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Trinidad physics student makes history at US university

By TRINIDAD GUARDIAN

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30-year-old Dr Kalisa Vil­lafana

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — A Trinidad & Tobago-born stu­dent has made his­to­ry at a uni­ver­si­ty in the US, be­com­ing the first woman of African her­itage to earn a PhD in physics at the school.

For her ac­com­plish­ment, 30-year-old Dr Kalisa Vil­lafana suc­cess­ful­ly de­fend­ed her the­sis and re­search in­to nu­clear physics at the Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty.

Vil­lafana lived in Ch­agua­nas dur­ing her ear­ly life, liv­ing in St Thomas Vil­lage and at­tend­ing the Ch­agua­nas Gov­ern­ment Pri­ma­ry School.

But it was while at­tend­ing Holy Faith Con­vent, Cou­va she dis­cov­ered her love for physics and math. And in Sixth Form, she got the op­por­tu­ni­ty to at­tend uni­ver­si­ty in the Unit­ed States.

Some 10 years lat­er, Vil­lafana has gone down in his­to­ry as the first black woman to grad­u­ate with a PhD from Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty.

She was al­so re­cent­ly fea­tured by the African Amer­i­can Women in Physics web­site. In ad­di­tion to these suc­cess­es, she is al­so one of the few black women in the Unit­ed States with the qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Speak­ing to Guardian Me­dia dur­ing a Skype in­ter­view on Tues­day, Vil­lafana said: “There aren’t a lot of women physi­cists—there aren’t a lot of black physi­cists…In the US, there aren’t yet 100 African-Amer­i­can women with PhD’s in Physics and I be­lieve now I’m ei­ther num­ber 95 or 96.”

“We need that num­ber to rise. Physics is a pre­dom­i­nant­ly white, male field so the di­ver­si­ty is slow­ly but sure­ly com­ing in physics.”

She en­cour­ages all young girls who may look up to her and have their hearts set on a goal to “do your re­search and fig­ure out how you’re able to get your­self po­si­tioned in this field,” just as she did.

But de­spite spend­ing lengthy pe­ri­ods study­ing in the US she al­ways made time to vis­it her fam­i­ly in Trinidad.

“I def­i­nite­ly miss home all of the time. My fam­i­ly is all in Trinidad so I try to go as of­ten as I can…home is al­ways home.”

Vil­lafana would not be re­turn­ing to Trinidad & Tobago just yet as she will be mov­ing to Ari­zona to take up a po­si­tion at the In­tel Cor­po­ra­tion.

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