Carnegie Mellon University
October 31, 2023

Humanity and Humility

Teraya White Wins 2023 Staff Community Excellence Award

By Emily Nagin

For Teraya White, service is a way of life.

As the academic program manager for the Master of Science in Applied Data Science (MADS) program in the Department of Statistics & Data Science, White is responsible for MADS students’ full progression through the program. In addition to serving as an advisor, she is responsible for recruiting a diverse array of applicants. From the day they apply to the day they graduate, she shepherds students’ academic, professional and personal development. To White, this position is less a job than a calling.

“My work is dedicated to those students who need community to keep them lifted as they climb,” she said.

White’s passion and dedication were recently honored at Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences Sept. 27 Connections and Conversation Luncheon, when she received the 2023 Staff Community Excellence Award.

 “This award celebrates acts of kindness and encourages people to make a positive difference in someone’s life,” said Ayana Ledford, associate dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Dietrich College. “It’s a recognition of our community champions who strive to create a better tomorrow.”

The award is presented annually to Dietrich College staff members who embody the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) by providing leadership, creating and enhancing inclusive climates and connecting the larger community to college DEIB efforts.

Teraya White perfectly embodies these attributes. During her time at Carnegie Mellon, she has performed outreach to over 30 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), spreading the word about the MADS program and significantly increasing applicants from historically underrepresented backgrounds. White also organized the first departmental framework for partial tuition offsets, so that qualifying historically underrepresented students can be supported once they arrive at CMU. Four of these offsets have been awarded as of fall 2023.

“Teraya is an ideal representative for the [MADS] program,” said Jamie McGovern, special faculty and program director of MADS. “Her boundless enthusiasm and energy and dedication inspire staff, faculty and the graduate students she mentors.”

Arsh Gupta graduated from the MADS program in 2023 and worked closely with White while at Carnegie Mellon.

“My learning journey with Teraya transcends traditional academic and career advisories,” Gupta said. “From her, I learned that each individual’s journey is distinct, and the power of truly listening and understanding can unveil tailored strategies to address specific needs and aspirations. It’s a lesson that’s not only shaped my academic career trajectory, but also enriched my interpersonal relationships.” 

White is also an advocate for undergraduate students, helping to build the Bridges to Healthcare Technology summer program. The program supports undergraduate statistical research through a sponsored partnership between the Statistics & Data Science Department and UnitedHealth Group/Optum Tech. In addition to growing the program by performing outreach, White collaborated with UnitedHealth Group/Optum Tech to develop the program’s approach to recruiting. She also advises the admitted summer students, 90% of whom come from historically underrepresented populations.

White’s work extends into the greater Pittsburgh community as well. In 2021, she was recognized by the New Pittsburgh Courier as a Woman of Excellence for her efforts within the community. A Pittsburgh native, White said she was raised in a family that “prioritized integrity, character and service,” and these values have shaped her as a person. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which was incorporated and founded on public service, and volunteers her time with several local organizations. One of these, the AD99 Foundation, is dedicated to “leveling the playing field for underserved youth” by “providing education and resources in supportive and safe environments.” Through White’s efforts, the Department of Statistics & Data Science now partners with AD99 to deploy analytics platforms for the foundation. White also helped organize the department’s high school data science summer camp. Most of the camp’s participants attend the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), the same school system from which White graduated. She described this collaboration as her proudest accomplishment at CMU.

“This was a full-circle moment,” she said.

While education has played a major role in White’s life, her experience has not always been smooth. She described her time at college as full of extreme highs and lows.

“What made the difference in my experience was that I had a community of staff members who stood with me to ensure that I would both survive and thrive,” she explained. “All of these experiences are the foundation of how I approach my life and my career — which is to treat everyone with the greatest humanity and to serve others with the greatest humility.”

Now, White’s work serves as inspiration to the CMU students she advises.

“Teraya listens to what you are passionate about and then tries to help you achieve it,” said MADS student Courtney Middaugh. “I hope to one day support others as much as Teraya supports those around her.”