Shamaria Engram becomes first Black woman to earn PhD in Computer Science and Engineering from USF

Ama Nunoo Jan 12, 2021 at 09:06am

January 12, 2021 at 09:06 am | Opinions & Features

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

January 12, 2021 at 09:06 am | Opinions & Features

Shamaria Engram is the first Black Woman to earn a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering at USF. Photo: WFLA

More Black women are venturing into STEM, and Dr. Shamaria Engram, who recently made history as the first Black woman to graduate from the University of South Florida’s Computer Science and Engineering doctoral program hopes she will not be the last.

For most of her school-going years, Engram stood out as the only Black student among the lot, especially since she attended a predominantly White high school, Strawberry Crest High.

After attending Bethune Cookman University, an HBCU in Daytona Beach, Engram said it was a culture shock for even as a Black person because the culturally rich environment had not been part of her formative years.

“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. 

She then moved on to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of South Florida (USF) and upon graduation, she became the first Black woman ever in four decades to graduate with a Ph.D. in USF’s CSE doctoral program since the program was instituted in the 1980s.

Being the only Black woman in the computer science program, Engram had to deal with systemic racism and snide microaggressive behaviors from some of her conference facilitators.

“I was the only Black person at a conference, I was eating breakfast and one of the keynote speakers shook everyone else’s hand but mine. It was a weird situation,” she explained.

About three years into the program, she got the news that she will be the first Black woman to graduate from her program. She admits the journey to earning a doctorate is hard, and not having a culturally diverse environment made it even harder.

“That motivated me to keep on pushing. I can’t be the first one and stop,” she said. “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 the research that gets you culturally.”

Engram weathered the storms during her Ph.D. and she is now a Technical staff at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Massachusetts and is set to begin work any moment from now.

Engram credits the Black community that helped her to keep going whenever she felt like quitting. Tapping into her own journey, she wants to change the narrative surrounding ethnic and gender diversity in STEM, especially computer science and engineering.

“I think it makes me work harder to get more people into this field that look like me because it’s definitely uncomfortable at this time,” she said to the local news outlet.

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