Justin Reinicke felt like he was swimming against the tide in high school.
“I just didn’t like the whole public education system,” he said. “I was uninspired.”
His poor grades reflected his disillusionment, and when he graduated he looked for a different path. He worked a few jobs and ended up pouring concrete. A few years passed, and he got anxious.
“After high school I was so relieved: I’m free! But, I knew in the back of my mind that I had potential, and I didn’t want it to go to waste.”
Then, one night Reinicke was watching the Blue Planet series (a BBC production), and had a revelation.
“I thought: That’s it! That’s what I’m going to do. I knew then I wanted to go back to school to pursue my dream I’ve had since childhood of being a marine biologist. It was the turning point.”
He decided to start at BSC.
“I could build up my base knowledge and rectify my grades. This was a huge shift for me. I dedicated myself to this goal. It was one of the best choices I have ever made.”
Reinicke took 18-21 credits per semester, earned straight A’s and two associate degrees while at BSC. He drove the reintroduction of honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) on campus and served as president for two years – a leadership role that helped him earn a scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University (HPU).
“His experiences as a Phi Theta Kappan, especially as a leader, allowed him to be competitive for scholarships. I believe his experience at BSC transformed him into a person who can succeed at other levels and places,” says Dan Leingang, faculty advisor to PTK at the time and currently serving as dean of Humanities and Social Sciences for BSC.
Reinicke double majored in Biochemistry and Marine Biology at HPU, graduating summa cum laude. His resume is teeming with honors – National Honor Society, overall outstanding student in Natural Sciences, outstanding student in Oceanography, outstanding student in Chemistry and etcetera.
He says BSC Chemistry faculty Tim Thorstenson, Frank Koch and Mary Ann Durick brought chemistry to life for him, helping him marry the disciplines that have shaped his career to date.
“My whole point to going back to school was to fulfill my childhood dream and get a career that I enjoy,” Reinicke says. Reinicke has researched marine natural products, served as an adjunct instructor and is currently the Instrument Specialist for the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. In that role, he manages an analytical core facility that facilitates pharmaceutical science research in areas such as natural products and medicinal chemistry.
He’s currently in the process of launching a side business raising marine ornamental fish for the aquarium trade, alleviating the pressure for wild caught specimens.
His lifelong love of aquariums and fishing along with his work with BSC Associate Biology Professor Jean Rolandelli on the saltwater aquariums in Schafer Hall, inspired his fish breeding venture.
“I wanted to study marine biology, but had no exposure. In landlocked North Dakota we don’t understand the world’s oceans and their importance to the globe.”
“I was completely fascinated by the ocean because it was so mysterious to me… so much beauty and diversity.”
He got up close with that mystery in summer of 2006, when he landed a month-long research cruise in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands also known as the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
He spent 30 days at sea assessing spiny lobster populations around Maro Reef and Necker Island for a division of National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“I loved being on the water. It was really cool. We’d wake up, haul in the traps, collect the organisms – lobsters, reef sharks, eels, octopus – and bait traps for the next round,” he says.
Reinicke loves being in the water as well. Shortly after arriving in Hawaii, he developed a passion for freediving and spearfishing. Spearfishing combines the hunting and fishing Justin grew up with in North Dakota. Freediving is what it sounds like, diving deep into the ocean on one breath of air.
Once while spearfishing, he heard humpback whales singing. “I stopped spearfishing. I would dive down, hold onto the reef and listen to the whales sing. It’s like they were right next to me. I did this for about a half an hour coming up for air and right back down to the reef until I couldn’t hold my breath anymore. It was so majestic to hear them.”
“Down there you get intimate with the ocean because it’s just you, one breath of air and the ocean. Nothing else. You’re just like another animal in the ocean. It’s so therapeutic and freeing. ”
The revelatory moment watching Blue Planet, the pursuit of freediving and spearfishing, his academic achievements at BSC and HPU all lend themselves to an obvious analogy: He dove in with a dream, but swam with the tide to find his place.
“My dream of becoming a marine biologist was just that. Studying to be a coral reef ecologist morphed into something else. You grow and change as long as you stay true to what you’re passionate about.”
“You can’t get discouraged by hardships along the way – focus on the good not the bad. Stay on track and stay true to yourself.”