Dr. Kyla McMullen is currently an Associate Professor in the University of Florida’s Computer & Information Sciences & Engineering Department. Dr. McMullen is the first (and currently the only) African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where she was also a Meyerhoff Scholar.  She earned her Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science and Engineering (Intelligent Systems Group) from the University of Michigan (2007-2012). While earning her Ph.D. she was also a faculty member at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.  At Wayne State University she taught computer literacy courses to over 2,000 students. Dr. McMullen has a personal commitment to encouraging women and minorities to pursue careers in computing and other STEM fields. She is the author of “Beautiful, Black, and Brainy” and “Brilliant is the New Black” which showcase hundreds of exceptional young African Americans who excel in STEM fields and don’t fit the typical “scientist” stereotype.

Dr. McMullen’s research interests are in the perception, applications, and development of 3D audio technologies. In this line of research, sounds are digitally filtered such that when they are played over headphones, the listener perceives the sound as being emitted from a specific location in their own physical space. Think of it as “surround sound over headphones”. She is using this research to create realistic virtual environments, enhance data sonification, augment assistive technologies for persons with visual impairments, and decrease cognitive load in multimodal systems. She has recently earned the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award to further support her research in this area. She is also the PI of an NSF S-STEM award to augment the financial load of graduate school for PhD students. Dr. McMullen regularly teaches undergraduate and graduate level classes on topics such as “Computers and Modern Society”and “3D Audio for Virtual Environments”.

Dr. McMullen is also senior personnel for NSF’s Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences (iAAMCS) effort to broaden participation in the field of computing. In this role, she has served as the conference chair for the National Society of Blacks in Computing. The conference gathers Black computing student, faculty, and industry professionals for professional development, career progress, networking, and bonding. In addition, Dr. McMullen  co-hosts Modern Figures Podcast, elevating the voices of Black women in computing. This podcast is a collaborative effort iAAMCS and The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT ) to highlight the often neglected stories of Black women in computing.

Academic Positions

  • present2022

    Associate Professor

    University of Florida, Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)

  • 20222014

    Assistant Professor

    University of Florida, Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)

  • 20142013

    Assistant Professor

    Clemson University, School of Computing

  • 20122011


    Wayne State University, Computer Science

Education & Training

  • Ph.D. 2012

    Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering

    University of Michigan

  • M.S. 2007

    Master of Science in Computer Science and Engineering

    University of Michigan

  • B.S. 2005

    Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

    University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Selected Honors, Awards, and Grants

  • Jan 2019
    NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award winner


    First responders typically work in hazardous conditions caused by hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, fires and terrorism events. Natural and man-made disasters are becoming more frequent, making the role of first responders more important than ever. In the case of firefighters, the smoke and darkness that often inhibit vision have left responders plagued by disorientation, miscommunications, getting lost, and failing to identify appropriate paths to reach victims and move them to safety.

    Kyla McMullen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering at the University of Florida Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, believes the use of 3D sounds can help firefighters find their way when visual conditions are impeded. With a system developed by McMullen, the responder would hear unique 3D audio cues representing the locations of targets of interest, such as victims, exits, fire panels and water sources.

    While 3D audio has been studied before, none of the research has addressed the challenges in designing 3D sound for use in real-world conditions. All existing research results were derived in quiet, highly contrived and tightly controlled experiments. McMullen and her team will be working closely with Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR) to develop a local, open-source testbed. The team will evaluate firefighters’ performance in search-and-rescue scenarios and will use the results to establish 3D sound design guidelines.  The information they garner will address three areas:

    • Realistic 3D sound rendering
    • Rapid detection of changes in 3D sound
    • Effects of competing sounds on accurately distinguishing the sound of interest

    The work will significantly contribute to the current understanding of the usability of 3D display systems and human factors associated with using 3D audio to convey spatial information in real-world contexts. McMullen’s research program aims to unobtrusively help first responders perceive the world around them and maintain awareness of their surroundings. This work hopes to decrease the number of casualties experienced each year in emergency environments.

    McMullen has integrated an educational component into her research to offer undergraduates the opportunity to work in this intriguing area of research. Students in her 3D audio course will develop supplemental augmented-reality (AR) modules for firefighter emergency medical service (EMS) training. The AR training will allow firefighters to practice EMS skills in a realistic environment outside of the classroom. All students interested in human-centered computing will be recruited to take part in the projects, including students from the Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (DREU) program and the Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences (IAAMCS), as well as UF undergraduate students in the Emerging Scholars Program.

  • Feb 2019
    NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Program (S-STEM)
    Award Abstract:
    With funding from the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program, the Generation NEXT (Need-based, EXtensive Support Through Degree Completion) Project will support high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need at the University of Florida. Throughout its 5, years, this project will fund 30 scholarships for students who are pursuing graduate degrees in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Department at the University of Florida. The program is designed to combat 4 barriers faced by low-SES students in PhD programs: (1) growing financial concerns, (2) negative psychological effects, (3) inadequate advisement, and (4) unequal socialization efforts.

    The project builds upon existing resources for recruitment, community building, and STEM workforce development. The current iteration is adapted to include newer programming in which Generation NEXT scholars form a unified cohort as the backbone of their support, supplemented by faculty mentoring, relevant academic and professional development workshops, external support, demographic-specific support for intersectional identities, CISE faculty development, and sustained engagement past the PhD through an online career tracking portal. The 3 objectives of the project are to: - (1) improve the retention and graduation rates of low-income students in Ph.D. programs in the CISE Department (2) equip Generation NEXT scholars to obtain STEM employment within 12 months of graduation (3) improve the culture and climate for diversity and inclusion for Ph.D. students within the CISE Department. The is project will advance knowledge concerning computer science identity (CSI) and research identity (RI), while also addressing gaps in the literature regarding CSI measurement for graduate students. In addition, this project will further generate knowledge concerning how graduate students’ economic status and college campus climate relate to both CSI and RI. This information will help institutions better understand the association between these critical factors and student identity outcomes.

  • Jan 2019
    Gainesville Black Professionals - Trailblazer Award
    Nominees for the Trailblazer award are young professionals or business owners that are making strides and accomplishments in their field and are actively involved in their communities.
  • March 2019
    Champion for supporting and inspiring Women Engineers
    Dr. McMullen has been identified as a champion for supporting and inspiring women engineers by the students of the University of Florida, the Engineering Student Advisory Council and the Empowering Engineers Support Group who recognize her commitment towards the success of women engineers.
  • Sept 2017
    NSF Computer-Human Systems Grant - 3D Audio Augmentation for Limited Field of View Augmented Reality Systems for Medical Training
    Award Abstract:
    Medical task simulators can provide a safe, affordable, and repeatable environment in which practitioners can rehearse procedures without impacting patient safety. Augmented reality (AR) is therefore the ideal display technology in this field, allowing the user to directly interact and practice skills within a natural environment. But current AR displays typically have a narrow field of view (FOV), which makes it difficult for users to immediately attend to an object outside of their periphery. This research will employ 3D audio to overcome that challenge. As a benefit to other AR and medical researchers, the system itself and other materials created for the present work (design, implementation, and tutorials) will be openly available on the project's website for all to use, modify, and contribute, and an open-source community will be created to link users and researchers who have similar interests as the present work. Undergraduate, women, and minority students will be engaged in all project activities through the Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (DREU) program of the NSF-funded iAAMCS (Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences), as well as the PI's courses on 3D sound design. Results will also be disseminated at relevant conference venues. The present work will advance research relating to the use of 3D audio for cueing in narrow FOV contexts, thereby improving interaction in large AR environments, and will create generalizable best-practices that lead to successful experiences when using AR devices.

    This research will develop the tools, methods, and infrastructure to evaluate how 3D sound can be used to enhance AR. This area of research is increasingly important, because as virtual reality (VR) and AR systems become more commonplace, it is imperative to design tools to overcome device limitations. The practical application of the proposed work will be realized through the evaluation of an AR-based prostate biopsy training procedure that will capture and reconstruct a full surgical procedure, with at least 3 dynamic participants in very close proximity. The project will pursue three main themes: (1) Infrastructure Development - The PIs and team will develop an extensible open-source software system that allows users to test their desired sound mappings; (2) Sound Mapping Quantification - Although sound has been used to convey spatial information in numerous contexts, the appropriate strategy for mapping periphery information to spatial sound attributes has not yet been determined, so the PIs propose a series of user studies to determine the mappings that most successfully help a user to attend to a target outside of their FOV; (3) Practical Application - To assess how well the proposed solution mitigates the challenge of a narrow FOV, a user study will be conducted to determine how the addition of 3D audio affects participants learning to perform the steps of a prostate biopsy procedure.

  • Jan 2015
    Diverse Issues In Higher Education - EmergingScholar
    Emerging Scholars are recognized for paving the way in research, teaching and overall scholarly contributions in the first edition of the magazine every year. Each year, fifteen minority scholars under the age of 40 from multiple disciplines and institutions are selected.
  • Aug 2013
    National Black Data Processing Associates - Outstanding Professional Achievement Award
    The National BDPA annually selects and awards the BDPA Epsilon Award to recognize and celebrate key contributions and accomplishments of its members. The ``Outstanding Professional Achievement`` award is presented to individuals who have reached or realized a significant milestone in their career, corporate or otherwise, that is noteworthy.