FAMU Grad is the First Black Woman to Earn a PhD in Nuclear Engineering from MIT
Mareena Robinson Snowden, a graduate of the illustrious Florida A&M University, is the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering form the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology.
When asked about her experience, Mrs Snowden said she’s grateful.
For her, there was one particular word that the experience brought to mind: grateful.
"Grateful for every part of this experience — highs and lows," she said. "Every person who supported me and those who didn't. Grateful for a praying family, a husband who took on this challenge as his own, sisters who reminded me at every stage how powerful I am, friends who inspired me to fight harder. Grateful for the professors who fought for and against me. Every experience on this journey was necessary, and I'm better for it."
It took Mrs Snowden 11 years of post-secondary study to achieve this. But she admits she didn’t dream of a career in STEM as a child.
In high school she loved english and history. Her math and physics teachers helped her expand her interests beyond her loves.
"I had this idea that I wasn't good at math and they kind of helped to peel away that mindset," she explains. "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."
Mrs. Snowden is originally from Miami. A friend of a friend worked in the physics department at FAMU. She decided to take a visit to the campus.
"We drove up there and it was amazing," says Snowden. "They treated me like a football player who was getting recruited. They took me to the scholarship office, and they didn't know anything about me at the time. All they knew was that I was a student who was open to the possibility of majoring in physics."
According to the American Physical society, just over 2% of bachelor degrees in physics were earned by black people.
While at FAMU, Mrs Snowden participated in M.I.T.’s summer research program. That’s where she was introduced to nuclear engineering.
She decided to pursue graduate study, applied to eight schools and was accepted by one — M.I.T.'s nuclear engineering program.
In 2011 she enrolled at MIT.
After finishing her program at M.I.T., Snowden completed a fellowship with the National Nuclear Security Administration.
She now works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she says she will be focused on nuclear security, including policy research and writing about nuclear weapons.
She hopes her accomplishments will inspire other young people to confidently pursue careers in fields in which they might be a minority.
"When you go into these spaces, whether its M.I.T., or Google or Apple, you don't change yourself for the institution. The institution needs to change for you," she says. "They need to grow because you're there, and if you don't bring your full self to the table, then they don't have the opportunity to improve."
Mrs Snowden and her husband are expecting their first child in 2019.