Office Hours: Allanté Whitmore

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Allanté W. @blkingradschool

Civil Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy Joint Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University

M.S. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

B.S. in Biological Engineering from North Carolina A&T


What inspired you to attend grad school?

Instead of going home to Detroit for the summer after sophomore year, I decided to stay on campus. I asked my department chair for a summer job. I figured I’d be doing some clerical work but instead I was in a lab creating cellulosic bioethanol--and I was hooked. I always aspired to be a professor but I was planning to return to my love for math after undergrad but the research kept me in engineering.


Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?

I’ll get back to you on that one lol. It’s still a struggle.


If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?

"Finish Line / Drown" (feat. T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane & Noname)  by Chance the Rapper. This is an experience I’ve worked hard and prayed for. And each day is a step closer to the ultimate finish line. Sometimes the finish line is just staying in the office another hour, or finishing an homework assignment. It’s all getting me closer to the Ph.D.!


What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?

My biggest obstacle so far has been balance.I’m a grad student, an entrepreneur and most importantly, I am a caregiver with my mom to my grandfather. I travel home a lot to give my mom a break and I try my best to spend time with him uninterrupted so I usually have to complete majority of my work before I drive home. That means a lot of hours on the road between Pittsburgh and Detroit, I’ve learned to find podcasts relevant to my work and I’ll be trying talk to text to write when I’m in the car.


What has this experience (pursuing a graduate degree) taught you about yourself?

I am without a doubt a procrastinator. I’m doing better but it’s a bad habit grad school is forcing me to unlearn. Beside that I am persistent. I took a break after my Master’s degree, but I’d already decided I was coming back to academia. In the back of my head, I was a little nervous I wouldn’t follow through, but when 2016 came around I was ready to get back on track and I’m enthusiastic about being back.


If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself?

Get ready for a culture shock. 

You should’ve started reading at least two weeks ago.

You’ll be ok.


How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?

My experiences have differed greatly from my peers. Some of my courses now focus on transportation infrastructure and policy implications. The conversations about how policy effects lower socioeconomic status and/or people of color isn’t a conversation about ‘others’ as it is for most of my peers. It’s personal, and I am still figuring out the best way to voice concerns as I learn more and expand my ability to ‘speak like an academic’ (which I can go on another tangent about).


How do you intend to use your degree in the future?

I am proud product of an HBCU and plan to take the resources and prestige of CMU right back to an HBCU and serve students as a professor. People assume HBCUs are full of Black professors but in engineering I only had a handful and there was only one professor that was a Black woman. So I’m going back.


What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?

Try to avoid leaving and coming back if you can. Going from having a salary to the graduate student stipend really hurts.

Feel free to reach out to Allanté:

Follow on Twitter: @blkingradschool, and Instagram: @heyitLL