International student-athlete Alexis Dimanche
Thinking Ahead: International student-athlete Alexis Dimanche ’20 is always planning for the future.
by Meilee Bridges, Southwestern University
Alexis S. Dimanche (Xi–Southwestern ’17) is truly a global citizen. An international student who was born in New Orleans, grew up in France, and moved to Texas to attend Southwestern, Alexis is a student–athlete, a leader of various campus organizations, and a University ambassador. He speaks French, German, and English, and he carries a professional business card to distribute at conferences where he has presented his work. When you ask his advisors in Southwestern’s Office of University Relations, they will describe him variously as “amazing” and “truly remarkable.” When you meet him, you get the sneaking suspicion that he has been planning the next 10 years of his life since a young age. Charismatic and ambitious, he’s the kind of undergraduate who knows what he wants and is always preparing to achieve those goals.
Game, set, and match
Dimanche has been playing tennis since he was only three or four years old. “It’s always been a pretty big part of my life,” he says. “I feel like every kid in France plays soccer, so I played a year or two years of soccer, but I figured I needed an individual sport because I didn’t really like relying on other people. So tennis was the move.”
The sport was practically a genetic choice: his father had been a certified tennis instructor during his 20s, and he became Dimanche’s personal coach on weekends. “It really enhanced my love for the game having that support in practice and in tournaments,” he reflects. He would practice three to four times a week and began entering competitive tournaments by the time he reached the tender age of eight. Finding the time to practice on one’s own was sometimes a challenge given the school-day schedule in France. Unlike in the U.S., where players practice daily in the afternoon hours during or after school, French middle and high schools often do not let out until 5 or 6 p.m. “So to get practice in, you have to be really motivated because practice runs to 8:30 at night. So those are long days,” Dimanche says. “But I really enjoyed it because it was not a requirement for me. I just loved it. Being with my friends and playing tournaments was a lot of fun.”
As early as junior high, Dimanche began planning his future, and continuing his studies as an athlete was a priority. “Honestly, it was always a big dream for me to play for a university in the U.S. and study at the same time. I made that a goal pretty early,” he remembers. So he began the recruiting process in eighth grade—that’s right, eighth grade—researching various types of college campuses. He considered Division I schools, but he decided that they were not the best option because although their collegiate tennis programs were excellent, Dimanche was looking for an equally strong academic curriculum. A professional college advisor suggested Dimanche look into Division III colleges and universities instead, where the young athlete would also be more likely to earn academic scholarships.
“Even though [Southwestern] is very far away from France, it was a good place to call home.”
Hailing from Mouans-Sartoux in the Alpes Maritimes of southeastern France and having attended the Centre International de Valbonne for high school, Dimanche had not heard of Southwestern University. Enter Billy Porter, head coach of SU’s men’s and women’s tennis teams, who recruited Dimanche. “The first contact I had was Coach Porter. He was really great [about] visits and going through a typical day,” Dimanche recalls. Enticed by Porter’s description of SU’s tennis program, Dimanche did his due diligence on the school by exploring the Southwestern website and ended up visiting the campus in April 2016. “I was looking at liberal-arts schools. After doing my research, I realized that Southwestern is actually really renowned academically, and people were super nice,” he says. “It just felt comfortable here. Even though it is very far away from France, it was a good place to call home.” A scholarship offer and the allure of “a good fit overall” only sweetened the pot. “And the weather was nice that day,” Dimanche adds laughingly. “That helped with the decision-making over schools in Oregon and Connecticut.
It turned out to be the right choice: over the past three years, Dimanche has racked up a number of student–athlete honors, including serving as a representative of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, leading the men’s tennis team as captain, and becoming the first Southwestern player to win the award for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Tennis Player of the Year in 2018.
Engineering a course of study
Southwestern was the right fit not just because of athletics but also because it allowed Dimanche to follow his preferred academic path. Although he arrived undecided on a specific major, he was always certain of choosing a focus in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). While here, he has been able to pursue research in biomedical engineering even though SU does not offer an engineering major. “Faculty advisors and current friends who are in this industry said physics would be a very good start in undergrad,” he shares. “It opens a lot of doors to a master’s and Ph.D. in bioengineering.” So Dimanche declared physics as his major, with business and data science as his minors. Ever the leader, he is also currently president of the SU Physics Club.
He’s gaining additional experience in the field through three consecutive King Creativity grants. “I’ve done one every year. … It’s a good experience having a self-designed [project]. You have a budget proposal, [and] there’s a whole process of research that is tested.” He has collaborated with peers and faculty on an eye-tracking system to give those with paralysis or otherwise impaired movement the ability to control a cursor, draw shapes, and even write; an automated bacteria counter; and a “lecture in a box” that will help raise awareness around the world of antibiotic resistance as well as microbiology more generally. By taking this latest project to schools in Ecuador, Colombia, Mauritius, France, and Spain, Dimanche and his research teammates are honing their research skills, but they’re also working on a project that is having a global impact.
He’s also learning and expanding his professional network through conferences and summer internships. In October 2018, Dimanche was supported by a McMichael Student Experience Enrichment Fund travel grant to participate in the annual meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society, one of the largest biomedical engineering conferences in the world, with more than 5,000 attendees. “It was my first conference experience—almost overwhelming—but just an incredible opportunity for me to get immersed into that world,” he remembers.
Somewhere amid the flurry of attending poster sessions, workshops, and professional-development sessions, Dimanche presented a research project that he had embarked on the previous summer at Pennsylvania State University in their Artificial Heart and Cardiovascular Fluid Dynamics Lab. The 10-week internship was a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a competitive program funded by the National Science Foundation. Given a great deal of freedom to define his project by his principal investigator, Dr. Keefe Manning, Dimanche decided to research micro particle image velocimetry flow measurements in a stenotic region. If that doesn’t roll off your tongue or even read like English, he was studying the flow of fluids through a device a mere 0.4 millimeters thick, which mimicked the flow of blood through an artery and through a stenosis—the narrowing of an artery, which can reduce or block blood flow. Dimanche had “a great, great experience” because he got to use a range of professional engineering software and enjoyed plenty of funding for the expensive microfluidic devices he was using.
I directly connected to my Southwestern Experience because [the internship] was highly focused on the creative process in research.
He also appreciates that Southwestern provided him the opportunity to engage in the bustling summer activity of a large public research university. “I thought it also felt good to be at a very large university. I got to experience that and draw parallels to Southwestern,” he shares. At Penn State, he was able to apply what he had learned at SU: “I directly connected to my Southwestern Experience because [the internship] was highly focused on the creative process in research.” That process entailed brainstorming ideas, implementing different techniques, deciding which tools to use, monitoring and evaluating results, problem-solving, and communicating with professionals about what had taken place in the lab—all of which Dimanche found “so very interesting.” Besides presenting his findings at the conference at Atlanta, the young biomedical engineer is furthering his research through his capstone project this semester.
Compelled to lead
As if engaging in competitive athletics and advanced undergraduate research weren’t enough, Dimanche still finds the time to serve as treasurer of the Kappa Alpha fraternity as well as a representative in Southwestern’sStudent Foundation, the organization that helps coordinate events such as Homecoming, SING!, and Family Days and whose members often represent the student experience at meetings of the SU Boards of Trustees and Visitors. But Dimanche says that seeking campus leadership positions is not something he does to pad his résumé: “It’s not just to say I do all those things. I just have a hard time joining an organization and not having a leadership position. I like being involved and having an impact in some way.” He also enjoys the social aspect of his cocurricular duties: “It really reinforces SU’s home and family status, because I walk from building to building, and I’m sure I’ll say hi to at least four or five people.”
One of those leadership positions is volunteering as a team leader—along with Courtney King ’20 and Kirby Birk ’20—for the national competition Up to Us. Student teams are given $1,000 to run a nonpartisan campaign to raise awareness about the U.S. national debt, educate students about the economic impact it will have on current and future generations, and mobilize them to attain fiscal sustainability and economic opportunity.
In addition to hosting Up to Us events on campus and creating an online pledge to engage SU students, Dimanche attended the Net Impact conference in Phoenix in October 2018—a mere week after participating in the Biomedical Engineering Society. At the second conference, he learned about team management, goal setting, event planning, and other leadership skills while hearing from corporate CEOs and nonprofit leaders about social and environmental responsibility. “We want to get the conversation started about the national debt because it’s going to affect millennials the most—their salaries, their lifestyles,” Dimanche says. “So we really try to get the word out so we can see action.”
On internationality and inclusivity
Given Dimanche’s enthusiasm and go-getter attitude, it’s no surprise that leaving Europe to pursue his undergraduate career in the U.S. does not seem to have fazed him at all. Students of seventh-grade Texas history may remember that the Lone Star State was a French colony in 1685–1690, but today, the two differ vastly in landscape, politics, and culture. So making the transition from one to the other requires some savvy.
“It’s one thing to study in the States,” Dimanche says, “but to study in Texas is something completely different.” Most obvious to the college junior was having to adapt a new mindset: Texans and the French possess rather distinct attitudes, beliefs, and social mores. But perhaps the biggest difference was, in fact, size. Not in land mass, mind you: France is the third-largest country in Europe whereas Texas is the second-largest U.S. state in area, and France is only somewhat smaller in area than Texas. However, the cliché that “everything is bigger in Texas” does seem to hold true in the eyes of this international student. “I was amazed that everything is so big!” Dimanche recalls. “You go to Target, and everything is just so massive. You have the big trucks, the big parking lots, the big toll roads, the big highways. Everything is on a new scale.” He appreciates that in American supermarkets, “you can get everything in 30 minutes,” but he does miss smaller French markets, which make it easier for the health-conscious tennis player “to eat well and eat locally.”
Despite the adjustment, Dimanche has never felt excluded while studying at Southwestern. He admits that he stands apart from his peers because he’s one of the few international students on campus: only 1% of the student body—a total of 17 students during the 2018–2019 academic year—come from countries other than the U.S. “For me, Texans are also foreign,” he comments. “But again, I’m learning with all the others. It’s fun to share experiences, whether it’s high school or traditions at home, and get an idea of what we did growing up. But now we’re kind of all on the same page because we’re having the same experiences here. … They really try to include you very well; you never feel left out because you’re not from Texas.”
Qui n’avance pas, recule
When Dimanche graduates in 2020, he hopes to go directly into a PhD program in biomedical engineering. He is not necessarily committed to becoming a lifelong academic, however; eventually, he would like to work in research and development in a biotechnology firm and then earn a management position in a company where he can contribute his technical skills, his proficiency in three languages, as well as his various soft skills. “I’m trying to think ahead,” Dimanche says—so he’s applying for industry jobs and research opportunities for the summer before his senior year and working with mentor Alex Anderson, associate director of the Center for Career & Professional Development, on building his résumé and networking.
Southwestern has empowered him to do so many different things that have nothing to do with each other [but] really make an impact.
Reflecting on his own experiences, Dimanche believes that Southwestern has empowered him “to do so many different things that have nothing to do with each other [but] really make an impact.” The University’s size, the student–athlete opines, is a benefit: “You don’t have as much competition as you might have at a big school, and that is our advantage because we can still have those same leadership experiences—and just experiences as a whole—that somebody would have to fight for at a big school. And they could only have one whereas I can have four here in several different departments.” He believes that being friendly; connecting with peers, faculty, and staff; and being open to opportunity are the right combination for success. “It’s no secret,” he says. “It’s knowing people and networking. You start with one experience, and three others come to you.”