Bryan Isaac, Ph.D., has been on staff at Bethel for longer than most students on campus have been alive. He came to the college in 1997 with an interest in a chemistry position. He thought the integration of chemistry and Christianity was important, and he had the motivation to do it.
When he is not teaching chemistry to Bethel students, he and his wife, Sue, enjoy traveling the United States and Canada birdwatching. They have been married 33 years and have a 25-year-old son with a passion for photography. Isaac says the only state he has yet to visit is Hawaii.
Growing up with a father who taught, Isaac always saw himself as a teacher as well. But, like most college students, he saw that career path adjust as he studied.
“I was thinking I would be teaching math, so I started as a math major,” Isaac said. “And I always thought teaching high school and, within a week or two of going to college it was like, ‘no, teach college.’”
After making the decision to teach college, he then decided he wanted to study chemistry instead of math. His background had mainly been in analytical chemistry, but once he filled the opening for teaching General Chemistry at Bethel, he fell in love with it.
Isaac prefers the kinds of relationships that can form between student and professor in a college setting. And at Bethel, because spirituality is already integrated into the classroom, he feels he has been able to learn about students on a personal level as well as academic.
“People learn more when they feel safer, and some of that is the relationship with the professor,” said Isaac.
The position of division chair is not a new position for Isaac, he said. His second year at Bethel, he took the position. But, at that time, he oversaw subjects including math, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science. He was chair of this division until 2005, when it was restructured. Then, he became chair of just chemistry, physics, and engineering.
Division Chairs handle overseeing the scheduling of courses and making sure faculty in the division have a reasonable workload. Because they oversee scheduling classes for the next semester, their time is spent thinking into the future.
They also ensure that the program is running well and meeting the specific needs of the students. Chairs address complaints, make sure standards are met, and assist in budgeting for their division.
“I always thought it was important to develop leadership inside the department,” Isaac said.
For this reason, the division chair normally cycled through faculty about every 3 years. He liked to see each person in faculty develop so that, when the opportunity arose for a new chair, anyone could step into the roll capably.
And that’s exactly what Dr. Kroa did. But now as the position became available and presented itself to him, he decided to take it again.
Isaac's advice to students is to think back to when they made the decision to come to college.
“There’s a lot of benefit to thinking ahead,” Isaac said. “Don’t wait until you graduate to work on the next part.”
He also wants to remind seniors to root themselves in their spirituality. Bethel, being a Christian facility, makes it easy to hang on to that area of your life. But when you leave, finding a church that has foundational grounding but also challenges you is important.
And for students who will soon be planning their classes for next semester, Isaac said to pay attention to the electives you choose. Many of them can benefit a student in other areas of their life, potentially areas not related to their career.
His last piece of advice for everyone is simple.
“Keep reading,” Isaac said. “There’s a lot of great stuff out there in books. And keep your brain engaged.”
Coming in as a biology major, Isaac was the first staff member at Bethel I met. I had always been told in high school that college professors were cold and that they didn’t pay any mind to your success. That was not the feeling I received from even my first conversation with Isaac. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Although he probably did, he didn’t need to say, “Welcome!” in order for me to feel a sense of belonging on this campus. And, as I begin my final Bethel semester, I was honored to be able to interview someone who gave me a profound sense of how much the professors care for their students at this university.