Black women are raising the bar in the realm of academia. In July, Miami native Mareena Robinson Snowden became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and now another woman has hit the same milestone at another institution. According to the Huffington Post, Ciara Sivels has become the first African-American woman to earn a nuclear engineering Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
The institution has one of the top nuclear engineering programs in the country, the news outlet writes. 27-year-old Sivels—who hails from Virginia—submitted her thesis titled “Development of an Advanced Radioxenon Detector for Nuclear Explosion Monitoring” last month and earned her doctorate degree.
Sivels wasn’t always passionate about STEM. She initially wanted to pursue a career in the culinary industry. It was her high school chemistry teacher who convinced her to give STEM a try. “I was originally going to go to culinary school. In my junior and senior years, I was in culinary arts,” she told the news outlet. “I remember the teacher from that class saying, ‘Oh, you’re really smart, you should think about doing something other than culinary.’ So that’s kinda how I switched over into engineering and eventually ended up at MIT and ended up in the nuclear program.”
Sivels’ academic journey was far from easy. Although at times she wanted to give up she decided to stay the course because she realized that what she was working towards was something that was bigger than her. Now that she has her Ph.D. under her belt, Sivels is focused on becoming a professor. She’s relocating to Baltimore and will work in Johns Hopkins University’s physics department.
She believes in the power of representation and hopes that her journey will inspire other people of color to pursue careers in STEM. “My two big things are representation and exposure. I still feel like exposure is key and representation also helps, because you have people that look like you that can help pull you up when you’re failing,” she said.
Sivels’ accomplishment is one step forward towards changing the narrative about Black women in STEM. According to Catalyst Inc., Black, Latinx, and Asian women made up less than 10 percent of engineers and scientists in 2015.