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In high school, André Childs wasn’t particularly interested in higher ed. He wasn’t surrounded by college graduates or even friends who were planning to enroll. However, he was curious about some aspects of science and engineering, so he decided he’d try community college.

Fast forward to 2023. Childs is an award-winning Ph.D. candidate in material science and engineering at the University of Central Florida. His vita includes an impressive list of research accomplishments including published work on fabrication and optimization techniques for the polymer Kapton for use in biomedical research experiments involving cell growth and impedance.

“Growing up without the guidance or precedent of family members who have experienced the college journey, André has faced unique challenges and uncertainties along the way,” Dr. Ali P. Gordon wrote in his letter nominating Childs as a Diverse Rising Graduate Scholar. “Despite these circumstances, André has embraced the path of higher education with courage, determination, and grit to receive the power of knowledge and learning.”

Although Childs is proud of his research, he is quick to point out that one of his highest honors was receiving the first place Physics Teaching GTA Award in fall 2017. “I was teaching three different physics laboratory sections with 33 to 34 students each,” he recalled. He said none of his 100 students dropped his physics classes. None. “I’m pretty proud of that fact because a lot of students do drop physics,” he added with a chuckle.

In addition to his other responsibilities, Childs said he has taken on the role of mentor for five undergraduate students, a responsibility that he takes seriously, but also views as enjoyable.

“I think it’s really fun to be able to teach students how to be researchers, because you get to see how their brains work, how they think, and how they solve problems,” Childs said. “So, you get to do research at the same time as mentoring. It’s fun and it’s a challenge too.”

Childs has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to mentorship. He provides invaluable guidance, support, and opportunities for mentees to thrive. Their dedication to fostering the growth and development of others exemplifies his leadership qualities and his passion for nurturing future scholars.

He also worked as a data analytic scientist and blockchain project manager, leading a team of three full stack developers. Also high on his list of most rewarding activities was an undergraduate research experience that he was selected to participate in at Northwestern University. He added that it was an important research experience for an undergraduate student.

 “The professor allowed us to take apart AFM’s, they’re super-expensive microscopes,” Childs recalled. Childs’ research and studies have also taken him to various other locations including the University of Texas at San Antonio and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Gordon also presented at prestigious events such as NanoFlorida 2022, and NanoFlorida 2023.” He was headed to Kyoto, Japan in late June for the Transducers 2023 conference. “My topic is on “high throughput, multimodal, micro chamber biosensors for in vitro selective localization of killifish cardiac models.” 

That’s a long way from not planning to go to college.

Written by Pearl Stewart for Diverse Issues in Higher Education