Washington People: Andrew Whitaker

Biomedical engineering major Andrew Whitaker juggles life in pandemic while continuing to give back, play two sports and take classes

Leslie Gibson McCarthy 
Senior biomedical engineering major Andrew Whitaker helped build a cookstove during a recent trip to Honduras. (Courtesy photo)
Senior biomedical engineering major Andrew Whitaker helped build a cookstove during a recent trip to Honduras. (Courtesy photo)

Andrew Whitaker has spent his undergraduate career at Washington University in St. Louis giving back.

A biomedical engineering major at the McKelvey School of Engineering, he has danced and played with kids who have cerebral palsy so they can put on a dance recital through Dance CPSR (Cerebral Palsy Sports Rehabilitation).

A two-sport athlete in football and track, he has spent weekends with kids on the autism spectrum, guiding them through exercises to improve coordination and social skills through the Bear Cubs running program.

An Annika Rodriguez Scholar, he has traveled to Honduras for a week, helping doctors assist patients with basic medical needs through a program called Global Brigades. He also has been involved in the McKelvey Takes Responsibility Campaign and WU BLAC.

Yet when Whitaker — who recently was selected as one of 22 college football players from all three NCAA divisions for the prestigious Allstate American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team — is asked what, if any, of these experiences had the most meaning for him, he responds, “Whatever I’m doing now.”

Right now, that would be his work with the local nonprofit Asthma & Allergy Foundation of St. Louis, helping kids afflicted with a disease of the lungs that is even more dangerous in this time of COVID-19.

Andrew Whitaker

What began as an internship this past summer has turned into a project near and dear to this defensive back’s heart. With the help of the Gephardt Institute for Civic & Community Engagement, for which he also serves as a Bob and Gerry Virgil Civic Scholar, Whitaker spearheaded a project to send medical supplies to every school district in the St. Louis area. He set up and managed a website through the foundation that school nurses could access and request kits to have on hand. And when the kits were ready to send, he enlisted his football teammates to help assemble boxes.

“It was good to know that when schools opened this fall, there were kids with asthma who had a fighting chance against COVID because of these kits,” he said.

All from a senior who, like his teammates and classmates, admittedly is having the toughest year of his undergraduate career. Much of his campus life this semester has been experienced from his nearby campus apartment, and the football team only recently began socially distanced practices on Francis Olympic Field. He’s also just starting to work out with the track team.

“The whole year has been humbling, and it gives you so much time to reflect on what matters,” he said, referring not only to the pandemic but also the social unrest that erupted this summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

“I’m a senior in college, and I don’t want to waste any more time,” he said. “Simply being around friends is meaningful — the games we play, the meals we eat together. These things really matter.

“And as a senior on the football team, as a captain on the track team, I now feel like if I can inspire someone, I should,” he said. “If I can share my experiences about being Black and get my teammates to look at things through a different lens in terms of the social injustices going on, I will.”

Whitaker, a native of Cincinnati, said medical school is likely in his future, but he hopes to take a year off after he graduates to travel, maybe participate in an international fellowship of some kind, and figure out his next step.

More information about the Good Works nomination is available here, including an opportunity to vote him team captain through Nov. 22. Meanwhile, the honors keep coming. Whitaker also recently was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, awarded by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame. Like the Good Works award, it spans all NCAA divisions and recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation for his combined academic success, football performance and exemplary leadership.

He continues to take all the accolades and honors in stride. “You never expect to be honored at all when you’re simply helping people,” he said.

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