On Friday, Aug. 9, Kalisa Villafana became Florida State University’s first black woman graduate to earn a doctoral degree in nuclear physics, ABC News reported.
Villafana returned to her native Trinidad and Tobago to work when she received her undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University. However, after a year, she decided she wanted an advanced degree in order to provide greater career opportunities.
“When it comes to a Ph.D. program you have to feel like you’re going to thrive and the people there want you to succeed,” Villafana said. “That was what I got from FSU. None of the other schools I visited gave me that energy.”
Besides her academic achievements, Villafana served as a mentor to minority students encouraging them to pursue graduate studies. It’s something that Villafana hoped to continue post graduation.
“I want to show them how to get to the next point,” she said. “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.”
Career-wise, Villafana has plans to work as a process engineer with Intel Corporation in Arizona. Her ultimate goal is to work as a cancer research medical physicist.
“Hopefully, [young girls] see that they too can be a physicist. You may not see a lot of us, but we’re there. We’re out there,” Villafana said.
The recent graduation of Villafana makes her 96th black woman with a doctoral degree in physics in the country.