Pledge and Inspiration by Dr. Whitney Ingram
Stan Jester (Board of Education)
It’s my honor to be standing here with Dr. Whitney Ingram. She was born here in Stone Mountain and graduated from Stephenson High School. Dr. Ingram is a physicist that specializes in the field of nanotechnology when she graduated from the University of Georgia last year, she became the first black female to receive a Ph.D. in Physics from this institution.
During her time as a Ph.D. student, she has published her research in more than 15 peer reviewed journals. She received over $100,000 in fellowships, including the Alfred P. Sloan and Department of Energy fellowship to name a few. Most notably in 2015, she was selected to attend the prestigious Nobel Laureate conference in Germany, where she had the opportunity to meet Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, physiology, and peace.
Dr. Whitney Ingram
I want to talk about my research and steps that brought me here. I like to compare my research to movie genres. One of my favorite genres is science fiction and action movies. In a lot of these movies, like Harry Potter, he had a cloak of invisibility. What if I were to tell you that it’s possible to make an invisibility cloak? This type of technology is called meta materials. Meta materials are artificially created materials that can be created on a nano scale that can manipulate light in ways that you normally wouldn’t see anywhere else.
I use this technology to create high-powered sensors that can be used to detect viruses and bacteria using just a fraction of saliva or plasma. This same technology was used to create Nano Motors that can go into the body and break down blood clots.
This was some of the work that made me want to dream big and to do things that people thought were impossible. I didn’t get to this point by myself. I come from humble beginnings. Lots of people assume I went to private school or started off as a genius.
When I was born, I was 2 months premature. I waited 1 pound and 12 and a half ounces. The doctors told my parents that if I survived that I might have mental disabilities. when I was younger I was slow to walk and talk. by the time I got to first grade, I was evaluated for special education.
The counselor told my parents that I didn’t have a mental disability, but I had a problem of moving on when I didn’t understand something. This brings me to my first point about having good study habits.
My parents took me to a store, but I didn’t quite like, called School Box where you can get supplemental educational materials. After school my parents made sure I did at least one page and those workbooks. Overtime I began to learn at home as well as at school. That study habit took me to middle school and high school and then to college. So, learning to study was something I learned at a young age.
By the time I hit third and fourth grade, I began to excel. My second inspiration is doing something that you are passionate about. A lot of people want to know why I got into physics. Honestly, as a kid, I always loved science. As a kid I was always asking why. Why is the sky blue? I would annoying my parents to no end.
That also led me to being curious about other things. I used to check out books from the library. One book in particular that I loved was 101 science projects for kids because you could do cool things. You can make a merry-go-round out of pipe cleaners or you can make paintings out of oil.
I’m not thinking this is a cool scientific endeavor. I’m thinking this is fun. If I can make a merry-go-round, I can play with this with my Barbie dolls.
At the same time there are opportunities for me to learn through those books by reading them. My passion begin to develop. Even though my parents didn’t have a background in science, and they weren’t teachers, they saw my interests and encourage me.
I always like to encourage students to go after the things they’re interested in. If you like hair and chemistry, there was a girl who graduated from Stevenson High School and went on to Georgia Tech. She later went on to start her own company where you can send in a sample of your hair. They will analyze the hair and recommend specific hair products. She is now in Forbe’s 30 Under 30.
You can take your interest and make them into whatever you want. Even though I was interested in science, by the time I got to high school I was interested in a variety of programs. I was in Science Olympiad, marching band, Beta Club, National Honor Society, and I was co-captain of my tennis team. Most importantly, on my sixteenth birthday, my parents got me an application to work at Stone Mountain Park.
Having the ability to balance school work in extracurricular activities help me in life. But what really stuck with me with physics. That brings me to my last point. Encouragement makes a difference.
Many people have helped get me to where I am. I would like to acknowledge my high school physics teacher. He is Mr. Billinghurst.Mr. Billinghurst was a patient person. When I first took physics, I was like everyone else. I didn’t understand it there was a force that pushes something … It was a different way to think. I am thankful that Mr. Billinghurst took the time to answer all of my questions. at one of the Science Olympiad events, he told my mother that I would ask him some of the toughest questions. He had to go through his physics books to make sure he could answer those questions.
he was also ready to retire my junior year. But, he stayed one more year to teach me AP Physics.I am still thankful for that. That is one of the reasons I am where I am today. He help me to appreciate and enjoy science.
when I found out I was the first black female to get a PhD in physics at the University of Georgia, I was surprised and honored. I assumed there was somebody ahead of me. But, I wasn’t surprised. I have never met another black female physicist. I wanted to do something about that. While at UGA, I worked with the Outreach and diversity Department to recruit students. a lot of the work we do in the lab is labor intensive. So, I always had the help of high school students. I enjoy that they could see what it was really like to go through the physics program. It’s not always easy and experiments don’t always work, but you get a good perspective of what’s going on.
All of the undergrad students I work with went on to get graduate degrees and I like to think that I had something to do with that.
I want to close by saying that I have had plenty of negative comments. I’ve had people that didn’t want to work with me because of the way I looked. but in the end, it doesn’t matter. My work speaks for itself. I would like to encourage any student who was interested in pursuing something, to go ahead and go after it. You’re going to be judged even if you can’t identify with me as a black female. You’re going to be judged by the way you look, by the way you act, if you’re tall, short, fat … it doesn’t matter. Your work will speak for itself. People will grow to respect you.
I didn’t get to where I am by myself. People like Mr. Billinghurst saw potential in me as well did many other professors at UGA as well as middle and high school teachers, and my parents. When things got tough, sometimes I would give in to the negative comments. It took the support of my family and friends and mentors to get me past those points. I am so thankful. it’s not something that I can repay, but I can pass it forward. I can give it to the Next Generation. I might be the first black female physicist, but I won’t be the last.
This is my way of passing it on. I am thankful for this County and the department of physics at the University of Georgia and my high school and Elementary School teachers for making this a reality.