Cecil College alumnus on frontline of Covid-19 education

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NORTH EAST, Md. – When Zohaib Ishaq talks about his love for this country, his words carry a profound meaning as the United States, for him, has been an actual land of opportunity. Emigrating to the United States as a teenager from Pakistan, his family settled in the Cecilton region of Cecil County. Opportunities abounded as he took full advantage of his education, excelling in the classroom while learning a new language.

“Being able to attend college was very important to me as I saw it as my way of realizing my dream. For that reason, education was a priority,” said Ishaq, who was also looking for the most affordable pathway to his dreams. “I didn’t want to go to a four-year college immediately because of the cost. Every student should consider the cost of college when choosing where they are going after high school.”

He decided to attend Cecil College with several of his high school friends, and his life was forever changed.

“I found my home. Cecil College was like a second home for me as I would come to campus at 8 o’clock in the morning and stay there until eight or nine at night. I would have my classes, but there was so much more for me to experience,” said Ishaq.

As an honor student at Cecil College, Ishaq worked as a peer tutor for the anatomy and physiology program and as a student lab assistant. He was heavily involved with Cecil College’s Alpha Alpha Theta (AAT) Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) International Honor Society, working on community service projects. These interactions with faculty, staff, and students helped break him out of his shell in preparation to transfer to the University of Maryland.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Laboratory Science, Ishaq worked at Johns Hopkins Medical Center before his commission into the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS CC) at the rank of lieutenant junior grade and now promoted to Lieutenant. The United States Public Health Service is one of the eight “uniformed services” that includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force, Coast Guard, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“In the field of medical laboratory science, you are learning the different aspects of the laboratory from out-patient testing to research. This includes chemistry, urinalysis, hematology, and immunohematology,” said Ishaq, whose first duty station was in South Dakota as supervisor of the regional blood bank. During his 18 months in South Dakota, he continued his education by earning a Master of Science degree in Public Health with a concentration in health education and promotion from Benedictine University in Chicago.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the country, his team was redeployed to Clinton, Oklahoma, where the virus ravaged the Native American population.

“We were in the middle of the pandemic, and Oklahoma was getting hit badly by COVID-19. Our region was among the top Covid-19 cases within the country, and we were performing community testing and drive-through testing to help the Native American community,” said Ishaq.

Working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Public Health Services’ coordinator for diabetes, they implemented a plan to educate the population on the elevated risks diabetics have with Covid-19 and then on the benefits of the vaccine once it was available.

“We held weekly classes to inform the indigenous people of the health issues such as diabetes and how it relates to Covid-19. The older generation was much more skeptical, but with the help of their community leaders and young people, we were able to have some meaningful discussions,” said Ishaq, who became heavily involved in community education and his clinical work. For their work during the pandemic, the U.S. Public Health Corps was presented the Presidential Unit Citation in 2021 and COVID-19 Pandemic Campaign Medal for its distinguished performance. In addition to these awards Ishaq has also received Achievement Medal, USPHS Citation, and multiple Unit Commendation for his leadership and dedication to the service and country.

Ishaq transferred back to the East Coast that same year to work with the FDA, ensuring proper procedures, paperwork, and federal regulations are being met for product being imported at the Philadelphia and Wilmington seaports.

Aside from his work with the FDA, he is a planning officer of the U.S. Surgeon General’s education team for the Philadelphia Region, reaching out to organizations/communities on issues such as mental health, drug addiction, and food safety.

“In Oklahoma, our outreach was focused on dispelling myths surrounding COVID-19 by providing the facts and identifying someone in a mental health crisis. Here in Philadelphia, the need for mental health services and drug addiction treatment education is essential. This fall, we will be visiting high schools, local libraries, and Veteran and social clubs to teach people how to recognize when someone needs help and guide them to the resources on the federal, state, and local levels,” said Ishaq.

Along with providing community education, Ishaq is teaching a public health course at Cecil College this fall.

“I feel proud to have the opportunity to return to Cecil College to teach what I have learned and experienced since my time at Cecil. It is amazing how life works, coming full circle and giving back to the college that gave me my start,” said Ishaq.

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