Puerto Rico and Cuba | Vice President of Construction and Design at Jackson Health System
“There is an inherent satisfaction that comes from doing work that makes a difference and improves peoples’ lives.” Isa M. Núñez
Isa M. Núñez has more than 29 years of experience in the construction industry and currently manages a $1.5 billion capital program in her role as vice president of construction and design at Jackson Health Systems. Isa M. Núñez has led the delivery of six signature projects for Jackson, including major facilities renovations and two new full-service specialty hospital builds. Earlier in her career, at the Florida Department of Transportation, she ascended to the role of construction program manager for the Miami Intermodal Center and, later, for the $1 billion 2014 PortMiami Tunnel project.
What inspired your interest to get involved with engineering?
My love for math is what drove me to engineering. My curiosity in architecture when I was young and my interest in construction as I got older led me to selecting civil engineering as my major.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishments or contributions in engineering? What have been some of your favorite projects?
All my roles have been on the owner side for public entities – Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Port of Miami, and Jackson Health System. These roles have allowed me to work on several high-profile projects, but more importantly, they have allowed me to work on projects that provide a tangible public benefit and impact lives. There is an inherent satisfaction that comes from doing work that makes a difference and improves peoples’ lives – whether it is the roads, bridges, or tunnels they drive on or the hospital facility where they receive medical care.
Working for public agencies, whose ultimate mission is to help and benefit our community, has been incredibly rewarding – the beauty of it, as many things in life, is that I did not realize this as I started my career but rather I have come to this realization as I reflect back on my career.
My favorite projects include the MacArthur Causeway bridge, the PortMiami Tunnel, reactivating the railroad at PortMiami and the Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at UHealth/Jackson Memorial. However, I think the most impactful work in my career so far is being part of the transformational work we have done at Jackson over the past seven years, including the roll out of the Miracle Building Bond Program, which has allowed us to expand our services throughout the county and upgrade all of our facilities.
What was your first job and how did you rise in the ranks?
My first job was at a retail store while I was in college, and then I worked at the computer lab at my university while I went to school. Once I graduated, my first career job was at FDOT, where I spent 24 years growing from an entry-level professional engineer training program to various roles with increased responsibility within the construction department.
My last project at FDOT was a once in a lifetime experience. I was the FDOT lead on the public private partnership that built the PortMiami tunnel. I then transitioned to the role of chief of engineering services at PortMiami. One year after that role, I was offered the amazing opportunity to transition into health care with Jackson Health System to manage the Miracle Building Bond Program.
What two or three books would you recommend?
I recommend any of Brene Brown’s books – she also has great TedTalks. Also “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle. It is an amazing read and very representative of the times.
What is one piece of advice you would pass on to the next generation?
I have three kids, from teenage to adults, and I always tell them to think globally. Don’t limit yourself to your immediate surroundings and the town or even the country you grew up in – it’s a large and exciting world. Go out and explore, do not be afraid to change gears and try different things.
What does the word “family” mean to you?
Family is the people who share your life – they celebrate and enjoy the highs and support you through the lows and you do the same for them. It is not limited to just your relatives, it also includes what I call “framily” – those close friends that stick with you and become family whether they are childhood friends, college friends or work colleagues that you share meaningful life experiences with and connect with.
What are you most grateful for in your life?
My three amazing kids who allow me to see and experience the world through their eyes and who I constantly learn from – they make my life fun and challenging and they keep me on my toes!
What would you like to see change within the Caribbean or Caribbean diaspora?
I would like to see the end of communism in Cuba, it has carried on for too long. It’s so sad that tourists who don’t know the history of the Castro regime go to the hotels and resorts to have a great time on this beautiful island, but most don’t realize that none of that is accessible to the Cuban people. Growing up in Miami surrounded by Cubans, including my parents, aunts and uncles, who left everything behind and started from scratch to seek freedom and a better life in the United States – I can only imagine how difficult that was. It would be amazing for them to see a free Cuba in their lifetime.
What is your favorite traditional childhood meal from your home country?
Garbanzos are my favorite, but I also love all types of beans and legumes, such as black beans, lentils, and chicharos, which are known as split peas in English.
What are your favorite extracurricular activities?
I love doing yoga and circuit training classes at Orange Theory. I also enjoy eating out with friends, reading, traveling, spending time outdoors and trying and exploring new things with my kids.
What is your favorite Caribbean tradition?
I love the traditional Noche Buena, which is celebrated on Christmas Eve. I love gathering with my kids and the whole extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins – for my family, it is the one time of the year that we all come together and celebrate. But I enjoy the best of both worlds as I also celebrate Christmas Day American style
What was your upbringing like and how has that influenced who you are today?
My parents’ hard work and sacrifices have made a lasting impact in my life. They did not have careers or any advanced education when they fled Cuba and migrated to Puerto Rico, and eventually settled in Miami. As immigrants, they struggled but worked very hard to make sure we had the essentials. My dad worked at a furniture store, and my mom worked at a sewing factory for many years, which did not provide for luxuries such as going on vacation or even eating out at restaurants.
They always encouraged me and my older siblings to go to university, get a degree, and be professionals so that we could have a better life. My father passed away unexpectedly when I was 14 years old, which was very impactful to all of us – all of a sudden we had no head of household. My mom did not drive or speak English and my older siblings were in college. I never doubted that I would also attend university to get a good education and find a career that would give me a financially stable and comfortable life.