Tiffany White has served many roles at Women & Hi Tech. She’s been committee chair, Director of K-12 Programs, Vice President, President, and Past President. But when White, now serving as Emeritus Board Member, speaks about her introduction to the group, she admits it started with some apprehension.
“A girlfriend of mine was on the board and she was putting together an event. At the time the event was to do something with kids, and she wanted me to help her out in fleshing out the program,” said White. “Initially, I resisted. I said, ‘I don’t know I don’t want to be part of a girl group.’ But she eventually convinced me to join the committee as a one-time deal. Unfortunately, she had to leave quickly for a family emergency, leaving me in charge of the event. That turned into Passport to Hi Tech. Next thing you knew, I was part of Women & Hi Tech.”
Where she once worried that setting herself apart as a woman in the STEM world might be a negative impact, White now says the organization has been nothing short of a godsend.
“It shows you the power of the group. It shows you the power of women supporting women. You can still be known for your abilities and accomplishments but having that network of other women backing me up has done a lot for my career and my personal development.”
Throughout her career in STEM, White has always been one to push back against naysayers or barriers. Even now as a role model for young girls, she’s taken a big shine to providing encouragement in places where there may be a lack of it. As a high-schooler, White said she had a great experience in her biology and chemistry classes, but there was pushback to the notion of her continuing into a science field.
“I ended up choosing to take physics next in high school. My mom, while she wasn’t being mean, expressed concerns that it would be too hard for me. But I’m one of those people who will set out to prove anyone wrong who says I can’t do something,” said White. “In the end I really loved it, the way that physics explained and quantified the world. When I decided I wanted to pursue STEM as an engineer, I was again told that it would be too hard for me as a girl. But, obviously I wasn’t going to let that stop me.”
Starting off at Purdue University in 1988, White explained that the negativity toward women in the STEM space was evident. She recalled one incident in which she had missed a class, and asked a friendly male classmate for his notes.
He said, “Oh sure, I can give you my notes. I’ll photocopy them for you. He did and later slipped them under my dorm room door. But when I got the notes, I saw that he had taken a black Sharpie to all the equations, meaning I couldn’t do the homework. It was an attempt to prevent me from moving forward.”
While pursuing her degree in aerospace, White was like many other students who dreamed of working at NASA. However, after the recession of 1992, there was a dramatic rollback of jobs in the aerospace fields, as well as space travel. White eventually put her name up for any contract job she could find, and eventually found a spot at Rolls Royce in Indianapolis.
“I kept saying just get me in the job and I’ll prove myself. I started as a parts expediter and eventually made my way into a proper engineer role.”
But White had no intention of stopping there, and she didn’t. Since then, she’s worked on and headed up nearly every department one could imagine when it comes to aircrafts and defense technology, including electronics, control systems, engines, and even turbines. In fact, White is now the Head of Engineering Operations for all of Defense at Rolls Royce.
White looks to organizations like Women & Hi Tech for providing support and leadership to women and girls in the STEM field. But she also knows that the next 20 years for Women & Hi Tech means opportunities to serve a greater population of individuals.
"Passport to Hi Tech is wonderful, but it’s a paid event. I felt that we weren’t spending enough time with disadvantaged youth and people of color. That’s why I developed Ignite Your Superpower, which has been concentrated on exposing minority girls to STEM. It’s a free event where we partner with schools so that girls with more limited exposure opportunities get a STEM day on a college campus."
“I want to make sure that going forward, everyone has access to the fantastic programs and resources we provide. For me, that’s great progress.”