Mayland alumnus pursuing PhD at Wake Forest University

August 2015

Mayland Community College alumnus Andrew Zeidell believes that pursuing a higher education was one of his greatest accomplishments, as well as his greatest challenge. After graduating from MCC, Zeidell worked for a few years in the electronics field before enrolling at Appalachian State University in the department of Physics and Astronomy. This past spring Zeidell was accepted into the Physics PhD track at Wake Forest University, where he will study thin film electronics, to find uses in touchscreens and smartphones, with a world renowned researcher.

Zeidell says growing up underprivileged in rural western North Carolina did not provide the best motivation for excelling in high school. He spent time working to help support his father’s business, and being an avid reader taught himself QBASIC and a scripting language. When the time came from Zeidell to attend college, he was several credits short of meeting college entrance requirements.

“I spent a year after high school working as an apprentice electrician, but felt like I was trapped, and took on a second job,” said Zeidell. “I would spend the drive home late at night trying to analyze where I had gone wrong, and how to pull myself out of this quagmire. I kept telling myself that there had to be a way to still achieve something in life.”

Zeidell created a list of long-term goals, starting with taking the SAT. Initially, the ultimate goal on the list was to obtain a university degree, but at that time he felt a university degree was not an option financially. Instead, he chose to attend a community college as one step forward on the road toward reaching his goal.

“It was pursuing a degree in electronics engineering at Mayland Community College that changed my life,” said Zeidell. “Through interacting with a spectacular and caring faculty, I came to realize that I had potential that I had never before applied.”

 In his first few months at MCC, admissions counselors contacted him on several occasions to ensure that he was doing well. This made a positive impression on Zeidell.

“Knowing that someone cared about my education enough to ask me about my life was astounding,” said Zeidell.

 Zeidell also enrolled in math instructor Larry Shook's Algebra course, which helped him realize that math could be understood by anyone who made an effort. According to Zeidell, Shook’s passion and excitement for math helped him develop a better understanding of the subject. In instructor Jan Graham's class Zeidell said he learned that he could express himself in a supportive environment, and her caring nature pushed him to do his best. Instructor Beth Ellis's excitement and guidance provided him the tools that he frequently uses in public speaking, and gave him the confidence he needed to use those tools. Zeidell’s advisor and electronics instructor, David Pittman, not only taught and guided his education, but also encouraged his efforts like no one before.

“It took tenacity and careful attention in class to maintain my grades while working so many hours,” said Zeidell. “I was awed by the complete turn-around in my life. My childhood hobbies in programming and electronics were being honed into skills. However, it was in my introductory physics course where I became truly enthralled. Not only was the subject new, intriguing, and difficult, I made good grades, and really enjoyed learning how the universe worked.”

Attending MCC, led Zeidell to finding a passion in both electronics and physics, while he learned that if he worked hard enough at something, he could accomplish the goals he set forth.

“I left MCC with a feeling of duty towards encouraging young people like myself who may think that they aren't smart enough, and I hope that through my future career, I can prove that they can do everything I did and more,” said Zeidell.

After graduating from MCC, Zeidell received a recommendation to work for a local employer, and secured a position as an electronics technician at a commercial laundry electronics repair company. He worked as a technician to save money to continue his education.

As one of two technicians at the company, he took a lead role in developing new techniques for diagnosing malfunctions both in the shop and in the field by communicating with shop owners across the nation. After one year, the company expanded to four technicians, and he was able to repair all brands of equipment serviced as well as became a specialist in one specific brand. At the end of two years, Zeidell created and updated several simulators for testing circuitry, and create a database of common repair and troubleshooting techniques for future technicians.

During his third year with the company, Zeidell moved onto research and development. He updated and created new simulators, created connections with manufacturers to obtain technical documents, and engineered and prototyped a device to replace an obsolete part, now manufactured and sold by the company. After three years of contributing to the business, he was finally on the way to continuing his education.

While a student at ASU, Zeidell entered into the research field and was accepted into a scholarship program. The program required students to meet in research groups, build classroom demos, and design lab exercises. Through this experience, Zeidell was able to make a connection with Dr. Brad Conrad, who became his advisor and mentor during his time at ASU. While working with Conrad, he began a project synthesizing Carbon Nanotubes, a nanomaterial up to 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, but as conductive as copper wire.

Zeidell and fellow students studied a growth process that made purer materials, at lower cost, and used a system that could expand to industrial production.

 “I spent every summer working with the support of grants for this project from the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium that gets funding from NASA,” said Zeidell. “Through this project, I made presentations each year at Duke University, UNC Charlotte, NC State, as well as at the national American Physical Society March meeting in Baltimore in 2013. In January, my research was published in the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology, and was chosen as the featured article, with one of our images on the cover.”

 Zeidell maintained a good GPA while at ASU, and graduated in May 2014 Summa Cum Laude. After remaining one additional year to finish graduate level courses, he was accepted into the Physics PhD track at Wake Forest University.

“Some of my success is due to my hard work, but I was inspired by my experience at MCC,” said Zeidell. “Not only did I gain a strong background academically, I learned that I could be recognized for my thoughts and ideas, and I cannot imagine any of this happening if it were not for my experience at MCC.

I have told several MCC faculty, whether they believe it or not, that I owe all my success to their nurturing and expertise. I would not be where I am without starting at Mayland, and I hope that many students experience the same or better stories of success."