Sivels is Gold


To be born Black and female is to be born with two strikes against you in the world of academia, and Dr. Ciara Sivels has stepped up to bat and hit a home run.

Sivels has made history as the first black woman at the University of Michigan to earn a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering. While clearly the STEM field is one she dominates, Sivels didn’t originally have plans to pursue the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Originally, Sivels had an interest in the culinary arts. It wasn’t until her high school AP chemistry teacher noticed her knack for science and math that she decided to trade her cutting board for the cutting edge of innovation.

After graduating from high school in her hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia, Sivels set out to begin her collegiate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in engineering and nuclear science.

During her time at MIT, Sivels was active in her campus chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), serving in the capacities of pre-college initiative chair, programs chair, and senator. Due to this level of involvement, Sivels faced the struggle that many scholars do balancing academics and community engagement. Sivels fought during her time at MIT to make keep up with the rigor of the program even though she came in behind from not taking engineering courses prior to her admittance.

Upon graduation from MIT, Sivels spent time as a chemistry teaching assistant and also did an internship with Teach for America. This sparked her desire to take up a career in academia. With that goal in mind a mentor advised her to pursue a doctorate degree. Even though it wasn’t going to be easy Sivels did just that.

“Because I struggled at MIT, my GPA was lower than what was required because I hadn’t taken physics and other basic courses in high school — so I really had to catch up with my peers,” Sivels said. “In order to help me adjust, U of M actually let me come in with a conditional admittance to see how I compare in the program and then finally matriculate into my Ph.D.”


Sivels also founded Women in Nuclear Engineering in Radiological Sciences, a campus organization in her department that helps connect women in that particular field. She wants black women entering STEM disciplines to know how important it is to “fight for what you want.”

Sivels next big adventure is taking on a job at Johns Hopkins University continuing her research on advanced detector systems for Radioxenon measurements, working to improve the beta-gamma coincidence detection systems.

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

For more information, follow Ciara Sivels @cici_20 on social media platforms!

Follow @STEMIsTheNewBlack on Instagram for updates on Our Stories!

#STEMIsTheNewBlack #NotYourAverageStatistics #STEM #UofM #NSBE

Kristen Smith is a writer, poet, journalist, and contributor to STEM Is The New Black with a degree in Journalism and African American Studies from the University of Arkansas.