For the Culture: USF student makes history as first Black woman to graduate from CSE doctoral program

For The Culture

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Dr. Shamaria Engram has made history as the first Black woman to graduate from the University of South Florida’s Computer Science and Engineering doctoral program.

USF’s Computer Science and Engineering doctoral program has been around since the early 1980s. In nearly 40 years, no Black woman has graduated with this degree. That has now changed, thanks to Dr. Engram.

“You kind of have to put on this face because you don’t want someone to look at you differently,” said Dr. Engram, who was born and raised in Tampa Bay. “You want them to consider you as smart as everyone else in the room.”

Dr. Engram grew up often times being the only Black person in the room. She attended Strawberry Crest High School, which was predominately white. After graduating, she attending Bethune Cookman University, a Historical Black University in Daytona Beach.

“I went to an HBCU and at first it was a culture shock because I went to a predominately white high school,” she said.

At BCU, the majority of her classmates looked like her. That all changed when she graduated and came to USF to pursue her doctoral degree in Computer Science and Engineering. At USF, she was the minority.

“For a while, I was the only black female in the Computer Science program until about two years in,” Engram added.

Engram told 8 On Your Side there were moments where she felt singled out as the only Black woman in the room.

“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.

Engram says she was typically the only Black woman at majority of the conferences she attended. That’s except for conferences that were geared toward minority students like with the National Society of Black Engineers. The network of friends she gained from conferences like those helped her get through her five years of working to obtain her PhD.

“I think it was just the community I built with the other people I built during my fellowship that really helped,” she said.

Three years into her doctoral program, Engram learned she would be the first Black woman to graduate from USF’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.”

However, that didn’t stop her from being the epitome of Black Girl Magic. Dr. Shamaria Engram, the first, but certainly, not the last.

“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 to help young minority women pursue their passions. She also hopes to inspire more Black women to purse careers in STEM. Dr. Engram has also landed a job already. She will work as Technical Staff at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Massachusetts beginning this week.

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