MIT Technology Review
MIT Technology Review

Rediet Abebe To Become First Black Woman At Cornell University To Earn A Ph.D. In Computer Science


The computer scientist focuses on using technology to combat social issues.

Black women are reaching new heights in academia and making history in the process. According to The Cornell Daily Sun, Ethiopian computer scientist Rediet Abebe will become the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Cornell University.

Abebe, 28, has concentrated her research on using artificial intelligence and algorithms as tools for social good. She utilizes technology as an avenue to close the opportunity gap for historically disenfranchised communities. Her upbringing in Addis Ababa serves as the inspiration behind her work. While coming of age she witnessed first-hand how income inequity negatively impacts communities. Abebe—who is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows—co-founded a research project and workshop series dubbed Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG). She also co-created a nonprofit organization called Black in AI which focuses on empowering people of color to pursue careers in artificial intelligence.

Abebe—who holds an M.S. in applied mathematics from Harvard, an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University—also sits on the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on AI. Her thesis titled Designing Algorithms for Social Good highlighted ways to combat income inequality.

“I realized that actually, if you do computer science or applied mathematics and ultimately other fields, you can work on these really interesting challenging mathematical questions you can do a lot of data-driven work, you can play with data, but you can also think about problems that affect society immediately,” said Abebe. She is slated to receive her degree on December 21.

There is a major need for diversity in the artificial intelligence field. Research shows that Black women account for only 3 percent of AI workers.

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