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Monday, January 18, 2021

First Black Woman to Receive a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering at Univ. of South Florida

Dr. Shamaria Engram

Tampa Bay, FL — Dr. Shamaria Engram has become the first Black woman to graduate from the Computer Science and Engineering doctoral program at the University of South Florida since the program launched 40 years ago.

Almost all her life, Engram has been used to being the only Black person in the room. She graduated from Strawberry Crest High, a predominantly white high school, before attending an HBCU, Bethune Cookman University, for her undergraduate studies.

“You kind of have to put on this face because you don’t want someone to look at you differently. You want them to consider you as smart as everyone else in the room. I went to an HBCU, and at first, it was a culture shock because I went to a predominantly white high school,” Engram told WFLA.

When she enrolled at USF, she was again the only Black woman in the Computer Science program in the first two years. At that time, she experienced discrimination such as being ignored in group works and some academic conferences.

Despite that, she kept going. She founded the National Society of Black Engineers with other minority students and they helped each other persevere. She was also inspired when she knew a year before her graduation that she would be making history as the first Black woman to graduate from the program.

“That motivated me to keep on pushing. I can’t be the first one and stop. The Ph.D. is hard, and with me being the only Black woman in this department, you don’t have a lot of people to talk to about your research that get you culturally,” Engram said.

Now with a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering, Engram works as a Technical Staff job at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Massachusetts. She hopes to also inspire other Black people, especially Black women.

“I think it makes me work harder to get more people in this field that look like me because it’s definitely uncomfortable at this time,” she added.

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