Growing up in Hot Springs allowed I'Nita White to foster a strong sense of volunteerism at a young age. As the years passed, she saw herself grow from mentee to mentor, taking on leadership roles and helping her peers. Now, as an adult, White stays connected to her hometown roots as an active board member for the local nonprofit The Giving Team Inc.
"I continue to commute from Texas to Arkansas to volunteer because I have always wanted to be a light in my home community as well as my local community. For me, it all starts at home. Volunteerism runs through my veins. My earliest memories of volunteering are with my Great Aunt Rose when I was about 5 years old," White said.
The Giving Team Inc. was established in 2019 by White's godmother and local advocate, Janice Davis. The nonprofit is a service organization rooted in giving that "envisions a community where all life's residents will have access to life's basic essentials for survival." They work to regularly provide resources to increase access to food, clothing, social services, and life skills opportunities for the homeless and underserved.
"I became involved with The Giving Team before there was a Giving Team. As I stated, because my godmother, Janice Davis, has been actively involved in providing for the marginalized, less fortunate, and special needs community and she included me in her many or if not all her activities that were appropriate for me at whichever stage of life I was at, at the time. It was only natural that she would form her own nonprofit organization so she could better serve this population of people," she said.
Getting her start with organizations like the Lions Club and youth departments at different churches led White down a path of leadership. It was not long before she started to mentor and tutor children younger than her in church and in school. Those experiences left a lasting impact on her and White continues to mentor students interested in STEM.
"I currently volunteer with my job in terms of STEM outreach," White said. "I visit different schools in the DFW area and educate students about the importance of STEM and how there is a need for engineers, scientists, pilots, educators, etc. I lead different activities and games to get the students engaged and pumped up about STEM! ... I also volunteer with my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta in the capacity of supporting local food banks, coordinating STEM activities for the youth, and back-to-school drives.
"I am also the event coordinator for an annual event at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers -- -- College Prep Day. College Prep Day is a fun-filled day of STEM-related activities, guest speakers, facility tours, and a college fair. I have coordinated this event for the last four years and have reached over 2,000 students in the DFW area. We focus on the importance of college, military, or trade school. I usually have about 30-plus colleges and universities represented (historically Black colleges and universities and predominantly white institutions). We also have workshops for the parents so that they can become more knowledgeable about financial aid and scholarships that are available. My hope is to bring an event like this to Hot Springs!"
In her work with the Giving Team, White says she is now looking to expand beyond her role as secretary of the board and public relations manager and establish a mentoring program.
"I'm still trying to figure out all the direct specifics but I want to start it at Hot Springs High School first so that other alumni and professors or teachers can help mentor the students and give back. Help them with scholarships, help them with life skills, whether it's in high school and then journeys on through college. Just be someone that's nonbias that can help them in cerian situations if they're not comfortable with talking to their guidance counselor or their parents," White said.
As a child, White had to learn very early on how important it was to have support from the people around her, especially those she looked up to. When she was 7 years old, White's mother, Susan Henry, passed away.
"After the passing of my mother, Susan Henry, I was raised by my uncle and aunt, Harriel and Shirlene White, and my godmother Janice Davis, and my sister Brandi. They couldn't do it alone. I had an amazing village who helped mold me into the woman that I am today," she said.
"It makes me more grateful for my family and friends and my village. Without them there supporting me, I feel like I could have been a statistic."
White went on to attend Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Ala., with a Bachelor of Science degree in Family and Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Hospitality Management in 2013. She spent the first few years of her career as a community relations coordinator but eventually decided to transition into STEM.
"In 2015, I decided to leave Alabama and head to Dallas to pursue a better career. I had a few small jobs here and there but I knew that I was destined to do more! I was hired at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics (LM) in 2017. My first role was a logistics manager in Sustainment. ... I held that position for about a year and a half until I was presented with the opportunity to interview for a system engineer position. Keep in mind that I have no engineering background whatsoever, but I enrolled at Southern Methodist University to obtain my Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Manufacturing Systems Management.
"In this role, I am the project manager for maintenance on F-35 fighter jets. To make it more plain, I am the integrator for our LM counterparts and country partners. I ensure that the fleet has proper instructions on how to repair or maintain all parts, engines, tools, etc., on the fleet. It is a lot of work but I love what I do! I learn something new every day. I will graduate with my Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in May. After graduation, I will be pursuing my Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt and Project Manager Professional certification. Never did I think that I would be an engineer. I wanted to be an event coordinator for a major league team or a major tourist town. I had one path, but God had something better destined for me," she said.
As a Black woman in the STEM field, White has experienced her fair share of challenges linked to race and gender in a field dominated by white men.
"I am the only African American woman on my team. Sometimes it's challenging, trying to get other ethnicities to listen to your ideas or your processes. It is sometimes disheartening because you could have a great idea and it'll get shut down, but then somebody else could say the exact same thing, and then everyone is on board. So, from that aspect is tough," she said.
Through grit, determination, and the desire to make her late mother proud, White continues to rise to each challenge. She says she feels as though it is necessary to break the glass ceilings as an example to Black children interested in STEM.
"My plans for the future are honestly to be a great example, the example that my mom would want me to be. To be an example for the youth in my home and local community. To be an example for those who may be growing up without their mom or dad; to show them how to take that loss and turn it into a light for others to see. To show African American boys and girls that the color of their skin is not a hindrance, but a gift! To show the youth of Hot Springs that just because you come from a small town doesn't mean that you can't make a big difference. There's always work to be done" White said.