When new Alumni Association president Chiquita White was in third grade, she had a firm plan to become a pediatrician. In fact, she crafted a Harvard Medical School diploma and posted it above her bed. But a high-school counselor urged her to explore more options, so she and her sister, D’Juanna White-Satcher ’86, attended a two-week MIT summer program to learn about engineering.
“What appealed to me about engineering—what made me change my career plan—was that engineering was multidisciplinary,” White says. “I didn’t have to narrow in on one field of study freshman year. I could also get summer internships so I could learn what engineers did on the job, while getting paid. I found out with engineering you could touch people’s lives just as much as with medicine, but in different ways.”
When she enrolled at MIT, she found another benefit: “In my final AP classes, there were not many women or minorities. When I came to MIT, I found ‘my people.’ There were people who looked like me enjoying math and sciences, and others who were professors. When I walked down the Infinite Corridor, I saw a picture of Shirley Jackson, the first black woman to graduate with a PhD from MIT. That picture provided inspiration for me throughout my undergraduate experience.”
White says that experience was a good one. And she really enjoyed those internships, including a stint at Procter & Gamble—a company she has worked for since 1987, after completing a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania in chemical and biochemical engineering.
One internship task was finding out why some customers could not make moist, delicious brownies from a Duncan Hines mix. She researched the problem but couldn’t find the hitch. Finally she brought in customers to bake the brownies while she watched. They started asking for extra ingredients, like applesauce. “They kept making modifications because they ‘knew how to make brownies,’” she says. “We wound up reformulating the mix so it would have a higher ratio of wets to solids, and that allowed for a little poetic license in making the brownies.”
White, who is now an associate director for research and development at P&G’s Duracell headquarters in Connecticut, has used her focus on consumer understanding and her engineering background throughout her career. While working in household products, in hair care, and now in batteries and related products, she has interviewed consumers about their needs and examined new technologies in developing new products.
White, who begins her year as Alumni Association president on July 1, has enjoyed many roles at the Institute. As an undergraduate, she was busy with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the Black Students’ Union, the Society of Women Engineers, the UA Finance Board, and other groups. As an alumna, she has served on the MIT Corporation and several of its visiting committees, the Alumni Association Board of Directors, and the Annual Fund Board, and as president of the Black Alumni of MIT (BAMIT). She has also been an active class volunteer for reunions and reunion giving.
As MITAA president, she will be listening to her fellow graduates as the board works on ways to improve services for the entire alumni body, including graduate-only degree holders and international alumni. “I am really excited about the opportunity to serve as president,” she says.
And, of course, MIT itself will have a new president in Rafael Reif. Says White, “I think the Alumni Association can help the new president understand what a wonderful resource alumni are for the president and administration in general.”