Biology professor brings impressive resume

A microbiology professor speed hiking up trails and playing the bass guitar seems more like the set up to a movie than actual reality.

But when it comes to Aron Kamajaya, the newly hired professor at the science department at Pierce College, reality is more interesting than fiction.

Originally interested in a nursing majoring after coming from Indonesia, Kamajaya struck a different path for himself, one which led him to get a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics.

According to Shannon DeVaney, the chair of the department of science, Kamajaya’s different degrees in biology were one of the reasons why Pierce College was interested in hiring him.

“He has an excellent academic background,” DeVaney said. “He does have a PhD, and his PhD is from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), a very prestigious program. We’re also really excited that he’s really knowledgeable about biotechnology, and it’ll be great for our students to have training in the latest fields. So that’s very exciting.”

Jamie Beavers, a professor of both genetics and biology, was also impressed by Kamajaya’s academic background.

“Obviously he gave us his information when we hired him,” Beavers said. “So yeah, he’s remarkable and his work before coming to us is amazing.”

But the road from being a nursing student to becoming a professor at Pierce College wasn’t a straight line, Kamajaya said.

‘My uncle brought me here (the United States),” Kamajaya said. “He told me that ‘In America, if you want to make it, you have to go into nursing,’ because at the the time nursing was in high demand, and that’s why I took all those prerequisites for nursing. But when I applied I didn’t get any calls. I guess it was just bad luck.”

Despite the lack of call backs, Kamajaya found himself taking a keen interest in both microbiology and teaching while working as an assistant for a microbiology professor.

“During that time while I was waiting, I decided to help out my professor in the lab,” Kamajaya said. “My original intention was to learn a little bit more about microbiology. But as I was working with her I started talking about my career and she told me about how she enjoyed teaching, and how teaching can actually change people’s lives. They can come in with no hope and then they can become successful. You hear this success story all the time.”

In his spare time, Kamajaya does a wide range of activities, be it keeping up with academic studies or just some physical activities.

“Everybody has 24 hours in a day,” Kamajaya said. “I set aside two hours on Saturday and Sunday in order to catch up with the latest breakthrough in science, because there is always new science out there. I also used to go to the local trail, and I would time myself going up the hill just to make it more fun.”

But besides keeping up with current trends in science and hiking, Kamajaya was also very musically active at one point.

“I used to play music and my main instrument was the bass,” Kamajaya said, “But over time I learned how to play the piano and other instruments. I also used to have a lot of gigs playing at weddings and such, but those days are over.”

There were numerous reasons why he chose to work at Pierce College. First, a friend put him onto it, calling Pierce a “crown jewel” when it came to community colleges in the Los Angeles district. The other was that Pierce College has close ties to Amgen, a prominent bio-pharmaceutical company that Pierce is partnered to. Kamajaya also says that the sense of collaboration amongst the staff was another reason for joining.

“When I met the board, I really felt there was a collaborative atmosphere here, and that was what really sealed the deal,” Kamajaya said.  

As for the expectations Kamajaya has with Pierce College, he believes that while it’s still too early to tell, most of them have already been met, and that his primary focus now is to fill the niche where he could make the biggest impact for the students.