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Empowering First-Gen Students at Queens University

Feb 28, 2024 By Queens University Communications

Nestled on the third floor of Rogers Hall, beyond the laboratory-lined hallways, sits the office of Yvette Clifton, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry and general education at Queens University of Charlotte. Between classes and labs, you’ll find her engaging with students, offering not just answers but a supportive environment to discuss challenges, explore ideas, or simply connect.

Joining the faculty in 2018, Clifton quickly immersed herself in the Queens community and became involved in supporting first-year students’ transition to higher education. As a mentor for Queens’ Thrive Institute, a summer bridge program for first-generation, financially fragile, or Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students, she has formed strong bonds with hundreds of participants.

A first-generation Panamanian immigrant who arrived in the U.S. at age six, Clifton spent her childhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While embracing her new home, her family preserved their rich, multicultural Panamanian heritage, reflecting African-Caribbean, American Indian, North American, and Spanish influences.

When asked about how she became a chemist, she is open and honest. “I can tell you that initially it wasn’t my first love,” said Clifton. “I wanted to work in health care, teaching nutrition and wellness practices. That was until I took my first nutrition class and internship and I hated it!”

After exploring other areas in the sciences, she revisited chemistry and in her junior year took a course in quantum mechanics. It was a game changer! When asked to explain it, she quietly contemplated an answer.

“Simply put, it uses the principles of physics and chemistry to view life at a subatomic level,” responded Clifton. “It describes how we can perceive objects as being separate from each other while at the same time demonstrating that everything is connected, think of energy as waves. We’re all intrinsically connected. When I realized that, I had an ‘a-ha moment’ and knew this was for me. I loved everything about it!”

Echoing Black History Month’s theme of “African Americans and the Arts,” Clifton draws inspiration from musical giants like Stevie Wonder and Joe Sample. Their music offers her not just relaxation but also fuels her artistic endeavors, including painting and redecorating.

“Music,” Clifton explains, “acts as a catalyst for my creativity, much like the intricate dance of particles in quantum mechanics. It energizes my soul and sparks my imagination.”

At Queens, Clifton has found the perfect blend of her passion for teaching and the intricacies of science. Acknowledging the historical underrepresentation of women, especially women of color, in chemistry, she finds hope in the increasing diversity of her students. This motivates her to foster meaningful connections that transcend racial identity, building a classroom where every individual feels recognized and valued for their unique perspective.

“Applying the ideas of quantum mechanics has helped me connect with people on a deeper, holistic level, beyond skin color,” Clifton said. “This deep connection I tap into when teaching has become part of my being. I see life differently, and I try to share that with others, especially with my students.”

To learn more about the College of Arts and Sciences visit their homepage.