RIVERSIDE: College official has links to Eritrea
The RCC vice president of academic affairs was born in the East African nation, serving in its government
Wolde-Ab Isaac, the newly named vice president of academic affairs for Riverside City College, is another link in RCC’s Eritrean connection.
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 Ethiopia’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.
Additional work and study took him to the University of Uppsala in Sweden and then on to the West African country of Nigeria.
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.
Salvatore Rotella served as president of Riverside Community College in the 1990s and today the large campus library is named in his honor. Rotella also grew up in Eritrea. His father worked for the fascist Italian government that controlled both Eritrea and Ethiopia in the late 1930s.
Rotella is the one who asked Isaac to come to RCC.
Rotella visited Eritrea in 1995 and visited the home where he grew up. In 1997, five RCC professors went to Eritrea and offered advice and many books for local schools and libraries.
Isaac served as dean of health sciences at RCC’s Moreno Valley campus from 2006 to 2011. In his new post at the Riverside campus, he said he wants to increase academic standards. He seeks to secure grants for the college’s varied programs and he hopes to add to the school’s course offerings.
Isaac lives in Riverside with his wife and three children.
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.