2021 Tillman Scholar

Talaya White

Columbia University

“In life, you should always give it everything, because I have yet to see where nothing makes a change.”

Talaya took initiative as the first in her family to join the United States Navy as a nuclear electrician even against her family’s wishes. With no prior knowledge about the Navy, she was motivated by the opportunity to travel and earn college credits. She was disappointed to find out she will never receive temporary additional duty orders to assist with humanitarian operations.

She began volunteering with local organizations that extended to a national and global level. She started to take online classes for a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. She distributed power through the ship as an electrical operator. One day, shore power was lost, and she had to quickly transfer the electrical distribution to the emergency diesels for power. She realized the demands of electrical engineering. She reflected on how much change can occur in underdeveloped communities. Considering all her efforts and abilities, the Navy selected her for the STA-21 program, where she majors in electrical engineering and minored in psychology at Columbia University.

She admires the current incorporation of STEM, but it is limited. She desires to utilize her two degrees by providing youth an outlet to improve their own lives and not succumb to stereotypes. She is working on a policy to provide financial literacy to youth after being incarcerated. The exposure of STEM will be utilized as a motivation for income and psychological improvement. She uses her experiences and education to create a movement involving people and production.