31-year-old becomes 1st black woman to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering

Mareena Robinson Snowden recently became the first black woman to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Mareena reportedly discovered her interest in nuclear engineering during her undergraduate study. When she enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined a summer research program at MIT.

She noted that was when she was introduced to nuclear engineering, and she decided to pursue graduate studies in that career.

Notably, the first black woman in the field of nuclear engineering after graduating from MIT, with a PhD, went further to do a fellowship at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Eventually, she started a job at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she focuses on nuclear weapon modernization issues.

Mareena, in an interview, stated as a child, she never dreamed of a career in STEM.

According to her, engineering was not something she had a passion for while growing up.

She said:

I was quite the opposite, while I was growing up my earliest memories of math and science were definitely one of like nervousness and anxiety and just kind of an overall fear of the subject.

But she eventually took up the challenge in her high school, thanks to her math and physics teachers who took interest in her and helped widen her scope and interest beyond English and history subjects she loves.

Encouraging young ones

Mareena, the first black woman with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT, noted that she hopes her accomplishments will inspire other young people to confidently pursue careers in fields in which they are a minority.

Notably, in 2015, just over 2 percent of bachelor degrees in physics were earned by African-Americans, according to the American Physical Society. African Americans make up almost 15 percent of the United States’ population.

However, in 2013, around 5 percent of Ph.D. recipients in the US were African Americans, and less than 1 percent of PhDs were awarded to African American women.

Notable first black women in other fields

Significant efforts were put in place to recruit and retain black women in physics, nuclear science, and nuclear engineering have started paying off based on recent stories.

Notably, Kalisa Villafana became Florida State University’s first black woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics. She also became the 96th black woman in America with a Physics Ph.D.

Mareena also a Florida A&M alumna, is the first black woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before earning her Ph.D.

Mareena told the career center at FSU that her excitement for nuclear physics started when she was young, and her interest only grew as she discovered its many applications in industries, such as energy, imaging, diagnostics, and material science.

She noted that she plans to work as a process engineer with the Intel Corporation in Arizona, but ultimately, she aspires to work as a medical physicist specializing in cancer research.