Title: Chair, Associate Professor
Department: Biology and Chemistry
Dr. Maria Isaza, of Dover, alumna, associate professor of biology and chair of the Department of Biology and Chemistry at County College of Morris (CCM), began her education in America with an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. Now she uses the Ph.D. she’s earned to educate others and ensure that her students are able to uncover their passions in life.
Isaza came to the United States from Colombia at the age of 21. With limited English skills, she enrolled in an ESL course at Dover High School while taking care of her daughter. She describes her education as a process in which she discovered both her interests and limits.
While enrolled in the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Medical Laboratory Technology program at CCM, she discovered that her predisposition towards biology could be the focus of her career. After earning her AAS she also earned an Associate in Science in Biology at CCM.
Next she transferred to the College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE) to earn her bachelor’s and graduated summa cum laude. During her time at CSE, Isaza was divorced and had to restructure her life around being a single mom. As a single mom, she found education to be essential but difficult. She refused, however, to let the difficulty stop her. Isaza discovered her love for teaching through a tutoring program at CSE and upon graduation was accepted into the master’s program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – now Rutgers – where a professor convinced her to also apply for the doctoral degree program.
After earning her Ph.D., Isaza realized she wanted to focus on the teaching aspect of biology rather than research. She came back to CCM, reconnected with her teachers and began her role as an educator at the college in 2007.
“You want to come back to the place that has seen you flourish,” says Isaza.
Isaza has earned numerous awards including the American Society for Microbiology Travel Award (2007) and the NISOD Excellence Award (2013) for her teaching and leadership skills.
Isaza also is very active in her community and is a board member for the Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs (MCOHA). MCOHA offers social services such as transportation and energy assistance to Hispanic and low-income residents in Morris County.
Isaza believes that CCM is especially beneficial to students who aren’t yet certain of their passions as the college provides them with an affordable pathway to explore their interests and find their direction.
“You have to love what you do because if you love what you do you’re going to be happier,” she says. “If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be frustrated and it will affect your job, your family and your health.”
Isaza recognizes that CCM is not always a student’s first choice, but likes to note that the school someone chooses is secondary in importance to what he or she accomplishes there.
“It’s not where you go;” she says, “it’s what you do there.”