Skip To Content
Spelman College's In Memoriam Tributes

Celebrating the Genius of Shirley M. McBay, Ph.D.

Spelman Remembers a Forerunner for Women who Excel in STEM

Spelman Remembers Dr.  Shirley McBay

MAY 4, 1935 – NOVEMBER 27, 2021

It is with heavy hearts that Spelman College announces the passing of Dr. Shirley M. McBay who departed this life on Nov. 27, 2021 at the age of 86. Dr. McBay was a highly respected educator, department chair, and pioneer of the mathematics department at Spelman College. A staunch advocate for the advancement of women in education, she was also a director at the National Science Foundation, dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and founder of the Quality Education for Minorities Network, an organization designed to assist minorities in their pursuit of education in STEM-related fields and paved the way for scores of minority students interested in pursuing advanced degrees.

Large Blue Quote Left Dr. Shirley M. McBay was an outstanding leader and tireless advocate for improving the education and career preparation of underserved and underrepresented groups, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 
Quality Education for Minorities Network

Courageous. Fierce. Determined: Mathematical Powerhouse Dr.Shirley M. McBay

Dr. Shirley McBay and Spelman College

A trailblazer, Dr. McBay was the first African American to earn a Ph.D from the University of Georgia in any field, and the first woman of any race to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from UGA. This is notable for many reasons including the fact that the first Ph.D. was awarded at UGA in 1951, and the university desegregated in 1961. Dr. McBay, fiercely determined to excel above her peers, enrolled at UGA in 1964 and was awarded her Ph.D. in 1966.

Many Spelman faculty and students benefited tremendously from Dr. McBay's courageous sacrifices and while she is gone from their presence, she left an indelible mark upon the Spelman community and will always be remembered for her no-nonsense approach to life and learning. Our thoughts and prayers are with her eldest son Michael McBay of Los Angeles, her youngest son Ronald McBay of Atlanta, and "the daughter she never had," Laura-Lee Davidson of Washington, D.C.


Pushed to Greatness: Dr. Sylvia Bozeman Reflects Upon a Life Well Lived

sylvia t. bozemanIt was 1974 when I visited the Mathematics Department at Spelman College seeking employment as an instructor. It was also my good fortune, as I determined later, to be jointly interviewed by Dr. Shirley McBay, chair of the recently created Division of Natural Sciences, and Dr. Etta Falconer, chairperson of the Department of Mathematics. During my interview it became apparent that these two women were on a mission, determined to increase the number of African American women in science and mathematics, beginning at Spelman College.

In her new position, Dr. McBay was leading the science faculty in making the case to the College’s administration that several key changes were needed and in outlining a plan to begin a new era. Over the next two decades of the 1970’s and 1980’s, even after Dr. McBay moved on to make her mark elsewhere, the plans that emerged from her leadership unfolded and were expanded, leading to two decades of phenomenal growth in the sciences at Spelman, including mathematics, the health sciences and engineering. The faculty became energized and excited as we saw the students emerge from those successful efforts. Soon our vision expanded to include Spelman’s ability to move the national achievement needle for Black women in science and engineering through continued development of Spelman’s faculty and students, support of the administration, and the acquisition of external resources.

In later years, Dr. McBay engaged with the sciences at Spelman in her role as president of the Quality Education for Minorities Network, which she founded. Through the QEM Network she assisted colleges and universities nationwide in identifying strategies to enhance their production of underrepresented minority scientists.

We can never know the full impact of Dr. Shirley McBay’s leadership and creativity at Spelman College. Her friendships with the faculty here, her role as adviser to specific programmatic development efforts, and many other contributions can never be completely identified or evaluated. However, there is no doubt that Spelman College was truly blessed by its connection to Dr. Shirley McBay.

Sylvia T. Bozeman, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita, Spelman College


Mentor and Role Model for Mathematicians: Dr. Tasha Inniss Remembers . . .

Spelman Honors Dr.  Shirley McBay
I met Dr. McBay when I was a graduate student and she served on the Board for the Packard Foundation Fellows Program. She has provided invaluable guidance throughout my career. As a matter of fact, during my first year at Spelman in 2004 as a junior faculty member, she coached and pushed me to organize a math conference at Spelman, which she helped to facilitate.

When she was the head of QEM, I had the honor of participating in her well-known grant writing workshops as an attendee and presenter.
Dr. McBay was fiercely dedicated to equity in STEM. I will be forever grateful for all the many times she advocated on my behalf and on behalf of other women of color. 
-- Tasha Inniss, Ph.D., Associate Provost for Research, Spelman College 

In Her Own Words . . . From UGA's Georgia Groundbreakers Series


See More Georgia Groundbreakers on UGA's YouTube Channel

A Class Act From the Beginning Until the End: Dr. Shirley M. McBay Obituary 


Shirley McBay ObituaryShirley Ann Mathis McBay, Ph.D., was born in 1935 in Bainbridge, Georgia, the daughter of Annie Bell Washington (Stevens Williams Pringley). She attended Hutto Elementary and excelled in mathematics early on, defeating older students in math competitions. After graduating from high school at 15-years-old, she attended Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, and graduated with a B.A. degree in Chemistry summa cum laude in 1954 at age 19; masters degrees in Chemistry and Mathematics from Atlanta University in 1957 and 1958 respectively; and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Georgia in 1966. She holds honorary degrees from Morgan State University and the University of the District of Columbia.

She joined Spelman as a professor of mathematics and served in the administration, ultimately rising to be chair of the Division of Natural Sciences. In 1975, she began working for the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., reviewing grant proposals. In 1980, she became Dean of Students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she spearheaded an institution-wide self-study of the obstacles hindering success among minority students.

Tributes and Reflections for Dr. Shirley McBay

Please share your fond memories honoring the life and legacy of Dr. McBay