Senior Profile / Aminah Baxter: Mentoring Others Toward Bright Futures

Issue Date: 
May 2, 2016

Aminah BaxterAminah Baxter is huddled with a high school student in a sunny alcove in Benedum Hall. She tutors in INVESTING NOW, a Pitt Swanson School of Engineering precollege program, and together she and the young man review geometry concepts. They are working to complete the teen’s homework, but also to strengthen his math skills and confidence. At Benedum, dozens of other teenagers are being tutored, too, not only in algebra and calculus, but also in life. 

Baxter has come to this space practically every day since she enrolled at Pitt. For two or three hours in the afternoon, part of her equation is to encourage young people, nudging them toward futures as bright as the space in which they gather. 

“I didn’t have this when I was growing up,” says Baxter. “There was no one to meet me in a college hallway and help me with math when I was in high school. So, it was important to me that I give back.”

Coming to Pitt required a “leap of faith.” She knew nothing of the school until a postcard from the University arrived in her mailbox four summers ago. After some research on the academics and opportunities here, she enrolled and set foot on campus for the first time. It was a good decision. Today, Baxter graduates with a bachelor’s degree in math from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and a certificate in African Studies from Pitt’s University Center for International Studies. She also minored in Chinese.

Growing up in West Orange, N.J., Baxter remembers early on how she and her mother, Yasmine Oates, had to change homes often, finding care and shelter on the sofas and in the basements of family. Baxter’s mother persevered. Through it all, she worked two jobs and continuously encouraged her daughter to pursue a quality education and to travel the world. “She truly is a role model for a strong woman in my life,” says Baxter.

“I know we didn’t necessarily have luxury items, but we didn’t let that be a major identification of our lives.” Baxter and her mother decided then that lack of finances did not have to mean a lack of desire to achieve. “My mother told me that if you really want it, you’ll get it,” says Baxter. “Just be prepared to do the extra work.”

Baxter did the extra. She came to Pitt with top math grades and three years of high school Chinese—and she will be the first in her family to earn a college degree. Pitt’s Office of Student Support Services gave her advice on what classes to take, how to work with her professors, and how to stay afloat during that critical first year at Pitt. 

Baxter became a peer mentor with that group. Like a big sister, she doled out practical, yet heartfelt, advice.

“It was important for me to do this work. These students are learning what most students already know,” says Baxter, who has led Student Support Services workshops on everything from resume writing to study skills. Then there are the informal chats Baxter has had with them over coffee, in dorm rooms, and even online, about things that she’s learned—finding scholarship money and jobs, and getting the chance of a lifetime to study abroad. 

As a Pitt undergraduate, Baxter was awarded the opportunity to travel abroad through the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership, studying Swahili and public health issues in Tanzania, East Africa. She also served as a resident assistant in Nordenberg and Sutherland residence halls. In addition to her involvement with Student Support Services, she is a member of the Association for Women in Mathematics, a national professional organization.

Consistent throughout her time at Pitt has been her work with INVESTING NOW, where she tutors teens—many of whom are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math fields—to tap into their dreams. “I look at these children,” says Baxter, “and I see myself when I was their age.” 

Darryl T. Wiley was the assistant director of INVESTING NOW when he first met Baxter and decided to give the stand-out freshman a chance to be a tutor, a position that usually goes to upperclassmen. Baxter bonded with the students. She shared their joy when their grades improved and made sure they stayed focused on their future. 

Wiley, who became CEO of the Pittsburgh-based Fund for Advancement of Minorities through Education (FAME), a college-preparatory and philanthropy program for African American students, hired Baxter when she was a junior to teach FAME’s math classes and coach its math team.  

“Aminah was smart and mature, yet young at heart,” says Wiley, who not only was “impressed with her outstanding math skills,” but with her ability “to connect with children.” 

This spring, the FAME students placed second in a national mathematics competition. Much of the credit for their first big win, Wiley says, is owed to Coach Baxter, who taught the students that “math has the power to open doors.” 

The satisfaction that comes from working with young people has made it clear to Baxter what’s next. In the fall, she will teach math at North Star Academy, a college preparatory school in Newark, N.J. No doubt, she will create new math lovers and help unleash her students’ wildest dreams.