A young woman named Kalissa Villafana has made history as the first black woman to earn a Doctorate degree in Nuclear Physics from Florida State University in the United States.
Kalissa Villafana is a native of Trinidad who bagged her bachelors degree from the Florida University of Agriculture and Mechanical before earning her doctorate degree in Florida State University.
Villafana said she had wanted to be a physicist since she was 12 years old. She mentioned that she attended an all girls Catholic High School growing up where she was exposed to tons of physics experiments as a young girl.
She said the teachers at her high school used the physics experiments to help students understand the principles of matter and energy and how the universe works.“From then on, I said I want to be a physicist and that never changed,” Villafana said.
Being an international student, Villafana said she wanted to enter into a program where she would have support and community which she found at Florida State University with the world renowned physicist, Mark Riley.
Villafana credited the renowned physicist for helping her expand her access and opportunities in the career. She added that Riley introduced her to a network of mentors, resources with helping her to attend academic conferences and conduct research across the country as a student.
While a student at Florida State University, Villafana served as a mentor to other minority students at the University, encouraging them to pursue their graduate studies early enough.
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“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. I want to show them how to get to the next point,” Villafana said.
Villafana stated that though the world of physics is male and white dominated, she hopes her achievement as the 96th black woman to be doctor of physics will encourage and motivate black women to follow in her footsteps.
“I always encourage young women to pursue what they are passionate about and what makes them excited, even if they are a minority in the field,I tell them, “don’t be intimidated and bring new and invaluable perspectives,” she said.
Dr. Villafana said her goal is to specialize in cancer research, working as a medical physicist in the United States.