Dr. Hassan S. Karim earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Computer Sciences from Howard University 33 years after he started. (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Hassan S. Karim earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Computer Sciences from Howard University 33 years after he started. (Courtesy photo)

Have you ever set out to do something but gave up after it took you longer than expected?  Recently, Hassan S. Karim did “a thing” that took a very long time.  He earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Computer Sciences from Howard University 33 years after he started.

According to Indeed.com, Dr. Karim’s degree is the most valuable paper in the United States.  Computer Science Ph.D.s earn $104,587 on average annually, more than any other degree holder, according to Glassdoor.  

With this credential, the world is open to Dr. Karim, almost literally. Although he’s already a well-established executive, as vice president of Software Engineering for the investment banking firm, Goldman Sachs, Karim has a wide array of future jobs prospects, from university professor ($75,547 annual average salary) to computer network architect ($125,658 annual average salary).  

Dr. Karim’s diploma is rare, especially for an African American. According to the Census Bureau, as of 2019, only 4.5 million or 1.2% of the U.S. population had a Ph.D. Of those only 3.7% are African Americans with doctorates in computer science. This makes Karim one of only 180,000 Ph.D.s in the U.S. who are African American.

Earning your Ph.D. in Computer Science is not for the faint of heart as it requires time, energy and perseverance — and lots of it. Typically, it takes eight to 11 years on average for someone to earn a doctorate in computer science.  

Dr. Karim’s academic journey was far from typical.  It took him 10 years to earn his bachelor’s degree then another 17 years to get his master’s, followed by five years of Ph.D. coursework and research.  

The pilgrimage to obtain a Computer Sciences Ph.D. from Howard, considered the “Mecca” of African American Higher Education, began with the dreams of his parents, civil rights activists, who met in Washington, D.C. during the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.  

When Dr. Karim was a child, his parents launched a technology-focused day care center from the basement of the family home, in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park, Michigan.  While enjoying exceptional exposure, life was filled with sacrifices for the Karim family.  At the age of 13, Karm’s mother and motivator-in-chief, passed away.

Karim’s father, an imam, community activist, and high school classmate of former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, then moved the family to Memphis, Tennessee. 

After high school, Karim enrolled in Howard University’s Electrical Engineering program.  He was joined at Howard by his older brother, Talib (the writer of this article), who transferred there from the Air Force Academy.

As one of 14 children, Karim could not expect much financial support from home. “When I arrived, I had a dorm room but only a one-meal-a-day meal plan,” recalled Karim.  

Later, Karim’s father, Dr. Talib Karim Muhammad, was elected a Memphis At-Large City Councilman, becoming the City’s first elected Muslim leader.  A short time after taking office, Dr. Karim’s father also passed away.

Around this same time, Dr. Karim dropped out of Howard and began a family of his own. Although no longer a Howard student, he worked in the University’s computer lab gaining valuable experience in the early days of the worldwide web. This experience paved the way for a job at the White House as one of its first web engineers.

To earn more money for his family, Dr. Karim accepted a cyber security engineer position for Saudi Aramco. Later Dr. Karim returned to the U.S. to lead a technology services arm of Banneker Ventures, a construction company owned by his younger brother, Omar. Dr. Karim then transitioned to fin-tech as a vice president with PNC before his current position.

“I’ve built a solid reputation as a top-performing cyber security leader,” stated Dr. Karim.  “I’m driven to serve the Almighty by improving the lives of all earth’s eight billion plus inhabitants.”

Now armed with a Ph.D. in Computer Science and proven research in Security Engineering for Mobile-Based Cyber Physical Systems, Dr. Karim has the knowledge and credibility to innovate technology that achieves his life’s mission.  

He’s paying it forward by mentoring youth at the upcoming “STEM4US! Hackathon.”

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