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USM’s Lee honored for leading change

Oare Addeh
Dr. Sarah Lee

In the heart of Mississippi, Dr. Sarah Lee stands as a trailblazer, not just in the world of computing sciences and computer engineering but also in uplifting and empowering women and families throughout the state. As the Director of the School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering at Southern Miss, Dr. Lee has dedicated her career to removing obstacles and creating opportunities for students, particularly women, in the world of technology.
Dr. Lee’s journey into the world of computing sciences began in a small town in Mississippi. Originally aspiring to be a veterinarian due to her love for animals, she took a different turn.
“I grew up in a small town in Mississippi, and I was always a big animal lover, and I wanted to be a veterinarian,” Dr. Lee recalled.
High school saw her interning with a local vet, all set to pursue her dream. However, her path took an unexpected turn when she encountered a computing course in the early 1980s. Computer science, as a field, was in its infancy during those times, but it was this course that ignited Dr. Lee’s passion for problem-solving and technology. She was drawn to computing’s creative aspects and potential to shape the future. It was a turning point, and Dr. Lee boldly decided to change her major, setting the stage for a remarkable career in the world of technology. As she neared her bachelor’s degree, Dr. Lee recognized the need for further learning. She pursued a master’s degree, eventually earning a Ph.D., and transitioned from industry to academia, driven by the desire to empower others with the transformative power of tech education.
Dr. Lee’s dedication to empowering the next generation of tech leaders is evident through her initiatives and projects. The “Mississippi Aspirations in Computing” program is one such initiative, recognizing young women in high school with an interest in technology. This program provides a sense of community and belonging, ensuring these aspiring tech enthusiasts understand they are not alone in their passion. Additionally, Dr. Lee co-founded the “Last Mile Education Fund,” a nonprofit organization supporting students pursuing computing and engineering degrees. This fund provides scholarships to students facing financial barriers, whether it’s a broken laptop, the need for additional semester funding, or travel expenses for conferences. Dr. Lee’s commitment to ensuring that no obstacle derails a student’s educational journey is commendable. Her vision is clear: she wants to ensure that no one is left behind and every student has a fair shot at realizing their dreams in tech.
Dr. Lee embodies servant leadership as the USM School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering Director. Her philosophy revolves around helping those around her succeed, believing that collective success stems from supporting others. She views her primary responsibility as removing barriers to success for faculty, staff, and students. She champions flexible curriculums catering to students’ diverse interests, recognizing that computing is integral to various domains. In her leadership, she creates an inclusive environment where every student feels welcomed and celebrated regardless of background.
“It is not just listening to students but celebrating their voices and contributions, fostering a spirit of unity within the department,” Dr. Lee said.
When asked about her proudest moments as the Director, Dr. Lee beams with pride at the success stories of her students.
“Certainly, seeing students get jobs and not just in Mississippi, but outside this region.” Lee added.
Many of these students come from modest backgrounds, and their journeys underscore the transformative power of education. Seeing her students land high-paying jobs, some even at prestigious tech companies, fills her with immense pride.
For Dr. Lee, these moments of success are a testament to the importance of illuminating pathways and creating opportunities for all.
“I think that what gives me the most pride is to see that by removing obstacles and creating a path or illuminating the path, the paths are there,” Dr. Lee noted.
Dr. Sarah Lee was recently among the seven trailblazers honoured for uplifting and empowering women and families throughout the state. Her commitment to education, technology, and gender equality was acknowledged with this prestigious award, adding another chapter to her legacy of empowerment.
Dr. Sarah Lee’s journey from a small town with dreams of becoming a veterinarian to a trailblazing tech leader is an inspiration. Her passion, dedication, and commitment to empowering the next generation are shaping Mississippi’s future of technology and education. Through her initiatives, servant leadership, and tireless efforts, Dr. Lee ensures that the torch of opportunity and empowerment is passed on to countless others, lighting the way for a brighter, more inclusive future in tech.

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