Black women are breaking racial barriers in higher education. Earlier this month Amber Johnson made history by becoming the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in computer science at Purdue University. Florida State University student Kalisa Villafana also hit a historic milestone by becoming the first Black woman to graduate from the university with a nuclear physics doctoral degree, WFTS reported.
Villafana has always had a passion for STEM. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Florida A&M University and spending a brief stint of time working overseas in Trinidad and Tobago she made the decision to further her education and pursue another degree at FSU. Villafana was aware that her educational journey was something bigger than herself. She wanted to use it as an avenue to inspire individuals from underrepresented groups to enter the STEM field.
Outside of excelling academically, she served as a mentor for students of color who aspired to go to graduate school. “In Trinidad, many people don’t know how to get to the United States and get a Ph.D. that’s paid for by the school. They don’t know how to go from being an international student from the islands to a doctor in the U.S.,” she told the news outlet. “Hopefully, they see that they too can be a physicist. You may not see a lot of us, but we’re there. We’re out there.”
Villafana—who is now the 96th Black woman in America to hold a Ph.D. in physics—credits her family and friends for providing her with a strong support system. As far as the next step in her career, she will serve as a process engineer at the Intel Corporation.