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Amando Strong has garnered several accolades this year. His career highlights include a Special Congressional Recognition for outstanding service to his community in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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Separately,  the Allentown City Mayor’s office honored Amando with a Proclamation for Academic Success. In addition, he received a Proclamation for Black Excellence in Education and Academia from Allentown City Council.

“These recognitions are significant to me,” Amando told USBE Online recently in a telephone interview. “It tells me that my efforts pay off, that I matter to my community, and that I am impacting my community and peers.”

Amando is a 2021 Meyerhoff Scholars Fellow, a program with more than 1400 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) alums. One of over 300 graduates pursuing graduate and professional degrees in STEM fields, Amando is expected to graduate in 2026 with a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Getting started

Amando grew up in a close-knit household, with five generations under one roof, all the way up to a great-great-grandmother. So, in addition to playing soccer, football, basketball, and board games like Monopoly, marine biology piqued Amando’s interest. The intrepid explorer loved the ocean and was fascinated by dolphins and killer whales. So his family bought him children’s books filled with facts about marine life.

Although he didn’t attend STEM camps, when his family could afford it, they visited the Bronx Zoo, described as the Wildlife Conservation Society’s flagship park in New York. The zoo is home to over 10,000 animals and more than 700 species. Amando remembers the zoo trips as a teaching experience with opportunities to learn about different mammals and the world.

He would also accompany his family to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, which boasts thousands of “finned, scaled, deep-sea swimmers or tree-top dwellers.” These trips were just as memorable for Amando, especially highlights like the Dolphin Show before the aquarium changed its animal-use policy.

Two decades later

Amando had the unique experience of swimming with dolphins in open water off the Dominican Republic. It was a full-circle moment for the budding researcher.

Ironically, When Amando chose biochemistry in high school, he admitted that he didn’t think he knew what the field entailed. At that point, he only wanted to be a medical doctor or a pharmacist. Still, he stuck with biochemistry at Temple University.

Throughout his years at Philadelphia’s public research university, Amando grew more interested in the field with its cross-talk of cells and proteins and how much goes on at the molecular level. As a result, Amando made the Dean’s List in 2020 and 2019 and the High Honors Dean’s List in 2018. His tips for campus success:

1. Study every day. The better you study every day means you don’t have to do long, long hours. It’s the quality of your study, not the quantity. It becomes easy if you’re breaking down your analysis into chunks daily.
2. Review your notes. After making the first draft class, review your lecture notes and highlight areas emphasized in the lecture or class—complete notes from the course and other supporting material to further understanding.
3. If you want to apply to Ph.D. fields, do research in undergrad before applying for graduate school.

While at Temple, Amando also served as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and spent hundreds of hours in the emergency department in Philadelphia. In the ER, he watched, learned, interacted with patients, and shadowed medical doctors.

Amando also landed two part-time jobs as a physics teaching assistant and STEM tutor because of his good grades at Temple University. He admits physics was a struggle in the beginning. But, after doing poorly in his first exam, he sought help from a professor who offered extra books to read and YouTube channels to check out. As a result, his grades improved exponentially.

That professor also wrote a letter of recommendation for grad school. Similar to programs Amando applied for at Johns Hopkins University, Jefferson, the Meyerhoff Scholar Program application process took some preparation: Writing personal statements, and submitting three letters of recommendation from professors and mentors who have seen an applicant’s education work ethic firsthand. There is also the interview portion.

“It was during COVID,” Amando recalls. “I spent the entire day sitting by the computer for interviews, presentations, and mixers, where you talk to other graduate students.” Conversations were focused on what drives your passion, what kind of research you want to do, and faculty members that you find interesting,” he added. “My passion to educate and motivate the next generation of scientists is what propels me to become a professor,” Amando writes in his resume.

With a doctorate in biochemistry and biology, Amando hopes to impact the world through drug development, as well as new tools, methods, and protocols necessary to advance findings in the medical field for treatment, prognosis, and diagnosis of different diseases: cancers, and medical conditions.

Amando also hopes to start a family and be done with medical school. After that, he might probably work as a pharmaceutical rep, giving back to generations that came before him, volunteering, and returning to his high school where it all began to enrich the next generation of scientists.

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