First African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in computer science at Purdue

Amber Johnson will walk across the stage at Purdue's Summer Commencement 2019

Posted: Aug 2, 2019 6:45 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Amber Johnson has made history in becoming the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in computer science at Purdue University.

“I got my first computer when I was four years old and my mama did not know how to work it so she called this computer guy over to teach her how to use it and I was in the room. I learned. I pretty much taught my mama how to use a computer,” said Johnson.

She started tinkering and fixing other gadgets, like VCRs and cd players as a kid, developing a love of technology. In her college years she went on to get a computer science bachelor’s degree from LeMoyne-Owen College in Tennessee, then a masters from Jackson State University in her native Mississippi.

When she decided to continue her education and enroll in the computer science program at Purdue in the fall of 2013, she learned she was on track to become the first Black female to receive a Ph.D. in the computer science department.

“It actually didn't cross my mind until people found out about it and then people would bring it up all the time,” said Johnson.

Purdue implemented the program in 1962. She said thinking of having this historic title felt overwhelming at first but now it brings her joy.

“I love the title because now people know, now little brown girls, little girls, little boys, whatever, will know that computer science is possible for them, for anybody,” said Johnson.

Those following in her footsteps, family and most importantly her faith is what has kept her motivated through the years.

“Times when I thought that I couldn't get through, times that I didn't know what was going on, what I was doing or even forgetting why I was here, God stepped in,” said Johnson. “So many people came to my rescue or came to mentor me.”

Before she graduates, she's leaving one lesson behind for those following her path.

“It's not about, you know, making the best grades, of course, apply yourself do as best as you can, but you can do this. It's yours. And don't let anybody tell you otherwise,” said Johnson.

Johnson will be moving to Maryland to work as a computer software engineer. She's walking across the stage at Purdue's Summer Commencement 2019.

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