Curiosity, hard work, and a commitment to giving back took Andrea Edwards from White Hall, Ark., to the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, and from there, she might go anywhere.
Right now, the 2013 UAFS graduate is working on her doctorate in the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she is researching ways cells repair themselves and regenerate.
The White Hall High School graduate was determined to go to college, and she worked hard to be eligible for an academic scholarship. As high school graduation approached, she researched all the colleges in Arkansas and looked for financial aid. When she discovered UAFS and the Chancellor’s Leadership Council Scholarship, a prestigious, full-ride scholarship at UAFS, she knew she found a home.
“The scholarship was a great opportunity for me, and the program really helped me to develop my leadership skills,” Edwards said in a recent telephone call.
But being on the Chancellor’s Leadership Council didn’t solve all of Edwards’ challenges.
“I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I changed my major at least twice in my first two years,” she said.
What helped to center her was the faculty in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. While she was taking nursing prerequisites, she realized that the STEM faculty had what she was seeking. She admired her professors and wanted to do what they did.
“The faculty there is amazing. They are passionate about their work, and they really look out for their students.” Edwards said.
While she was at UAFS, Edwards served two years mentoring students at Darby Junior High School in Fort Smith through the Chancellor’s Leadership Council. Working with those students stoked her desire to support the next generation.
“I was always around people who gave me encouragement and believed in me,” Edwards said. “I just want to give that back to students.”
The STEM faculty had their eyes on Edwards, too.
“As Andrea’s faculty advisor, I became aware of her abilities before she was a student in my class,” said Dr. Tom Buchanan, professor of biological sciences. “She compiled an impressive academic record in our demanding curriculum for biology majors, and I soon realized she was one of the brightest students I’ve ever had.” It was a pleasure to watch her develop into a confident young lady during her time here. It was no surprise when she was accepted into UAMS, and I’m proud of her success there. I’m pleased to learn that Andrea plans to work in medical research on cancer in children. It is very encouraging and comforting to know she will devote her career to this area of such importance.”
Edwards is about to enter her final semester at UAMS. Her first two years there were devoted to classes, and for the last four years, working in the laboratory of Dr. Kevin Raney in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department. She researches the mechanisms that help cells, specifically cancer cells, repair themselves and regenerate. She hopes the project will shed light on how cancer cells survive.
“Then we can produce therapies that target those specific repair pathways, making cancer more sensitive to cell death,” she said.
She expects to defend the dissertation about her research in November. From there, she is headed to UT Southwestern in Dallas for post-doctoral research. Later, she hopes to teach cancer biology at undergraduate institutions and further her research studies.
“I want to be a mentor for students,” She said. “I hope to give back the excellent mentoring I received.”
Among the many awards she has racked up so far in her young career is a dissertation fellowship from the Southern Education Board Dissertation Fellowship. In October, she was able to attend SREB’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, a four-day conference that has become the largest gathering of minority doctoral scholars in the country.
“The biggest thing I gained from this experience was encouragement to keep pushing through. I gained a family of people who supported me and wanted to give me the tools I needed to be the best version of myself,” she said.
Asked what advice she would share with STEM students today on the UAFS campus, she said, “I worked hard to excel in my classes. I would tell other students to keep working hard, keep challenging themselves. You really can accomplish the things that matter to you.”