France Jackson, 29, and Jessica Jones, 28, made history on May 4 by becoming the first African American women to receive PhDs from the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department at UF.

Both Jackson and Jones graduated with their doctorates in human-centric computing from the Wertheim College of Engineering. They said they are eager to encourage other women to pursue science, technology, engineering and math majors as well.

“We have to have more role models for girls,” Jones said.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, women made up around 47 percent the workforce in 2017. Only 25 percent of employed women held STEM positions.

The same report also noted that while men and women make up around the same amount of all college degree holders, only 30 percent of all STEM degrees are held by women.

Jones and Jackson agreed the best way to motivate the next generation of women to major in STEM degrees is through representation and encouragement.

“You rarely see women in STEM on TV,” said Jones. “If you do, then they’re the stereotypical nerds, but there’s no one way to be a woman in STEM.”

Jackson said she believes a love for engineering and science should be nourished, and she had advice to share with other women interested in technology.

“You are just as smart as everyone else in the room, and you deserve to be there,” Jackson said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t feel like just because you may not be the majority in the class that you can’t be successful at it.”

Both Jones and Jackson received their master’s degrees from Clemson University. Jackson received her master’s degree in industrial engineering, while Jones got hers in computer engineering. They had both already broken into the world of STEM careers before receiving their doctorates.

Jones currently works as a research scientist for the Navy. Jackson began working full time in January. She builds  what she described as innovative application experiences for Intel Corp.

Follow Dana Cassidy on Twitter @danacassidy_ and contact her at [email protected].