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27-year-old woman earns PhD in Nuclear Engineering, sets record as the first African-American woman to win award at US university

A brilliant 27-year-old woman named Ciara Sivels has become the first-ever black woman to earn a PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Michigan in the United States.

Ciara Sivels is from Chesapeake, Virginia, United States. She started her higher education journey the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she earned her Bachelor’s degree before proceeding to the University of Michigan for her record-setting PhD degree.

She recalled that while she was in high school, she was interested in culinary arts until her teacher convinced her to go for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). “I remember the teacher from that class saying, ‘Oh, you’re really smart, you should think about doing something other than culinary,” Ciara Sivels said 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,” she added.

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During her studies, Ciara Sivels established an organization called Women in Nuclear Engineering in Radiological Science with the mission to expose more Black women to the world of STEM.

“My two big things are representation and exposure. 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,” she said.


During her graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Ciara Sivels was one of the only three black women completing her PhD degree at the university.

Upon completion of her PhD program, she became the first-ever African-American female graduate of the University of Michigan’s Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences. The Department congratulated her on their Twitter handle.

In 2019, Ciara Sivels was chosen to be one of the 125 national American Association for the Advancement of Science IF/THEN Ambassadors. The award recognizes the work of women in science, technology, engineer and mathematics fields as part of an outreach initiative to encourage the representation of women in STEM fields, per Wikipedia.

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