In 1994, Tifferney White was planning to graduate from Johnson C. Smith University and take a gap year before heading to medical school…or so she thought.
As a way to practice her interviewing skills, White’s professor suggested that she apply to Discovery Place science museum, which was hiring for a community outreach position.
“My professor said ‘Discovery Place is interviewing, and you should go and get some practice,’” she recalled. “So I came here to get some practice. Three interviews later, they were offering me a job.”
The first-generation college student became the museum’s first science club specialist, a role that would expose STEM to youth who didn’t have the opportunity to visit a science museum. It was a perfect combination that mixed White’s chemistry and psychology majors with her tutoring experience in the former Earle Village public housing community.
She stayed with the museum through 2007, reaching director of community outreach, until relocating to Las Vegas where she eventually became President & CEO of the Las Vegas Discovery Children’s Museum.
White reminisced about the story from 25 years ago as she sat in Discovery Place’s education studio, now with her title as the organization’s first Chief Learning Officer. She returned to Charlotte in 2017 to lead Discovery Place’s educational agenda for its four museums, community outreach program and teacher professional development center.
“My mom always says, ‘tell God your plans and then he laughs and tells you what you’re supposed to be doing,’” she said.
Here’s more from our conversation.
You came back to Charlotte in 2017. What were some of the biggest changes you noticed?
Everything (laughs). I came back to a city that I didn’t know, so I had to relearn.
What drew me back though, is because I had done work with underserved students. I knew that in order for that change to be systemic, Charlotte needed to change. Charlotte needed to be in a different place or we would just continue to do the same things. We would continue to have these programs and then put these students right back into the same neighborhoods and there’s no support for them.
What really made the decision for me was when I looked at the economic mobility task force reports. I could go back in a different position — a different place in the organization — and really work on some systemic change. It’s really going to affect people’s lives and break some cycles.
Where does Charlotte need to do better when it comes to opportunities for diversity in STEM?
I would say funding. We have a lot of nonprofits that are doing great work. We know what to do, we know how to set it up so that it works, we have experience, but we don’t necessarily have the funding that it takes to make the big systemic change. I hate to say funding because I know that people don’t want to hear that, but that’s really where I think it is.
When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
Not at work, what does that mean? (laughs)
I love what I do, so I tend to give a lot to work. Knowing that I was coming into a brand new position, I knew that for the first couple of years I was going to have to give more than normal. But outside of that, I do have some friends that I love spending time with.
What are your top local businesses?
I like Price’s [Chicken Coop] for sure. I live uptown, so I try to go out in the area. I like Loft & Cellar.
I’ve been on the hunt for a nice lounge for a jazz vibe. I love jazz music.
Katrina Louis is managing editor of qcitymetro.com who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.