Maybe cows can’t jump over the moon, but they can lead a young man to study it.
While researching on a large area of ranching land at Field Camp for the University of Washington, Travis Orloff found that out first hand.
“We start hiking in and we run into all the cows,” Orloff said. “They were all sleeping but as we walked through them, they all woke up. They immediately stood up and pooped; Every single one. And it was like a wave of cows doing this. Like hundreds of cows, maybe a thousand even.”
Despite that messy moment, he still wanted to live a life focused on education. Today he’s a Instructor of physics and planetary sciences at Pierce.
“I knew I wanted to stay in school forever,” Orloff said. “That was kind of like my life goal that I set for myself. Teaching was a perfect fit so that I can stay in school forever and be part of an educational environment.”
Orloff started his learning locally at Van Nuys Elementary. After that, he moved to Texas and went to middle school and part of high school there. In 2001, he graduated from Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley. From there, he went to college and spent the next 11 years pursuing a Ph.D.
“I went directly to the University of Washington in Seattle after that and I graduated from there in 2006 with my Bachelor of Science in earth and space science,” Orloff said. “I went directly from that program to a grad school at University of California, Santa Cruz where I graduated from in 2012 with a Ph.D. in Earth and Planetary Science.”
While he ultimately received his doctorate degree, there were struggles along the way.
“There were multiple times I wanted to quit grad school, which if that ever happened, I would not be here today,” Orloff said.
Orloff credited his volunteer work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the reason he was able to finish his degree. He spent his time along the coastline, helping with the research and tracking of sea otters.
“That guaranteed day at the beach once a week doing something very different kind of helped relieve a lot of the stress and pressures that come with going to grad school,” Orloff said.
Publishing a paper and getting through the peer-review process was a moment of triumph for Orloff. It helped him realize that he is a scientist and not just a student.
“I can do this, I’m an actual scientist now,” Orloff said. “I just don’t like science, but I’ve done the science and I’ve made it through this process and I’m a part of it now.”
Presenting the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, American Geophysical Union Conference, and Geological Society of America have also been proud moments for Orloff.
Trying to get a job out of college can be a competitive field, especially for academic positions. There are about 50-to-100 Ph.D.s applying to the same positions. And Orloff was one of them.
“Traditionally if you finished a Ph.D. program, you’re pushed towards doing a research kind of track and I was attempting to do that even though my heart wasn’t really in that direction,” Orloff said. “I wanted to be a teacher and, but I was just casting a pretty wide net. I was applying to everywhere that I possibly could.”
Orloff focused on applying to all the positions in Southern California and Pierce was the one that hired him. It wasn’t the school he set out to join but it was a great match.
“I was excited to find something and this was a perfect fit,” Orloff said.
Orloff has had a strong support system at Pierce. They’ve helped him adjust to the job and learn new teaching methods.
“Professor Lee Loveridge, Professor Dale Fields and Professor Leland Shapiro have all been good mentors for me here at Pierce College,” Orloff said.
He also mentioned receiving help from professor Heather Kokorowski and Dean of Academic Affairs Donna-Mae Villanueva on his grant winning proposal submitted to NASA.
A passion for teaching and a care for his students is something that makes him a great professor, according to Fields.
“Well he’s just an amazing professor,” Fields said. “I see that he is interested in making sure
that people learn and now that’s not different from a lot of teachers, but he really is passionate.”
Pierce student Timothy Siounit, who takes Orloff’s physical science class, said Orloff has been the best teacher he has had and that his teaching method are very effective.
“He really tries his hardest to make sure we understand the topics” Siounit said. “He’ll make sure we try it first ourselves. If we fail, or not, then he teaches it to us. He wants to make sure that we try it first so we really get an understanding of the topic.”
Fields also talked about how important diversity-especially in science-is to Orloff.
“I know that he cares about the diversity here at Pierce College,” Fields said. “I know that he wants to see people get into STEM that are not just the traditional white males and he’s interested in seeing the sciences broadened up so that other people can be involved.”
Outside of teaching, Orloff spends most of his time playing video games, especially role-playing games like Fallout, going to the movie theater, and running.
“I ran the Los Angeles Marathon this year, it was my first marathon,” Orloff said. “And I’m running the New York City Marathon in about a month and a half. So, I’m spending a lot of time running lately. I’m not fast but for a marathon you just got to be consistent.”
One day, Orloff would like to be the department chair. For right now, he’s just enjoying his time teaching at Pierce and taking it day by day. And despite his experience with
cows, he has no lingering feelings towards them.
“All good there,” Orloff said. “I still find cows to be humorous animals.”