At only 27 years old, Ciara Sivels is the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan.
The Chesapeake, Virginia, native has accomplished a major win at the top nuclear engineering program in the country. In October, Sivels successfully presented her thesis on “Development of an Advanced Radioxenon Detector for Nuclear Explosion Monitoring,” but she didn’t always have a passion for science.
When she graduated from high school, the scholar wanted to study culinary arts. It wasn’t until her teacher encouraged her to try her hand at STEM that she developed interests in nuclear science and engineering.
“I remember the teacher from that class saying, ‘Oh, you’re really smart, you should think about doing something other than culinary,’” she shared in an interview with Huffington Post. “So that’s kinda how I switched over into engineering and eventually ended up at MIT and ended up in the nuclear program.”
The road to earning her Ph.D. was not easy, but Sivel received support from mentors like Dr. Sara Pozzi, the academic advisor for her thesis.
“This project was initiated by Ciara and represents a significant advance in nuclear explosion monitoring,” she told Huffington Post. Pozzi explained that representation matters, especially with the lack of diversity in science.
As the founder of Women in Nuclear Engineering in Radiological Science on her campus, Sivel feels its important to expose more Black women to the world of STEM.
“My two big things are representation and exposure,” Sivel’s shared. “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.”
The graduate plans to move to Baltimore where she will work in the physics lab at Johns Hopkins University.