Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Just like Magic

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Just like Magic

Article excerpt

An early curiosity for the world of high technology led Dr. Kyla McMullen to become the first African-American woman with a Ph.D. in engineering and computer science from the University of Michigan. She's now an assistant professor at the University of Florida.

"When I was younger, I always liked things that were computerized," McMullen says. "I like magic, too, and to me, computer science was just like magic. You press a button and something happens in a whole [other] place. I really was intrigued by what in the world made computers run."

McMullen explored that riddle after her parents moved from Washington, D.C., to Prince George's County, Maryland, purchased the family's first computer, and enrolled their daughter in the science and technology track at a local high school.

"When I was in high school, we got our first computer, and I would literally stay up all night looking at everything on a computer," McMullen recalls.

A Black teacher of a computer math class served as an early role model. McMullen figured that he "can do computer science. He's cool. He's not weird. That really made me [want] to study more, because I struggled in the beginning."

The next step came when a guidance counselor encouraged her to apply to the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She won one of the scholarships, designed to produce minority Ph.D.s in STEM fields, on her way to becoming a first-generation college graduate.

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McMullen almost was diverted from computer science, though, during graduate school at the University of Michigan. She went to see the graduate chair to seek a solution to a specific problem--an adviser who was not providing advice.

The graduate chair's response was, 'Hey, computer science is not for everybody. You should consider some other options.' He just started naming all these other things that he thought [were] appropriate for me--pretty much saying, people who look like you don't do this."

But McMullen also went to see the faculty advocate for Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, a program that the National Science Foundation funds to increase underrepresented minorities in STEM. The advocate, Dr. Gregory Wakefield, shared her interest in sound in virtual space. …

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