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Shirley Mathis McBay: UGA's first Black Ph.D. graduate

Alan Flurry

When she earned her doctorate in mathematics from the University of Georgia in 1966, just five years after the university was desegregated, Shirley Mathis McBay was already on her way to becoming one of our most important Georgia Groundbreakers:

It’s been over 30 years since Shirley Mathis McBay first went to Capitol Hill with an urgent message.

She implored members of Congress to take action to increase the numbers of minorities and women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. And she didn’t mince words.

“In the search for knowledge in science and engineering, the worst intellectual crime one can commit is to prejudice one’s results, to prejudge how something will turn out. However, this is precisely what we are doing when we fail—from elementary school to graduate school—to encourage women and minorities to enter the fields of science and engineering,” McBay told the congressional panel, titled “Reclaiming Human Talent.”

At the time, she was MIT’s dean for student affairs and chair of the National Science Foundation’s committee on equal opportunity in science and engineering. A few years later, she’d launch the Quality Education for Minorities Network, a nonprofit dedicated to improving education for underrepresented students throughout the country.

She knew firsthand the difficulties facing African Americans who aspired to pursue advanced degrees.


Our entire country is indebted to Dr. McBay and leaders like her who have paved the way for so many others to follow, but also for example they provided to the many who once stood in her way. By her example, we to learn how justice and equality for all are requirements of a healthy society.

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