The 11th leader of the almost 100-year-old school called ‘living example of what education can do.’
A local board has awarded the task of leading Riverside City College to an East African-born man with an extensive educational background and a plan for boosting college participation in Inland Southern California.
Wolde-Ab Isaac, 70, of Riverside was named RCC’s 11th president late Tuesday by the Riverside Community College District board of trustees in a 5-0 vote. Isaac had presided over the nearly century-old, culturally diverse campus of more than 18,000 students on an interim basis since August 2013.
California’s seventh-oldest community college, RCC will celebrate its 100th birthday in March 2016. Isaac will make $205,000 a year.
“Interim is never ever guaranteed a position,” board President Virginia Blumenthal said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
But during a nationwide search for a college president, she said Isaac stood out.
“He’s a living example of what education can do,” Blumenthal said. “And that’s what he wants to bring to our community.”
Isaac has helped develop programs aimed at accelerating student achievement by prioritizing classes for those pursuing specific fields of study.
“We have one of the lowest college-going rates in the nation, and we are trying to increase that,” Blumenthal said.
According to the California Postsecondary Education Commission’s website, about 35 percent of Riverside County residents go to college, and about 29 percent of San Bernardino County residents do. That compares with a statewide average of more than 40 percent and a rate of 48 percent in Orange County.
“He is a terrific leader,” Blumenthal said of Isaac. “He knows how to build a consensus.”
Michael L. Burke, district chancellor, said in a statement: “I have the utmost trust in him.”
One of seven children, Isaac was born in the East African country of Eritrea in a family living in poverty. His father completed only the third grade.
“And my mother never attended school at all,” he said.
However, encouraged by his parents, Isaac excelled in school.
Isaac was born in Eritrea, a small country in East Africa. It borders Sudan to the north, Ethiopia to the west, and tiny Djibouti to the south. His father was a clerk for the British occupying force in the 1940s. Eritrea had previously been an Italian colony.
Isaac finished first in his class in high school, winning a scholarship to Ethiopiaâ��s Haile Selassie University where he studied chemistry. He won a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Michigan in 1968-69. There he worked in pharmacology and earned a Ph.D.
Back in Eritrea, he served the government as secretary of human resources. He arranged Eritrean partnerships with universities in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States.
The State University of New York, Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins Universities were all eager to assist Eritrea as it worked to improve its educational system. UCLA and the University of North Carolina joined the partnership with Eritrea later.
He seems more eager to talk about Eritrea than about himself. He stressed the unspoiled beauty of the land and the gorgeous, unspoiled coral found in the Red Sea. He and his family are from the mountains of Eritrea where donkeys and mules are used for transportation. In the lowland areas of Eritrea, camels are commonly used as beasts of burden.
The spirit of the Eritrean people is very strong, he reported. The 4 million people of Eritrea performed an amazing feat in fighting for 30 years to achieve their independence from the much larger Ethiopia in 1993.
He was sad in explaining that the U.S. and Eritrea have not always had good relations. The U.S. does, however, have an embassy in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and tourists are welcome.
Eritrea attracts many visitors from Europe and a few from America, he said.
Source of this Biography is: Eastafro.com
Birthplace: Asmara, Eritrea, East Africa
Education: Bachelor's degree in chemistry from Ethiopia's Haile Selassie University, 1968; master's degree in medicinal chemistry, University of Michigan, 1969; doctorate in medicinal chemistry from University of Michigan, 1972; postdoctoral studies at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, 1975-76
Previous jobs: Assistant professor, Haile Selassie University, 1972-75; associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, University of Ife, Nigeria, 1976-82; senior research clinical scientist at AstraZeneca, 1982-93; Eritrea government secretary of human resources, 1993-2000; president of the University of Asmara in Eritrea, 1993-2006; first hired by Riverside Community College District in 2006 as dean of Health Science Programs at Moreno Valley College; vice president for academic affairs, RCC, January 2012-July 2013
Residence/Family: Riverside, three sons (two live with him)
Author: 25 scientific papers published in professional journals
Source: Riverside Community College District