Dr. Kizito Madu was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria; although, through his lineage, he is originally from Imo state in eastern Nigeria. He describes Nigeria as a rich and culturally diverse land, ‘literally’ rich in human and natural resources. Living in different parts of the country exposed him to people of different cultures, languages, and unique identities. This taught him to accept and treat people with dignity and respect regardless of differences, and about understanding the diversity of cultures and values.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), he began exploring graduate school options. Kizito says one reason he applied to the University of Michigan was because Kevin Hart’s character in the movie “The Five-Year Engagement,” which was shot in Ann Arbor, wore a Block M sweatshirt, and he also thought Ann Arbor looked “really pretty.”
However, when it came down to making his school choice, he says his selection was 99% because of the role Professor Lola Eniola-Adefeso, who is also from Nigeria, played in recruiting him. She convinced him of the unique research and educational opportunities here at the University, and about the flexibility of doing interdepartmental research.
Soon after he started his education at Michigan, Kizito began his research work with Dr. Theodore Goodson, in Chemistry. His research was in the field of organic photovoltaics (OPVs) where he studied the ultrafast photoinduced processes taking place in selected OPV materials using ultrafast laser spectroscopy.
In 2019, Kizito attended the NOBCChE (National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers) national conference. He loved both the outstanding research presented and that he immediately felt at home amongst his fellow attendees.
Upon learning that U-M’s previous chapter had disbanded in 2006, Kizito returned to campus committed to re-launching a NOBCChE chapter to develop a sense of belonging through community and mentorship for its members at Michigan. He and his Black research colleagues in ChE and Chemistry successfully re-established the NOBCChE chapter in Fall 2020.
“NOBCChE seeks to bring together chemical engineers and chemists, to share research ideas, fun ideas, talk to renowned scientists/engineers to learn about academic and industrial opportunities, and actively collaborate with other black societies such as NSBE, GSBES and SCOR,” Kizito says. “We also take part in outreach/mentoring activities, invite scientists/engineers to speak on campus, and take part in the University’s recruitment efforts.” Follow their activities @NobccheUmich!
Kizito’s passion for community-building amongst underrepresented students extended beyond our U-M walls. Since arriving in the US, Kizito has been concerned about the educational inequities he saw, in which “children’s educational opportunities are determined by what their zip code is, so many minority students are stuck in underfunded schools.” He decided to help in whatever small way he could, and became an active member of the ChE DEI Outreach/Mentorship group last year, which is part of the new ChE graduate student-led and faculty and staff-supported DEI efforts.
“The ChE DEI efforts are a critical, long-term, all-hands-on-deck endeavor. I’m so proud of the leadership shown by our graduate students like Kizito. We’re very fortunate to have committed, empathetic and passionate students who stepped up and took leadership in multiple areas to work towards creating a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse department,” says Sharon Glotzer, Anthony C. Lembke Department Chair of Chemical Engineering.
Kizito co-led the effort to launch a high school mentoring program, a STEM-based high school mentorship program in the Southeast Michigan community. The outreach program received initial assistance from CEDO (Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach) in connecting with the Oak Park Schools. Kizito and the team then launched with a strong cohort of ChE graduate-student mentor volunteers. They plan to recruit undergraduate mentors and arrange for ChE lab tours this upcoming academic year.
In addition to demonstrating the connections between the STEM classes taught in high school and real-world applications, they want to get the students more interested in STEM subjects in hopes that they will consider higher education and choose STEM careers. The ChE team will also help their mentees apply to college and find resources that will help them fulfill their educational goals.
Kizito is confident that programs like Outreach/Mentorship are key to solving the long-term “diversity in STEM” problems experienced both in colleges and in industry. “To truly reach out, our involvement cannot just be a one-time outreach activity/oral-presentation/poster-presentation to show how cool our research is,” Kizito says. “These high schools (and middle schools) need programs where mentors and educators make long-term commitments to do all they can to improve the education of students in disadvantaged schools and offer the students options for advanced learning in schools such as the University of Michigan.”
Kizito defended his thesis, Understanding the Optical and Photophysical Properties of Organic and Hybrid Macromolecules and Polymers for Solar Cell Application, on February 16 and started his career at Intel as a Lithography and Device Yield R&D Engineer in Oregon this past spring. He enjoyed his time at Michigan and says he knows he made the best choice for his graduate education.
“I met amazing people here, and more importantly, I met my life-partner in Ann Arbor,” he says. “I really admire the zeal of Chair Sharon Glotzer, and the faculty and staff, as they make impactful changes in the department. I applaud their efforts in seeking to provide more educational opportunities at Michigan for underrepresented minorities. We need to act now to improve future educational possibilities for minorities by truly making higher education accessible to all.”