Jamaican Becomes First Black Woman To Graduate With A PhD In Nuclear Engineering At University of Florida

Jamaican native Charlyne Smith has become the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Florida. The graduate has big plans to help develop her country’s energy infrastructure and nuclear engineering education. 

“It means more options, more open doors for marginalized groups, including Black women and men, to create and innovate in the nuclear energy space to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, including climate change,” Smith told BLACK ENTERPRISE about what her accomplishment means to her. 

Smith, raised in St. Catherine, had dreams of becoming a scientist and inventor, Face2FaceAfrica.com reported. She hoped to bring solutions for some of the problems in Jamaica, like insufficient access to power and clean water.

In 2017, she graduated from Coppin State University in Baltimore with a degree in chemistry and mathematics. While there, she studied “fruits with dark pigments to create dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), hypothesizing that these cells would absorb enough ultraviolet radiation (UV) to power large devices,” according to jamaicans.com

She realized that would not be a quick solution to the energy needs of underdeveloped countries and chose to reroute her career path.

After speaking with nuclear scientist Dr. Nickie Peters at a CSU alumni event, she felt pursuing nuclear engineering could help bring immediate change to the countries that needed it. 

Now a Ph.D. graduate, she plans to help displace fossil fuel energy sources in the Caribbean and replace them with clean energy sources like nuclear energy, she explained. 

“In doing so, we not only solve energy instability, especially during extreme weather events, but we’ll also get closer to global carbon neutrality goals,” Smith continued. “My strategy is to start with Jamaica because it houses the only nuclear reactor in the Caribbean. Although it is a research reactor, its existence demonstrates experience and technical competence in the nuclear engineering space.”

And that’s not all. Smith is determined to uplift the next generation of nuclear engineers by diversifying engineering disciplines studied throughout the Caribbean. She plans to make this happen by building STEM-focused secondary schools. 

“For example, nuclear engineering is not a discipline taught anywhere in the Caribbean,” Smith told BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“Early exposure to a wide range of STEM disciplines is essential for solving current and future world problems. I plan to help diversify the engineering disciplines by first developing a summer engineering pilot program for high school students in Jamaica. The hope is that the success of these types of educational programs will help to create a blueprint for designing STEM-based secondary institutions.”

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