The University of Georgia dedicated its science library Friday for Shirley Mathis McBay, the first Black student to receive a Ph.D. from the university and the first woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics from UGA.
McBay went on to a long and distinguished career as an educator, administrator and advocate who worked tirelessly to promote the participation and advancement of minorities and women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
She began her career as a math professor at Spelman College and then became dean for student affairs at MIT and chair of the National Science Foundation’s committee on equal opportunity in science and engineering. She later launched the Quality Education for Minorities Network, a nonprofit that she led for more than 20 years.
The UGA library that now bears her name is one of the most popular study spots on campus, hosting a half-million visits from students each year.
“It is a fitting tribute as the Shirley Mathis McBay Science Library sits at the epicenter of campus for those studying in the STEM disciplines and plays a vital role in their education,” UGA President Jere W. Morehead said during Friday’s ceremony. “Through her dedicated and courageous efforts, she paved the way for countless students to follow in her footsteps.”
Michelle Cook, senior vice provost for diversity and inclusion and strategic university initiatives, told the audience about the important role that alumnus Zerotti Woods played in reconnecting the university to McBay in 2018. Woods sought to meet and interview McBay while in his doctoral program.
“A month after earning his degree, Dr. Woods, the fourth Black student to earn a PhD in mathematics from UGA, flew to Los Angeles to meet Dr. McBay,” said Cook. “The brilliant Dr. McBay, not diminished by age, provided words of insight and inspiration that enabled Dr. Woods to write an article chronicling his interview in the March 2020 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society.”
McBay passed away in November 2021 at the age of 86, shortly after the announcement to name the library in her honor. Her son Ronald attended the event to accept the honor.
“The overwhelming response to her story means so much to me,” he said. “I want to thank everyone who has been so interested in telling her story and celebrating her.”
“I am eternally grateful for how much of her life Dr. Shirley Mathis McBay devoted to advocating for students like me,” said Brooke Bergeron, a Foundation Fellow and Stamps Scholar who is pursuing bachelor’s degrees in math and biology.
The Shirley Mathis McBay Science Library offers an extensive digital and print collection to support research and instruction in the basic and applied sciences, including agriculture, biological and life sciences, human and veterinary medicine, math, computer science, physical sciences, engineering and technology.
The library also serves as a circulation point for technology needs such as laptops, virtual reality kits and specialty materials such as anatomy models and is the hub for a partnership with the mathematics department to provide low-cost calculus and precalculus workbooks that save UGA students more than $100K a year in course material costs.
In addition to research consultations and instruction from librarians, the McBay Science Library hosts partner organizations that offer students math tutoring and writing assistance. The location is home to the Makerspace, which provides free equipment use and training for a variety of tools such as 3D printing and design, as well as a multitouch iWall to support research visualization and bioinformatics instruction.
Prior to the dedication, a renovation project provided additional seating, a new service desk and other upgrades to the library’s main floor, as well as a permanent display including McBay’s portrait and an exhibit about her life and work.
“It is my fond hope that when students visit this building, named for Dr. McBay and where her portrait, her UGA dissertation and other materials are on display, that they will be encouraged and inspired to achieve and even exceed the aspirations that they have for themselves at UGA and in their lives after graduation,” said Toby Graham, university librarian and associate provost.
The dedication of the McBay Science Library comes two months after a ceremony to open the new Black-Diallo-Miller Hall, a 525-person student housing facility named after the first three Black students to enroll as freshmen and complete their degrees at UGA. The facilities join a growing list of campus landmarks named for Georgia groundbreakers, including the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building, named for the first two Black students on campus, as well as the Mary Frances Early College of Education, named for the first Black graduate of UGA.