Growing up in Clifton, N.J., Douglas Piekarz was a frequent visitor to the Montclair State campus. As a participant in the Garden State Games while in high school, he practiced shot put on the area of campus that is now Car Parc Diem.
“Thinking about it, I was connected to the campus in some way for much of my early life. I always enjoyed the long views and looking into the valley,” says Piekarz. “Something about the sight was soothing to me and the campus became a place where I could take a break and just stop to think.”
Growing up, he spent many weekends and holidays at his grandfather’s cabin in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. Through spending time in natural areas, he learned to appreciate the gifts from nature and grew a desire to create similar experiences for those around him. In January 2015, Piekarz became the President and CEO of the Akron Zoo, in Akron, OH.
Piekarz started working with the Akron Zoo 17 years ago and has since moved through a variety of executive positions including general curator and several vice president positions. He’s excited and honored to take on this new role as president and CEO of the Akron Zoo.
“To quote one of my favorite science fiction series, I intend to ‘boldly go’ where we have not gone before. I intend to reach out to the people in Northeast Ohio with our mission and to inspire them the way my grandfather inspired me,” says Piekarz.
At an early age Doug knew he wanted to work with animals and pursued an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, Cook College in Animal Science. During his junior year, he pursued a cooperative education placement at the Bronx Zoo and was then hired as a research assistant to focus on plant and animal interaction exhibits. His work there focused on four exhibit areas that included bison, gravy zebra, patagonian cavy and eagles and vultures. This work led him to be hired by the Department of Ornithology, where he identified a specific passion for waterfowl. While at the Bronx Zoo, he served as a senior wild animal keeper and a principal keeper.
In 1995, Piekarz returned to Montclair State’s campus, this time, ready to advance his childhood dreams. He earned a master’s of science degree in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution and his time spent at Montclair State was made especially enjoyable by working with Associate Professor in Biology and Molecular Biology, Dr. John Smallwood.
“At the time I was looking for a professor who shared my love of nature, sincere interest in birds and someone who could help me grow my expertise in the natural world,” he says. “We had some spirited discussions that involved many intellectually challenging subjects, both scientifically and ethically. These interactions kept my interest, kept me looking forward to my next class and ultimately helped train me in the art of asking not just any questions, but questions that advanced my understanding. This technique, even though it sounds simple, has been used in all areas of my life and especially in my career.”
As Piekarz continues his career at the Akron Zoo he has never lost sight of his time at Montclair State and his early years spent outdoors at his grandfather’s cabin.
“Above all else, my grandfather taught me to slow down and look and listen to the world around me. The gifts of nature are all around us if we only stop long enough to look and listen.”