Only 16 African American women teach computer science and engineering in universities across the county, according to a report. UF employs four of them.
UF’s Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering announced Feb. 21 it was named No. 1 for the most African American female faculty members. The rankings were measured by the American Society for Engineering Education, a nonprofit organization that focuses on advancing engineering education, said Juan Gilbert, the department chair.
Nationally, 179 public and private universities sent in their demographics to be measured. About 2,800 computer and information science faculty members were reported — only 16 were female African Americans.
“We are extremely proud of this accomplishment,” Gilbert said. “We believe it represents what it means to be a UF engineering Gator.”
The department also had the highest number of African American faculty members. Out of the 42 African American faculty reported nationally, UF employs five.
Out of the 482 women reported in the field nationally, UF employs 12.
The field of computer engineering and sciences lacks diversity, Gilbert said. So UF’s department strives to be inclusive of members from different backgrounds.
“If you have greater diversity, you have better ideas,” he said.
Grace McGowan, a 19-year-old UF computer science engineering freshman, said she chose her major because she knew, as a woman, she would be a minority. She thought she could stand out in the field.
While most of her classmates are male and a small number are African American, McGowan said the recognition shows that the department is taking steps toward diversity.
“I feel proud to be a part of a college and a school that is dedicated to promoting engineers of all race and genders to succeed,” she said.
Kyla McMullen, a UF assistant professor, is one of the four African American female faculty members in the department. She said she knows firsthand the lack of diversity in her field.
She was the first African American woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan in 2012.
McMullen said she remembers feeling isolated during her graduate years. Once when she went to an adviser for guidance, he just suggested that she should change majors.
Those experiences made her want to serve as a mentor for minority students who may have similar feelings, she said.
McMullen said departments should be trying to make an effort to have diversity in their faculty and students. But this accomplishment for UF gives her hope and shows the strides African Americans have made in the field.
“We are the hopes and the dreams of our ancestors,” she said.