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She Just Became the First African American Woman to Graduate With a PhD in Computer Science from Purdue

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She Just Became the First African American Woman to Graduate With a PhD in Computer Science from Purdue

This is the type of news we love to report! 30 year old Amber Johnson just became the first African American woman to graduate with a doctoral degree in computer science from Purdue University.

According to The Exponent, Johnson identified her love of computers early, receiving her first computer at just 4 years old. She learned to code early as well, using a Microsoft Disk Operating System (MDOS). Growing up, Johnson used to program her calculators and can even remember trying to fix her Nintendo 64 when it malfunctioned. 

“I’ve always been really into gadgets, figuring things out, taking things apart. I was self-taught,” she said.

She received her undergraduate degree in computer science from LeMoyne Owen-College in Memphis, TN and her master’s from Jackson State in Mississippi. Transitioning from HBCUs to Purdue was a shift that Johnson had to learn to navigate. 

“Coming to Purdue, I had to learn to understand the community around me,” she said. “Learning to understand the community (Black) students are in is a space that was not intentionally created for them but extended to them. It need to be filled with mentors and peers,” Johnson told The Exponent.

So that is exactly what Johnson did. She became an instructor for Girls Who Code and Black Girls Rock Tech. She continued on, becoming an active member of the Black Graduate Students Organization, a community offering help and support for Black graduate students on campus. Black students account for about 3% of all the students enrolled, and only 5.4% of graduate students at the public research university, according to their 2019 graduate enrollment survey. 

When asked how it felt to be the first African American woman at the University to become a doctor in her field of study, Johnson said, “Publicity is publicity. I don’t look [like] the stereotypical computer scientist. You don’t find many Black women in this academic space. This is what computer science can look like.”

Johnson will be starting her career as a software engineer at Northrop Grumman, one of the country’s leading companies in aerospace and defense technology.