Apr 28, 2016 | Atlanta, GA
Andrew Chetcuti was born in Malta, grew up in Dubai, and came to Georgia Tech on a swimming scholarship. He swims through 50 meters of water in 23.04 seconds, faster than many people walk the same distance on land. He has studied how fire ants build rafts made of themselves and keep afloat during a flood. He’s headed to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the 2016 Olympics. Then he goes to Boston for graduate school.
A lot of things are going on in Chetcuti’s life as he closes the Georgia Tech chapter when he graduates with a B.S. in Biology on May 7. But he is relaxed, unfazed, perhaps because he has lived a life of competitive swimming and high-level academics since he was a 12-year-old student in Dubai. In fact, he seems in a hurry to start his next academic phase: studying for a doctorate in physical therapy at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He is, however, not excited about New England winters.
First things first. Swimming for the national team of Malta in the 2016 Rio Games is top priority now. Training takes 21 hours a week. Not bad, because he is registered for only four credits this, his last, semester. Were it not for the Olympics, maybe he would commit to do a bit more work to get the fire ant research published.
Working with David Hu, in the School of Biology and the School of Mechanical Engineering, on the fire ant research has left a lasting impression on Chetcuti. “He’s crazy intelligent,” Chetcuti says, explaining that Hu studies the behavior of fire ants for application to other fields, such as robotic design. “I wanted to find something new for my research, to broaden my experience,” Chetcuti says, and Hu’s research “was the most ‘out there,’ something that I had not thought about before.”
Michael Goodisman, in the School of Biology, thinks the work could be publishable with more lab work this summer. “I’m not sure yet; lots of things going on this summer,” Chetcuti says. But “it would be cool to get published.”
Originally a biomedical engineering (BME) major, Chetcuti shifted to biology when he realized that he would miss taking many biology courses if he stayed in BME and that he really wanted to get into health care. In preparing himself for a health care career, he spent last summer in Dubai working with children who needed physical therapy to treat scoliosis, spina bifida, back injuries, etc. The experience was eye-opening. Unlike for adults, physical therapy for children is structured as games and play, Chetcuti explains.
Balancing academics and athletics in is not as hard as people may think, he says. That’s because Georgia Tech offers a lot of support, including priority registration, tutoring service, and an athletic coach. In fact, Chetcuti thinks the swimming and training have helped him academically, particularly with time management.
The Rio Games maybe the last time Chetcuti swims competitively, or not. He may still compete in the 2017 Games of Small States of Europe, a multi-sport competition among European nations populated with less than 1 million people, such as Malta.
But even now, Chetcuti’s sights are focused beyond competitive swimming. He looks forward to starting his career in physical therapy. “Having my doctorate degree and an undergrad degree from Tech, I feel I would be so much more ahead of my competitors when I apply for jobs,” he says. “As hard as Tech is, the degree you get sets you up so well for the real word.”