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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Meet the First Black Woman to Earn a Ph.D. Degree in Nuclear Engineering From MIT

Mareena Robinson Snowden, graduate of Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from MIT

Mareena Robinson Snowden

Cambridge, MA — In the field of STEM where African-American women are still underrepresented, Mareena Robinson Snowden became the first American-born woman of color to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is hoping that she will not be the last.

In a study released by National Science Foundation in 2015, it was reported that African-American women make up only 2 percent of practicing scientists and engineers. For some reason, many students are really intimidated by physics or anything about math. Snowden is somehow one of those.

30-year old Snowden told CNBC that STEM was not really the field she wanted as a child. “I think 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,” she said.

Her high school teachers and a family friend were the ones who introduced her to physics and math and showed her that it could be enjoyable, too

“They kind of helped to peel away that mindset. They showed me that it’s more of a growth situation, that you can develop an aptitude for this and you can develop a skill. It’s just like a muscle, and you have to work for it,” she continued.

In 2011, she enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During her undergraduate study, she joined a summer research program at MIT. That’s when she was introduced to nuclear engineering and she decided to pursue graduate studies in that career.

However, it was not easy at all being the only woman of color in most of her classes. But by participating on on-campus groups for Black students and taking inspiration from NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures, she managed to push through.

After earning her nuclear engineering Ph.D. from MIT, she did 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.

As the first in her field, she encourages other Black girls to also pursue a career wherein they are underrepresented and “bring their full selves to the table.”