Clemson University Grooms African American Ph.D.s in Computer Science
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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Juan E. Gilbert, Ph.D. (center), chair of Clemson University's Human-Centered Computing division

Three years into his doctoral studies, Juan E. Gilbert, Ph.D., didn’t know any other African Americans with Ph.D.s in computer science. “I always thought I was the only one,” says Gilbert. Almost 14 years later he is chair of Clemson University’s Human-Centered Computing division, where 12 of his 15 Ph.D. students and, come the fall, six of the faculty members will be African American.

While most computer science programs struggle to enroll even one black student, Clemson has 16 African American Ph.D. candidates (among the School of Computing’s HCC and computer science programs, which equated to 9.3% of all computer science Ph.D. candidates during the 2010-2011 academic year), and Gilbert says that seven black students have confirmed they will attend Clemson this fall.

Computer science is expected to be one of the fastest-growing occupations through 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The good news is that the enrollment of African American graduate students in computer science and math increased 33.6% between the fall semesters of 2009 and 2010, reports the Council of Graduate Schools. The bad news is that the increase is still only a drop in the bucket considering that only 1.4% of graduates with Ph.D.s in computer science, computer engineering, and information sciences last year were black, according to the Computing Research Association.

So what makes this program so special? Research shows that minorities gravitate to social science careers or helping professions, says Gilbert. HCC is popular with minorities and women because it unites STEM and social science. Studies also show that African Americans flourish in environments with a strong support group of other high-achieving African Americans.

Touching Humans Through Technology
Human-centered computing is about using technology, information, policy, and culture to solve real-world problems, and Gilbert’s HCC division has been quite successful thus far. The State of Oregon used Prime III, the lab’s hands-free voting technology, in five counties during the 2012 Republican primary. In June 2011, the United States Election Assistance Commission awarded Gilbert and his lab a three-year, $4.5 million grant from the Research Alliance for Accessible Voting.

Gilbert received the White House’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring last November. The award included $25,000 from the National Science Foundation to advance his mentoring efforts.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.