Ciara Sivels just became the first Black woman to graduate with a doctoral degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan. The 27-year-old plans to move to Baltimore to work at Johns Hopkins University’s applied physics lab, according to HuffPost.

“Lots of people helped me, because there were times where I was thinking about leaving the program,” Sivels told HuffPost. “There was a point where I was like, OK, I was going to go to a different school because it’s just not working out.”

The Chesapeake, Virginia native notes there is still a lot of work to be done to increase representation across STEM fields. According to Data USA, less than 5 percent of nuclear engineering degrees were awarded to Black scholars in 2016.

Sivels graduated from the top nuclear engineering program in the country.

“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.”

Her thesis, “Development of an Advanced Radioxenon Detector for Nuclear Explosion Monitoring,” is a “significant advance in nuclear explosion monitoring,” said her thesis advisor, Dr. Sara Pozzi.

“The UM College of Engineering is becoming a more diverse and inclusive environment and Ciara’s story is a wonderful example of what we can achieve,” said Pozzi.

Sivels was also active on campus as the founder of Women in Nuclear Engineering in Radiological Sciences organization created to help connect women in the field. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Science and Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013.