Black graduates are still making history in the new year.
This week, Tampa Bay native Dr. Shamaria Engram marked a historic milestone as the first Black woman to graduate from the University of South Florida’s Computer Science and Engineering doctoral program, WFLA reports.
In the 40-plus years that USF’s Computer Science and Engineering doctoral program has been around, no Black woman has graduated with such a degree, but thanks to Dr. Engram that has since changed.
Dr. Engram recalls growing up often times being the only Black person in the room having attended Strawberry Crest High School — which was known as a predominately white school.
“You kind of have to put on this face because you don’t want someone to look at you differently,” she told WFLA. “You want them to consider you as smart as everyone else in the room.”
After graduating high school, she went on to attend Bethune Cookman University, an HBCU located in Daytona Beach.
Throughout her undergraduate career, she grew accustomed to seeing students who looked like her, but that changed when she went off to USF to pursue her doctoral degree.
“For a while, I was the only black female in the Computer Science program until about two years in,” she told WFLA.
She also shared that she was typically the only Black woman at the majority of the conferences she attended as a student, except those geared toward minorities.
“I was the only Black person at a conference,” she said. “I was eating breakfast and one of the keynote speakers shook everyone else’s hand but mine. It was a weird situation.”
According to Dr. Engram, the network of friends she built up from attending those conferences helped her get through the five years it took her to earn her Ph.D.
WFLA reports that three years into her doctoral program, Dr. Engram learned that she would be the first Black woman to graduate from her school’s Computer Science and Engineering Doctoral Program.
“That motivated me to keep on pushing. I can’t be the first one and stop,” she said. “The PhD 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.”
While Dr. Engram has made history as the first of her kind in her doctoral program, she certainly won’t be the last to open doors for other students who look like her.
“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.
Dr. Engram hopes her story inspires other young Black women to pursue their passions, including those who wish to have careers in STEM.
According to WFLA, Dr. Engram has already landed a job as Technical Staff at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Massachusetts, starting this week.