Re.engineer Magazine - Summer 2021

DA CHEMIST Dr. White earned his bachelor’s and master’s in chemistry and his PhD in material science & engineering from the historic Tuskegee University. As a tri-alumnus, his research includes the synthesis, derivation, and incorporation of nanocellulose into synthetic polymers. While a graduate at Tuskegee he was a part of one of the largest multidisciplinary consortia funded by The National Science Foundation: The Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN). His research has resulted in one publication and two patents (one pending). These green technologies have landed Dr. White a host of awards and accolades, including, a nomination to the MIT-Lemelson’s inventorship award. Dr. White’s passion for STEM has led him to author a children's chemistry-based curriculum series entitled: “You’re A Chemist Too!”

Obviously, you are extremely passionate about STEM education. What was the defining moment that inspired you to pursue a career in STEM? I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area (Richmond, CA.). It was the epicenter of STEM innovations: from Silicone- Valley, to Berkley’s Lawrence Hall of science. I was thoroughly immersed in the scientific culture at a very young age. If, I had to boil down all those experiences into one specific moment, I’d say it would be the gene editing we did in my 11th grade biology class. We extracted the gene from fireflies and put it in E. coli bacteria to make them glow. I was changed forever after that. How did attending an HBCU prepare you for your post-college experience? It was everything. I was not ready for college; I had the aptitude, but I just wasn’t prepared mentally nor academically. There were so many gaps in my learning that I had to remediate myself once I got to Tuskegee. It allowed me the opportunity to grow up and mature within my didactic field of study.

What is the most difficult decision you've had to make to pursue your destiny? Letting go of my fear of being judged; growing up in the inner city I was heavily influenced by the culture. It was incredibly hard for me to pursue a career in STEM. The fact of the matter is it just wasn’t cool. We had zero representation in the Black community and being a Chemist just wasn’t cool. That drove me to bring real representation to the table in a way that kids like me could relate to. What advice would you give to young professionals or students? Replace your hardships with hard work. I found that if I just worked through my stressors once those problems subsided, I had also accomplished so many tasks. These accomplishments would not only carry me into new opportunities they would sustain me financially.

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