen years ago and rose through the ranks (as instructor, department chair, and dean) to her current position. As vice president of academic programs, she has responsibilities for faculty, courses, and students. “I’m intimately involved in the development of new programs and modification of existing ones,” she explains. “I also handle all faculty issues, including hiring, and I troubleshoot academic and disciplinary student problems.”
"Sitting in the classroom and hearing about a research project doesn’t have the impact of going out on the ocean and doing the research"
A varied employment background has provided Morgan with the many experiences and skills that serve her well today. Previous positions include managing the building site office for a construction company, working as a high school teacher and dive instructor, and owning her own business. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology (California State University Los Angeles), with an emphasis in marine biology, and a master’s degree in occupational studies (CSU Long Beach), with a focus on career and technical education.
The efforts Morgan went to in order to pursue marine biology, even when her university didn’t offer a degree in that field, are testament to her determination. They also helped teach her the value of hands-on education.
“I went around the country taking courses that involved field work,” she explains. “Sitting in the classroom and hearing about a research project doesn’t have the impact of going out on the ocean and doing the research. Learning is much more than just using your eyes to read a book. We learn by doing things; we learn through our muscles.”
"I really enjoy seeing the successes of the individuals who come here"
Studying marine biology led to her interest in diving. “I didn’t start out to be a dive instructor. I wanted to be a marine biologist and needed to dive in order to do that,” Morgan explains. “But as I gained diving skills, I became intrigued with the process by which I learned those skills. Before I knew it, I was teaching both basic sciences and diving.” That work eventually led her to COO.
“People skills” – relating with people and being able to listen – are the most important skills for her job as academic vice president, Morgan believes. And it’s obvious that the people side of things is one of the main aspects that attracts her to this position. “I really enjoy seeing the successes of the individuals who come here,” she says. “It’s not an easy program of study – with academic work, hands-on activities, time in the water, and long hours in general. Seeing our successful graduates, who have truly achieved something, is very satisfying.”
Morgan offers important advice for students contemplating entering the diving field. “Seek out roles in student organizations, such as the school paper or student government,” she suggests. “Dependability and responsibility really matter in the working world.”
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