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Meet Ciara Sivels, First Black Woman To Earn A Nuclear Engineering Ph.D. From University of Michigan

Here is a news on a ground breaking achievement. A 27 years old identified as Ciara Sivels is regarded as the first black woman to earn a nuclear engineering PhD from University of Michigan.

She is a native of Chesapeake, Virginia and she knew she was going to become the first woman to earn a doctorate degree in nuclear engineering.

In an interview with Huffington post, she revealed that – “It was something that was in the back of my mind as I was going through the program,” She added- “So yeah, it was something that I thought about, but I tried not to make it the focus because I didn’t want to add more stress to the rigor of the program.”

She successfully defended her thesis titled “Development of an Advanced Radioxenon Detector for Nuclear Explosion Monitoring”  in October.

It is amazing to know that she never had the intention of pursuing nuclear engineering. She revealed that  after high school, she was focused on appetites and not atoms. Quoting her, she said- “I was originally going to go to culinary school. In my junior and senior years, I was in culinary arts.”

She credits a teacher for encouraging her to pursue a career in STEM. She went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she majored in nuclear science and engineering.

She told Huffingtonpost that – “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 confessed that along the line, she had numerous challenges.

“Lots of people helped me, because there were times where I was thinking about leaving the program,” she said. “There was a point where I was like, OK, I was going to go to a different school because it’s just not working out.”

Sivels revealed her mentors like Dr. Sara Pozzi, who collaborated with the new doctor and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on a new project for radioxenon detection.

“This project was initiated by Ciara and represents a significant advance in nuclear explosion monitoring,” Pozzi, Sivels’ academic adviser for her Ph.D. thesis, said. “The UM College of Engineering is becoming a more diverse and inclusive environment and Ciara’s story is a wonderful example of what we can achieve.”

“My two big things are representation and exposure,” she said. “I feel like my path could have been a lot easier if I would’ve been exposed to things at a different time. 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.”

Talking on her future plans which begins in a couple of weeks, Sivels plans to move to Baltimore to work at Johns Hopkins University’s applied physics lab. She revealed that she wants to pursue a career in academia. according to her, “That was my goal, going into this program. I want to be a professor,” she told Huffingtonpost

As provided by Huffingtonpost, “Sivels is also the founder of Women in Nuclear Engineering in Radiological Sciences, a campus organization in her department that helps connect women in the field. She wants black women entering STEM disciplines to know how important it is to “fight for what you want.””

A very realistic woman who confessed that having more women particularly blacks follow in her footsteps won’t be easy but since she did it, every other black women can.

We felicitate you and celebrate your achievement Dr Ciara Sivels.


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