Pratt Profile: Terrance White

MS student, Biomedical Engineering (graduated: 2014)
Now working as a contract research associate, Dr. Cameron Bass and Dr. William Reichert were his research mentors at Duke

Tell me a little bit about yourself and where you’re from.

My name is Terrance White and I graduated in December 2014 with a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. I did my undergraduate work at Morehouse College, where I majored in physics with a minor in mathematics. I came to Duke in the fall of 2013 right after I graduated.

What made you choose to come to Duke?

I applied to a lot of PhD programs all over the country, including Duke. Then, in my final semester of college, I tore my ACL.

Funnily enough, the orthopedic surgeon who repaired it was a Duke alumnus named Dr. Thomas Branch, who took an interest in me and has helped mentor me from that point on. Less than a week later, I heard back from Duke that their PhD program was full, but that I could get a full ride in their biomedical engineering master of science program, which was ranked third in the country. It was a no-brainer.

Also, I’m actually from Durham. I was born here and moved to California when I was 13, but a lot of my family still lives here and my brother Desmond Scott played football for Duke. I saw this opportunity and thought maybe it’s time to come back and see what life is like here. And I’m so glad I made that decision.

How was the transition from Morehouse to Duke?

The transition going from Morehouse to Duke was difficult for me. The academics were on different levels. I’m not saying that Morehouse didn’t adequately prepare me, but when I came to Duke in graduate studies, it was just a whole different game.

But I got a lot of help from people who showed me how to adjust. When I was able to do that, I skyrocketed in everything that I did. Looking back, I say that Morehouse gave me the drive and determination to be able to take advantage of the opportunities at Duke, and that Duke opened up my ticket to life.

What did you find most challenging when you entered grad school? When I first got to Duke, one of the hardest courses I took was tissue engineering. I just could not get it. But Dr. Branch kept preaching into my head that I needed to learn how to use my resources to navigate campus. So I got help from my research mentors Dr. Cameron Bass and Dr. Monty Reichert, and when I got back from Christmas break I just locked myself in the library. I was determined to understand the material and overcome the trials and tribulations I had in my first semester. With that mentality, I was able to graduate early with over a 3.0 and a contract position as a research associate at United Therapeutics. It’s funny that tissue engineering gave me so much trouble my first semester, and a year and half later, tissue engineering is what I’m doing.

What advice would you give to graduate students coming to Duke?

I would tell anybody that if you come to a roadblock, don’t give up because that roadblock may be what you need to open your eyes to different possibilities. That’s what I believe Duke did for me. It revealed a whole other world that Morehouse couldn’t show me. There’s so much opportunity within this campus. There are no doors that are shut. They may be shut temporarily, but keep knocking and they will truly open.

I would also say not to be impulsive with your actions, and to carefully come up with a plan to really attack Duke. When you do, you will be amazed at the opportunities that will come. And explore Duke. Explore the people and explore the faculty members, because there are some phenomenal people here that you would never know about unless you try to tap into it. Explore every single resource and opportunity. Don’t just go to class and then go home.

What sorts of opportunities did you find when you explored the campus?

I worked for Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) under David Schaad. I was a site coordinator for six Duke undergraduates who went to El Salvador, where we built a water tank and a filtration system for the local community. That was an interesting experience.

That’s one of the things I kind of love about engineering and Pratt. Even though I was in biomedical engineering, I was able to dip into different types of engineering practices and different atmospheres. I was even going to interview for a construction company that had come to Duke Connect based off of my El Salvador trip because they saw that I had civil engineering and management experience under my belt.

I was also a part an outreach program geared toward minorities in the sciences called the Bouchet Society. I helped create and implement a plan to recruit from historically black institutions to get more minority students into the graduate programs here at Duke. There has been a stigma that minorities cannot succeed in the biomedical sciences and, as a result, there are very few minorities pursuing the field. I want to be the example that we can strive, and lift others down a similar path as I climb.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently trying to turn my contract job at United Therapeutics into a permanent position in tissue engineering. Depending on how things go, there is a possibility of return to Duke to get my PhD in tissue engineering, but I’m still trying to get a little more work experience before I make that decision. Hopefully I’ll have some options.

That’s another thing I love about Duke. The alumni really look after you. It’s almost as if it’s a fraternity here. If you went to Duke, you’re blessed with a network for life. Y’all love fellow Dukies, and that’s a blessing to have people that will continue to look after you and continue to uplift you because you share some commonality.