“Am I really the first?”

That was the first thought that came to mind when Kyla McMullen, 29, found out she would soon become University of Michigan’s first African-American female computer science PhD alumna this past year.

McMullen later decided to go to the records office to search for another fellow black female alumnus to connect with. But she soon discovered that she was the only black female student in the history of the program.

“Typically when  you think of someone who is in computer science. you think of a person who is a geek — with pocket protectors, suspenders and highwater pants,” McMullen joked in a phone interview with theGrio. “African-American women often don’t think ‘Okay, I wanna be that [nerd].””

While McMullen’s graduation this past spring marked a racial landmark for Michigan’s computer science department, she said that her experience in the department was sometimes “isolating” because she had very few people to turn to 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 said. “Everyone knows Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but there is really no one famous that is African-American. 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.”

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