Emerald White on the Georgia Tech campus

Engineering a Culture of Inclusion and Diversity

February 3, 2021

Undergraduate student Emerald White brings fresh perspectives to a wide range of groups at Tech

Emerald White, an undergraduate in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is making her voice heard through active participation in many different on-campus organizations. Although White attended a high school focused heavily on the fine arts, her interest in robotics and healthcare drew her to STEM. She entered Tech as a biomedical engineering major, motivated by the healthcare inequality present in not only her neighborhood, but in many Black and underrepresented minority communities.

“My focus on decreasing the wealth gap in healthcare and making it more accessible for everyone was something that motivated me to go to college. I later realized that I could achieve my goals through electrical and computer engineering and also address the energy disparities in minority communities.” -- Emerald White

Navigating the First Year

Once at Tech, White found it difficult to identify all the scholarships and financial opportunities available to her as an underrepresented minority student. Coupled with Tech’s reputation as an academically rigorous university, White was concerned that she would not be able to perform as well as her peers since she did not come from a STEM-focused academic background.

“Tech has a reputation for being a difficult school and that made me think that I wasn’t going to do as well as my peers,” says White. “When I came to Tech, I was worried about making good grades my first semester. I was also worried if I would have enough money to finish my first semester, or if I’d have to drop out.”

These worries motivated White to help others who shared her fears. This month, White will serve as a panelist in a webinar for first-generation college students new to Tech so that she can address financial support issues and allay any fears about the college experience. This webinar will discuss what White learned during her own first-year experience, such as accessing financial aid specific to minority populations, finding a community at Tech, and connecting with professors and potential mentors, among other important topics.

The first-gen webinar contains overlap with White’s involvement in the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. White finds academic and financial opportunities that many do not know about, or have a low application rates, and shares the information to potential applicants, while also acting as a mentor and helper for those who want to apply for scholarships.

“Working with the council is a reminder that people like me have a home at Tech, and that there are people looking out for me who want me to succeed,” says White. “It gives me sense of security to know that I’m not alone.”

students working in a classroom

Other engineering students participate in a digital design class in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering 

Diversity and Inclusion in the Lab

The principles of inclusion and diversity extend beyond White’s work with the Council and into her undergraduate research in the Opportunity Research Scholars program.  White works in a lab that focuses on power systems, such as the electrical grid, and creates control algorithms to improve their efficiency and resilience. Much of the lab’s work is centered around finding a way to reduce the risk of failure in these types of systems, as well as increasing their overall output.

“Coming from a low-income minority community, I’ve experienced some of these problems personally, whether it be frequent power outages or outlets not working,” says White. “I know our work in the lab can improve these shortcomings in the system, and through my experiences, I can fill in pieces that they might be missing.”

White’s interest in energy disparity in underrepresented minority communities is what motivated her switch from biomedical engineering to electrical and computer engineering, and she plans to use her degree to eventually address energy crises.

“I want to assist in the global transition to renewable energy by constructing innovative solutions that integrate scalable sustainable resources into current power infrastructure, such as within well-established natural gas and electrical grid systems,” says White. “By optimizing distributed networks to ensure all energy generated is employed responsibly, I can secure the foundations for the oncoming net-zero emissions era that will inspire wider applications of electrical, wind and solar power.”

"I know our work in the lab can improve these shortcomings in the system, and through my experiences, I can fill in pieces that they might be missing" -- Emerald White

the macon power lines

Power lines in White's hometown of Macon, GA that connect communities in the area to the power grid

Participation with CEISMC

White also works with the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) on their Innovators-in-Residence program, which connects college students in the Atlanta area with K-12 students to teach them hands-on STEM-based projects. One project White participated in focused on discussing the COVID-19 pandemic with elementary school kids so they can have a better understanding of its ramifications like job loss, economic downturn and health concerns. They also asked the students what they thought might be good measures for stopping disease spread when schools opened again.

“This project wasn’t just ‘color by numbers’ or multiplication tables – it applied something that was going on to these students and discussed it, daring them to be the innovators or the scientists or the researchers,” says White.

White sees active participation in campus programs and college life as a way to make her voice heard and her opinion count

“These activities make me feel like I’m not just another number sweeping through Tech,” says White. “I can actually have a hand in Tech’s creation of more inclusive policies and programs aimed towards first-generation and minority students. These populations at Tech can feel more visible to administration and have their concerns heard.”

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