Professor Jay Bogiatto, who taught biological sciences for 34 years, passed away July 4. He was 67.
Born December 8, 1953, in Santa Cruz, he developed an endless enthusiasm for the natural world early in life, roaming hills and creeks, hunting, and fishing. After earning his associate’s degree at Cabrillo Community College, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from Humboldt State in 1977 and completed his master’s degree in biological sciences at Chico State in 1986 after working as a lecturer for several years.
In 1987, Bogiatto was hired as a tenure-track faculty member in the Biological Sciences Department and had been a fixture there ever since. Whether guiding his students through zoology labs or museum techniques, taking them on adventures for field studies in natural history, or sharing his fascination for feathered creatures in everyday conversation, he cultivated an appreciation for ornithology from majors and nonmajors alike.
Biology professor Troy Cline credits Bogiatto for his current research focus, saying his studies in avian influenza were guided by the opportunity to work with such an incredible and impassioned expert in waterfowl biology. He and Bogiatto were co-authors on a manuscript Cline will be submitting for peer review in the coming weeks, and he said it was an honor to have worked together.
“When I came to Chico State, I knew pretty much nothing about waterfowl. I still know relatively little, but all that I do know came from Jay,” he said. “I’ll be out collecting samples from waterfowl again this winter, but it’s impossible to describe how much we’ll miss having Jay’s wit and wisdom with us. I have accumulated many hours sitting in Jay’s office talking about ducks and viruses and general philosophies about teaching and doing science. He was the consummate scientist and educator, and he inspired me to be better at training and teaching students.”
Whether studying birds, teaching about them, hunting them, or searching for them on his travels, Bogiatto adored ornithology and especially waterfowl. Noting his infectious happy attitude and gift for storytelling, many former students identify him as one of the best teachers they ever had. Numerous alumni credit him for their resulting careers in science and teaching, as well as passions for birding.
Ellie Oliver (Biological Sciences, ’13) grew to know Bogiatto through the student honor society Omicron Theta Epsilon, where he served as faculty advisor, as they spent time chatting microbiology at club meetings or taking prolonged field trips to Arizona and Death Valley. After a study abroad stint in Costa Rica, she returned stateside with a newfound fascination for birds and capped her senior year with his ornithology, mammalogy, and zoology classes.
“He was one of a kind, with an old school way of being a biologist,” she said. “He knew about everything, and I was so happy to absorb some of his knowledge. He was the best teacher I have ever had in my life.”
After Oliver graduated, she joined the Peace Corps, taught high school, and recently finished her master’s degree in environmental policy. She and Bogiatto stayed in touch through it all, teasing one another about bird sightings and talking about life.
“He was the most personable professor. He wouldn’t let anyone call him anything but Jay,” she said. “He was your cheerleader—he was so involved and excited about the material, about his students, job opportunities, internships. He was like my Chico dad.”
Bogiatto also co-taught classes with faculty from institutions across the western United States and taught biology courses at Butte Community College. He had been the curator of the University’s Vertebrate Museum since 2003, and for more than 20 years, he served as the director of the University’s Eagle Lake Biological Field Station.
As a chemist, Interim Associate Dean Randy Miller said he gained a better understanding of the natural world through Bogiatto’s rich wealth of information and natural inclination for teaching others. He has fond memories of spending countless hours with Bogiatto driving to and exploring the field station over the years.
“Every twist and turn had a name, every puddle and every hill had a name, often associated with students, faculty, and staff who had a connection to the station,” he said. “He had story after story about how students’ lives were changed in their time spent there. And Jay was the one who made it happen. Nobody had the passion for that place like Jay had.”
Bogiatto also was the faculty advisor for the Chico State chapter of the California Waterfowl Association and a member of the Wildlife Society, National Audubon Society, American Birding Association, Central Valley Bird Club, Western Field Ornithologists, Ducks Unlimited, and the California Waterfowl Association.
“He was a passionate teacher with a reputation for being a little hard but also encouraging. He literally taught generations of people,” said biology professor Kristina Schierenbeck, noting Bogiatto was one of the first colleagues she met when she was hired in 1998. Through campus and their professional affiliations, they also became friends, and he continued to impress her with his welcoming attitude and impact.
“His service to the North State cannot be overstated,” Schierenbeck said. “I can’t imagine that there is a state or federal employee in the biology community of Northern California who didn’t learn from Jay. There are going to be very large shoes to fill.”
He presented at many conferences, and his research was featured in numerous peer-reviewed publications, on topics ranging from the diets of barn owls, to geese’s and swans’ use of vernal pool habitats, to the nesting ecology of ducks.
Additionally, Bogiatto was a regular presence at the annual Snow Goose Festival, leading a rigorous all-day birding field trip where he would delight attendees with sightings of waterfowl, raptors, and many other wetland species at some of his favorite spots. He liked to share how humans are affecting birds and wetland habitats in the Central Valley.
An avid musician, Bogiatto played the banjo and was also a major sports fan, friends said, noting that he probably spent as much time talking about hockey and baseball as he did about waterfowl.
There is no celebration of life planned at this time, but perhaps in the fall, “when the ducks are flying,” said his partner of more than 30 years, biology faculty member Shelly Kirn. In lieu of flowers, she requests donations to the California Waterfowl Association or your favorite conservation charity.
He is survived by Kirn, as well as loving in-laws, cousins, two nephews, and many friends. The University flag will be lowered Tuesday, July 13, in his memory.