Chikezie Madu, PhD, is making strides that exceed well beyond the classroom. A 2012 graduate of the College of Graduate Health Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), Dr. Madu, who is currently an Advanced Placement (AP) Biology teacher at White Station High School and a dual enrollment instructor at the University of Memphis, has been selected as the Tennessee state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The prestigious award is the nation’s highest honor for teachers of mathematics and science.
When it comes to his favorite aspect of teaching, Dr. Madu highlights his love for the change and the challenge the classroom presents. “Research was fun, but doing what I do now demands that I read a broad spectrum of science material beyond my area of expertise, and figure out ways to explain it to my students,” he said. “I am constantly learning. Since I appreciate how science works in a real lab, I intuitively discern how to relate to the concepts my students are learning in the classroom. I also love the relationship I form with my students. I keep in touch with them after they graduate, and hope I have been able to spark some love of science within them.”
To date, Dr. Madu’s students have scored the top mark of 5 on the Advanced Placement exam with few, if any, exceptions. While humbled and appreciative of such an honor, Dr. Madu still acknowledges the hardships that both students and teachers face daily. “There are several educators doing outstanding jobs in their classrooms at my school and beyond, he said. “Sadly, most of the news headlines reference the negative events. At my institution, several students accomplish great things that never make it to the media.”
Before pursing his doctoral degree, Dr. Madu was already established as a teacher, however, he felt he was lacking and needed something more. Shortly after, he enrolled in UTHSC. “I needed to enhance my applied knowledge,” said Dr. Madu. “I came to UTHSC to enhance that knowledge, and also to make a significant contribution to the scientific world. Gradually I realized there could be more to science beyond walls of a research lab. I returned to teaching high school hoping to give the students a good foundation and help them appreciate scientific concepts and careers in ways that textbooks and films cannot.”
Dr. Madu said his biggest takeaway from UTHSC was to focus on solutions rather than problems. “When I started my doctorate, I was not very familiar with many of the molecular biology tools and techniques because my college was in a third-world country,” he said. “This presented some challenges, as I imagine they do for many foreign students. However, I had to learn quickly to catch up. Although the school has many awesome mentors and teachers like Dr. Lu, Dr. Thomason, Dr. Lothstein, and many others that are prepared to help offer encouragement, advice, and inspiration; regardless, at the end of the day, you are responsible for your progress or lack thereof.”
“I strive to simulate the real world to my students,” Dr. Madu continued. “My goal is not necessarily to teach them immunology, epigenetics, or how to sequence a gene, but rather instill lifelong skills in them–how to think, how to ask productive questions, the importance of doubts and skepticism, how to analyze, etc. These are skills that will transcend high school and college, and take them through any sphere of life. I remind them often that they will forget most of the science I teach them, but I hope they never forget how to be curious.”