After Kyla McMullen became the University of Michigan's first African-American female computer science Ph.D. alumna this past year, she revealed that her experience in the department was sometimes isolating because there were few people she could rely on for mentorship. "If you're a black woman who's interested [in computer science], you think you're going to be the only person that looks like you," McMullen says. "The lack of role models or even the lack of someone who looks like you is one huge factor that influences why black women don't pursue computer science."
McMullen's experiences prompted her to advocate for greater diversity at the university and she was president of the Society of Minority Engineers and Scientists – Graduate Component, and vice president of the Movement of Underrepresented Sisters in Engineering and Science.
"African-American women traditionally tend to gravitate toward fields that are not lucrative in their pay scale," McMullen says. "People just discount [computer science] in general, but they're selling themselves short at the end of day." Of the 1,400 Ph.D. students in computer science, less than 25 percent of them were female and only 1.2 percent were African-American, according to the 2010-2011 Computing Research Association Taulbee Survey.
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