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Nov. 9, 2023

Graduate Voice: Jamell Dacon shares his doctoral journey

Turning first-generation barriers into historical firsts

Nov. 9, 2023

Jamell Dacon earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science and engineering from Michigan State University in 2020 and 2023, respectively. In September 2023, Dacon became an assistant professor in computer science at Morgan State University, a historically Black research university in Baltimore, Maryland. 

As a child, my fascination with numbers and how computer programs worked was a constant source of wonder. However, it wasn’t until I turned 15 and received my first laptop that this curiosity indeed took root. It marked the beginning of my journey into the world of computer science and mathematics.

In January 2014, I received a scholarship to attend Medgar Evers College at the City University of New York. This opportunity required me to leave my home in Trinidad and Tobago and move to the bustling city of New York. It was a significant change, but it allowed me to chase my childhood dreams of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. 

In August 2018, I began a new chapter by joining the Data Science and Engineering Lab at MSU, led by University Foundation Professor Jiliang Tang. This marked the beginning of my doctoral journey in computer science. However, I quickly realized the need for more diversity in the doctoral program and the field of computer science and engineering, or CSE. The absence of Black students and faculty made me feel like an anomaly, and navigating this landscape was challenging. However, I persevered, drawing strength from my grandmother's favorite quote: “Bloom wherever you are planted.”

As a first-generation graduate student, I began to grapple with feelings of depression and dissonance, seeking out programs and communities that could provide a sense of belonging. A pivotal step was joining the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate. Program Director Steven Thomas leads this National Science Foundation-funded program, which supports underrepresented minorities in the doctoral program. With the unwavering support of my family, friends and newfound colleagues, I realized that my journey was part of something larger.

Read more from Jamell Dacon in this Graduate Voice on MSUToday.