By Christine Sweeney, Managing Editor for Digital Content, College of the Holy Cross
Andre Isaacs’ choreographed dance videos have attracted almost a quarter of a million followers on TikTok, but this associate professor of chemistry at the College of the Holy Cross might be even more popular in the classroom.
Whether working on copper catalyzed reactions via click chemistry or practicing choreography for his videos, Isaacs’ mentorship of students builds community and inspires confidence that leads students to feel secure in taking scientific risks and sharing ideas with colleagues without hesitation that they might not be “right.”
“Making mistakes and failure is a part of the process,” he recently told Advanced Science News. “That is something I struggled with. I wanted every reaction to work, but I’ve learned more from my failures than I learned from my successes. I think they’ve made me a better scientist.”
On his journey from his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, to Worcester, Mass., he’s learned that finding a community of support and being able to bring one’s full self to that community leads to a greater willingness to make—and learn from—mistakes.
“If you’re not part of a community that embraces your unique talents and values it as a benefit, then you’re not going to be able to bring your best. [It’s important to understand that] you are not just a researcher, you’re a human being who’s growing, developing and learning about who you are, and it’s so important to have a community that can support you,” Isaacs says.
Isaacs credits his own experience of coming out as a queer graduate-school student as a major factor in how he approaches students today. While he struggled with lack of support from his family and friends at the time, which he says impacted his ability to work effectively, he relied on his advisor and other friends for support and encouragement as he handled rejections from others. He aims to treat his own students as colleagues to demonstrate that they are learning from each other.
“I think it’s a mutually beneficial relationship when we build an alliance versus a power dynamic, where they’re always just subordinate,” Isaacs says about his teaching approach. “It makes it easier for my students to communicate their failures, their concerns, their questions, when they know you’re not going to be mean to them, or that they can just joke with you and you all can smile.”
“I would say I think my biggest contribution is that I am helping to train some stellar students who are going to make a huge impact on our world,” Isaacs adds. “Not just because of their talents in the lab, but because of the way in which they view diversity, the way in which they embrace each other and the values they take on, and I think they are going to be impactful. Training students has been the biggest joy of my career.”