Education Just Beginning
Joel Hignojoz learned there’s always room to grow
Joel Hignojoz (BA ’17) began dreaming of becoming a teacher in middle school.
His sixth-grade teacher was inspiring in the way she loved, nurtured and focused on each classmate. “Sometimes, a teacher can make a difference,” he says. “I wanted to have that kind of positive impact on students.”
So Hignojoz studied history—his father’s favorite subject—at Fresno Pacific University. He earned a bachelor’s degree and plotted a career as a middle or high school history teacher.
Then, just as he prepared for graduate studies, Hignojoz blossomed in a temporary job at O’Neill Vintners & Distillers while, as a substitute teacher, he found that something was missing.
He loved working with students and being in the classroom, but “I just felt like maybe this isn’t something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
So today, Hignojoz isn’t a classroom teacher—but he is teaching. At Tetra Pak, a global food processing and packaging solutions company with a location in Denton, TX, he works as a world class manufacturing and engineering analyst and education and training leader. “I wanted to be a teacher and I ended up doing something completely different, and I’m happy with it,” he says.
The career switch has been smoothed by the lessons, tools and skills Hignojoz absorbed at Fresno Pacific. His academic foundation in history, including research and analytical skills, translates well in his new job—as does the university’s fundamental encouragement to continue learning and growing as a student, teacher and person.
A never-ending education
“I like to say that getting a degree doesn’t mean that your education has finished,” Hignojoz, 32, says in a signature Texas drawl. “I believe getting a degree means that your education is just beginning. I’m still a student in the position that I have today. There’s always room to grow and I’m always learning something.”
Still, this wasn’t the career path he first envisioned as a boy growing up in Visalia. The oldest of four children, Hignojoz mostly attended public schools and enjoyed sports and martial arts. Though there were challenges to overcome in childhood, he was happy spending time with his siblings and friends.
Following the family’s musical DNA, Hignojoz started playing the saxophone at age 9. He added the guitar, drums, clarinet and more over the years.
Directly out of high school, Hignojoz attended community college in Visalia but didn’t make much academic headway. He dropped out to start a pool service and repair business, yet never gave up on teaching.
Eventually, following the advice of a mentor he met while studying at Reedley College, Hignojoz decided to enroll at Fresno Pacific to pursue a history degree and teaching credential.
“I definitely made the right decision,” says the devout Hignojoz. “Not only was it a Christian university, the style of teaching at Fresno Pacific was just phenomenal…it gave me the skills and tools needed to be successful.”
He applied the lessons first in the temporary job he took to earn money for the credential program. Hignojoz’s initial task at the Parlier winery was applying labels to bottles. Soon, he was learning other jobs “on the fly” and progressing from operating a case packer to inventory control specialist.
Set back and reset
Though Hignojoz planned to leave for the credential program, a personal setback prompted another delay. He continued at the winery as a process specialist helping to create standard operating procedures and efficiencies in the bottling area.
Hignojoz also set himself up as a substitute teacher. At first, he loved spending time in the classroom and working with students. But after a while, he wasn’t sure whether teaching was his true calling.
Disappointed, he confided those feelings to his father, Joel Sr., who offered this advice: “If you feel just an ounce of doubt in your heart about what you’re supposed to do, then just don’t do it because that could eventually snowball into something bigger.
“Maybe teaching in the classroom isn’t for you, but that doesn’t mean teaching only happens in the classroom. I bet you can still find a way to do it in some other way.”
Those words resonated with Hignojoz, especially when his father passed away a few weeks later in 2020. It was even harder then to think about a graduate program.
So Hignojoz took another job to better support his family, which by then included his wife, Amelia, his brother and a struggling friend. But the job and its long, stressful hours weren’t a good fit and, to boot, the family was facing the prospect of moving or paying a lot more in rent.
A prayer answered
Hignojoz prayed for help and guidance. Then Tetra Pak reached out after seeing his professional profile online, triggering a series of interviews and tests that culminated in a job offer.
He happily accepted in May 2022; it was a special blessing that the post was in Denton, Texas. Though Hignojoz grew up in Visalia, he always considered Texas as home because of the family’s deep southern roots and frequent visits.
“On my father’s side, I am a 12th generation Texan” he says. “I grew up thinking I was from Texas, that’s just the family culture.”
He’s also content to have released that traditional teaching dream, and believes his university education provided the strong, successful foundation necessary for a new career course. “Fresno Pacific was good preparation for where I am,” Hignojoz says. “Professors challenge students to really apply themselves. Even though I didn’t end up as a teacher, I believe you can apply that practice to everything. I’m going to utilize the tools that were given to me through Fresno Pacific to continue to grow.”
These days, Hignojoz is settling into the job and making plans for the future. At home, he pulls out his instruments—and love of singing George Strait songs—to entertain his dog, Miley, and cat, Romeo (named for the heart-shaped spot on his back). Amelia is finishing an educational program in California and will then join Hignojoz in Texas.
Life doesn’t always go according to plan, Hignojoz says. “But just because things didn’t go the way you planned doesn’t mean that things won’t go well for you.
“God had a different path for me, he had a different plan for me, and I couldn’t be happier
in where he has placed me now.”
See the June Alumni Enews for Aaron Henderson’s (BA ’08) story of unexpected opportunity.