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

Dr. Shamaria Engram

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.

Engram has practically lived her whole life in situations where she is the only person of colour present. Before enrolling at Bethune Cookman University, an HBCU, for her college studies, she completed her high school education at Strawberry Crest High, a primarily white institution.

“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 was once again the sole Black woman enrolled in USF’s first two years of the Computer Science department. During that period, she encountered prejudice, including being overlooked in group projects and specific academic conferences. She carried on despite that. Together with other students of colour, she created the National Society of Black Engineers, and they supported one another throughout their struggles. She was also motivated by the knowledge that a year before graduation, she would become the first Black woman to complete the program, making history.

“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.

Engram, who holds a doctorate in computer science and engineering, is currently employed as a technical staff member at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Massachusetts. She wants to serve as an inspiration for other Black people, particularly 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.