'That Community is What Made Me Stronger'

Jennifer Hobbs '87 poses with atronaut Alvin Drew in front of the Atlantis orbiter.

July 15, 2014

Jennifer Hobbs '87 took her biology degree to Kennedy Space Center. Today, she's an environmental engineer and sits on the Florida Emergency Response Commission.

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Working at Kennedy Space Center is like living a dream, says Jennifer Hobbs ’87.

“It’s an incredible place to work,” she said. “You never stop feeling like a kid when you’re out there.”

Hobbs is an environmental engineer with InoMedic Health Applications, a private contractor that does work at Kennedy, as well as Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. The company does everything from aerospace medicine to biomedical services to environmental protection.

The latter is Hobbs’ specialty — one she traces right back to her undergraduate degree from Pacific University.

“My four-year degree, it’s worked for me really well,” she said.

Hobbs came to Pacific to play volleyball and to major in biology.

Volleyball didn’t work out, as she had to have knee surgery in her freshman-year pre-season. Biology, however, stuck.

“I went in as a biology major and left as a biology major,” she said, though she added a minor in sociology.

A self-proclaimed “football fanatic,” she joined the cheerleading team in order to travel to away games, and she also worked as a resident assistant in Walter Hall.

“I looked at Pacific and I looked at UC Santa Barbara,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t get lost in Pacific. You weren’t your Social Security number. Professors knew you.”

After graduation, she went to work as an organic chemist in a lab, and soon thereafter became a hazardous waste inspector with the Florida Environmental Protection Agency. Around the same time, she volunteered with the local emergency planning committee.

The volunteer work involves working with hospitals, firefighters and a wide range of other facilities to make response plans for chemical emergencies. When she first started, she said, the potential scenarios focused mostly on chemical spills; today, the group prepares for potential terrorist activity.

“I’ve always had a thing about public service,” she said. “It’s an amazing group of people. Everybody on (the LEPC) is doing it because it’s a passion.”

In recent years, she has become chair of her district — one of the biggest in terms of population and risk, with locations such as Kennedy Space Center, Walt Disney World and the Daytona Speedway — and then was elected statewide chair, which came with her recent appointment to the Florida Emergency Response Commission.

Professionally, she’s also moved from working as a hazardous waste inspector for the state to being an environmental engineer for one of the agencies she was inspecting.

“They thought the best way to be in compliance all the time was to hire one of the inspectors away,” she said.

These days, she splits her time between fieldwork and office work — and it’s quite the office.

“It is incredible. You can see astronauts walking down the hall,” she said. “We’re not launching right now … but when they start launching again, it’s going to be exciting.”

She’s also been thinking more and more about Pacific.

When football was reinstated at the school, she sent a note to the coach — and a few months ago, she was contacted by a fellow alumnus who she had dated back in college.

Thirty-two years later, they’re dating again.

“(Pacific) was the best environment for me. I got to participate in things: intramurals, RA, cheer.

“You can see, too, the relationships. Most people wouldn’t remember each other in a big school.

“That community is what made me stronger.”